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How to Evaluate Mind-Body Staff, Part Two

Our first installment of this series advised managers on the basics of conducting performance evaluations for mind-body staff. Focusing on managers with little or no mind-body experience, we talked about the importance of preparation, shared tips on building a knowledge base and provided ways to formulate a comprehensive observation checklist. In Part Two, we explore more evaluation tips and offer deeper insight into how to use review information to strengthen staff resources and programming.

Even with a little background knowledge and a nice, thorough checklist in front of you, mind-body staff evaluations can still be overwhelming. Kerri O’Brien, EdD, MBA, and executive vice president/COO of Valley of the Sun YMCA in Phoenix, agrees that this group can be difficult to evaluate.

“The mind-body formats involve [giving] more accuracy to breathing, alignment, intricate and specific cuing, movement progression and hands-on correcting ability,” O’Brien explains. “Although the class may seem like it is a slow pace, the instructor has quite a bit of detail to be constantly scanning and acting on.”

With that in mind, consider these additional suggestions for further enhancing your mind-body staff evaluations.

Physically Experience the Class

Most instructor reviews include a class observation with written documentation, followed by a performance discussion. However, it’s difficult to evaluate a class you haven’t personally experienced. So, set aside time to take the class prior to the scheduled observation. This allows you to reflect on your participation, ask questions and modify plans if necessary. To ease anxiety, be sure to tell the instructor that this visit is not a drop-in evaluation.

Think about the class as if you were a facility member, and ask yourself these questions:

  • Did I enjoy the class?
  • Would I come back next week?
  • Did I understand what I was supposed to be doing?
  • How did the class make me feel?

Jot down a few notes. You’re now in a position to compare classes during the actual review time. You’ll be able, for example, to observe whether the instructor’s teaching abilities are consistent.

Monitor Participants’ Reactions

When Cheryl McDermott was group exercise director at HealthTrack Sports Wellness in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, she managed over 20 class formats and more than 40 instructors, including five mind-body formats at various levels. Although she has over 30 years of experience and is a STOTT PILATES®-trained instructor, she finds that evaluating instructors for lesser-known formats can still be challenging. McDermott suggests focusing a good amount of your attention on how participants react to the instructor.

“Watch how the participants respond to the instructor’s cues. That is just as important as observing the actual instruction. Can members just listen to the cues and description, or are they continually looking to see what the instructor is doing? Communication skills are a primary difference between a good and great instructor.”

Additionally, asking a long-time, trusted member why they enjoy an instructor’s class can give you some insight from a member’s perspective. Maybe the instructor makes everyone feel welcome regardless of fitness level, or does a great job of modifying exercises for those with lower-back issues. If you prefer the feedback to be anonymous, place a simple participant survey in the studio a few months before the review period. This may garner a good amount of data.

Use Your Professional Network

Don’t shy away from asking for help. Your colleagues, peers and instructors with more mind-body program experience can be excellent resources.

“One of the greatest advantages of the fitness industry, and certainly of the practitioners/instructors within it, is that there are so many truly dedicated to their art,” O’Brien observes. “Reaching out to other directors for advice and coaching is a sign of your dedication to improving the experiences of those you serve. Utilize the networks that are already available, from the certifying bodies to the affiliate clubs. Expert advice and information surround us every day.”

Another opportunity to enhance performance evaluations for both the instructor and the evaluator, O’Brien notes, “is to get the instructors involved in building the evaluation. Initiate a discussion with the instructors as a group, and build the evaluation together. Make it even more inviting by incorporating peer evaluations. Create a peer-learning environment. This is especially helpful after instructors attend conferences and are willing to share their newfound instructional golden nuggets with others.”

Collaborate With a Veteran Instructor

Join forces with a long-time, experienced instructor to help with observations and review meetings. Depending on program size, you may need to enlist the aid of several instructors based on class format. These instructors can be your co-evaluators and help with the nitty-gritty details of each class. This is more than a great learning experience: You’re creating a growth opportunity for a valued, credible instructor, and you’re opening the lines of communication between veteran instructors and less-experienced ones.

Have Employees Do Self-Reviews

In reality, a 45- to 60-minute evaluation isn’t always a true reflection of somebody’s annual performance. That’s why self-reviews are becoming a popular part of the evaluation process.

Self-reviews give employees a chance to reflect on their performance and disclose how they feel about their accomplishments and their work environment. It’s important for this opportunity to give the employee a voice, help a manager conduct a more comprehensive evaluation and transform the meeting into a healthy discussion between professionals.

Lastly, since the instructor is not relying solely on management input, self-reviews often help soften any uncomfortable conversations about performance issues. Self-reviews can be a formal process or as simple as asking the employee to come to the meeting with a list of their annual accomplishments, ideas and concerns.

Before You Wrap Up Your Review

When the review period ends, take time to study all your new information. Brainstorm how to use it to strengthen your program. Rewarding excellent staff and addressing performance issues are the obvious ways to apply this pertinent information. However, before you store away your files for another year, dig a little deeper and pay attention to the following:

  • Goal setting. Use performance information and review discussion to help instructors formulate their goals for the upcoming year. Spending time on staff objectives shows your commitment to your staff by helping turn their dreams and aspirations into attainable realities. This increases staff accountability and loyalty at the same time that it strengthens your program. What’s more, goal setting helps guide employee and program growth. Your mat-based Pilates instructor may be ready for reformer training. Can you boost your program by investing in this employee?
  • Instructor placement. Are all your instructors in the correct roles? Do you need to make any staff changes to your schedule? A Pilates instructor who is phenomenal at teaching fundamentals may not be the best fit for the advanced, athletic-based class she is currently teaching. Do you have someone who can slide into that role? Placement strategy helps ensure excellent staff retention, good morale and participant satisfaction.
  • Hidden strengths and experiences. What knowledge does your current team possess? How can you leverage that knowledge to your advantage? The answers to these questions can help channel growth direction and strategies. If your program is ready for growth, search for expertise in-house before looking for a new hire. Maybe your yoga instructor is also a certified massage therapist. Can she teach a myofascial release class? Or maybe one of your instructors excels at public speaking. Think about offering an intro-to-yoga seminar to drive in new clientele. Making the most of your current resources is an extremely efficient and cost-effective way to get employees more involved, provide growth opportunities and expand programming.
  • Distinct and unique qualities. Does each of your instructors have over 10 years of experience? Do several staff members have specialty certifications or fitness-related degrees? Use any unique characteristic trends for promotional purposes, and distinguish yourself from the program down the street. Additionally, focusing on staff accomplishments gives instructors a sense of pride in their work.

Phase in these additional strategies in steps. Your first step might be to increase your own knowledge by physically participating in each class format. Step two might be to implement a self-review component.

Creating a comprehensive review system that progresses beyond the basics can be a lengthy process—especially if mind-body programming isn’t your forte. But all your time and effort will be worthwhile. The process itself and the information gained will be meaningful to all parties involved.

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