Common Pitfalls for Program Directors and Managers

by Darren Jacobson on Mar 01, 2008

PFT Director

Making assumptions can lead you astray.

As·sump·tion [uh-suhmp-shuhn].

Something taken for granted; a supposition, the act of taking for granted or supposing; assumption of power. Arrogance; presumption.

One of the common errors that we program directors can make is to assume that we know or can accurately interpret what our staff members are thinking or why they are behaving a certain way, especially under stressful conditions. Assuming is a dangerous habit at the best of times, but a completely destructive one if you are managing a base of personal trainers. Here are seven reality checks (one for each day of the week) with regard to assumptions.

Assumption 1: Your Top Trainers Will Remain at the Top

As novices, many top trainers started out determined, focused and motivated, which is what got them to the top. Once there, however, it’s possible they may become complacent and laid-back. If you feel lulled into a sense of comfort vis-à-vis your top trainers, it is probably time to pay close attention. You may be assuming that they will continue to be successful. However, it is possible they have forgotten about the urgency and focus needed on a continual basis. Or perhaps they are keeping up a façade of success while struggling through tough times, yet are too embarrassed to ask for help.

The key is to have an open and upfront relationship with your trainers. If they have trust and confidence in your ability to understand and support them, they will feel comfortable about turning to you for guidance, assistance or input.

Assumption 2: You Can Stop Recruiting When You Have a Strong Client Base

I always advise program managers to push their trainers until they have a waiting list and then still challenge them to canvass for new clients. Even with a waiting list, a trainer can increase his or her profile by referring clients to less busy trainers. This achieves two things—it helps create a team of trainers working with one another rather than as individuals competing against each other, and it helps your trainers keep their edge for recruiting.

If your trainers or you assume that a client base built up through aggressive canvassing can be retained over time, you may find yourselves back at square one, when clients leave or word-of-mouth referrals don’t come through. Rather than getting to the stage where a despondent trainer is uncertain about rebuilding a once-thriving client list, insist on maintaining a high focus on recruiting through good and bad times.

Assumption 3: It Is Possible to Become Saturated With Trainers

It is a common misunderstanding among PFT managers that their facilities have enough trainers. While most trainers (and maybe a few complacent managers) may believe it’s in their interest to limit the number of trainers on-site, my experience has taught me the opposite. When you have a diverse team of trainers, your business will actually be more successful. The secret is to recruit trainers who can tap into a variety of markets.

Whereas recruiting five trainers with a similar focus and training style will lead to difficult competition, recruiting a variety of trainers with different skills, knowledge and attributes will drive your model forward. This diversity will keep your business fresh and exciting for the member base, while instilling a healthy level of competition among your staff.

If you follow this model, you can create a fantastically diverse team, which will elevate the profile of personal training within your facility, adding to your credibility and status.

Assumption 4: There Isn’t a Market for Personal Fitness Trainers at My Club

This is a very common assumption and an easy “cop-out” for program managers. It’s like saying there isn’t a market for green lounge suits, pink paint and yellow shoes! There is always a market—what vary are the size of the market and the demand created through marketing and promotions. Isn’t it strange that a PFT team can be struggling along in a club and through attrition basically fall flat, then all of a sudden business is booming when you bring in a couple of fresh, new, focused trainers or change the PFT manager? I would say there is always a market for personal training; the challenge is to recruit the right trainers and the right manager who can aggressively target that market.

Assumption 5: A Long Client List Equals Success

It is very easy for program managers to focus on client volume rather than revenue to determine whether a trainer’s business is solid, but my concern with that measurement style is that it doesn’t take each trainer’s individual costs, expenses, goals and requirements into consideration.

While a tangible client base can be a focus, the end product should definitely be a revenue goal. Assuming that larger numbers of customers equals success can lead to the unhappy discovery that the profit margin has gone out the window, especially if a trainer has fallen into the trap of offering discounts and block bookings in the hope of picking up client numbers.

My solution here is to have trainers use net revenue as the basis for short-, medium- and long-term goals. In this way trainers can focus on profit margins first and foremost at month-end to ensure that they are running an efficient and profitable business.

Assumption 6: I Don’t Need to Meet One-on-One With My Trainers

As long as your goal is to run a strong, stable and credible training model in your facility, you need to meet with your trainers at least once a month in a one-on-one environment. This creates a platform where trainers can raise concerns and clarify new policies and procedures. To assume that trainers are solid and can operate on their own in a hands-off style allows flexibility to creep in. While your trainers may feel a level of comfort in the fact that you are giving them space, I have found that this tends to divorce the PFT manager from the process, and in time, alienates the trainers.

I would actively encourage a focused, structured (30-minute or less) monthly one-on-one meeting with clear guidelines, focus points and expected outcomes. This helps maintain the PFT-manager connection; is an invaluable opportunity to ensure that you are offering clear, consistent communication to your trainer base; and affords you a chance to share your knowledge and skills and add value to the relationship.

Assumption 7: If They Need Help, They Will Ask

Like many entrepreneurial types, trainers are often introverted and proud when it comes to asking for help. Approaching a manager for assistance may seem like an admission of deficiency.

Until a solid relationship has been forged with the PFT manager, it may be more the norm for trainers to turn to other trainers for help or information, or to make excuses when something isn’t working. Have you ever heard “the club has gone quieter, the weather turned bad, it’s too cold/hot” or similar complaints? All these excuses mask the reality of the situation—the trainer needs help!

You know your bottom line: work hard to forge relationships with your trainers, stay close to them, muscle your way into a position of respect and authority, and keep those communication channels open—this is the way to avoid pitfalls on your road to success!

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About the Author

Darren Jacobson

Darren Jacobson IDEA Author/Presenter

Darren is the Vice President of instructor Programming for Zumba Fitness LLC. Prior to this he was the Head of Product for Virgin Active South Africa. He holds a bachelors degree in Human Movement Science and is a featured writer for numerous industry publications. In addition, Darren sits on the IDEA Program Directors Committee and was a finalist for the IDEA Program director of the year award 2009. Darren is a well respected industry speaker at major international fitness conventions including IHRSA, IHRSA Asia Pacific, IDEA, CAN-FIT-PRO, FILEX and MIOFF.