The Underlying Advantage: How to Create a Positive Corporate Culture

by Valerie Applebaum, MPH, CHES on May 01, 2007

How to define, implement and enjoy a corporate culture that leads to success.

Retention, membership, sales, customer service—these terms are used frequently when describing the various aspects of running a successful fitness facility. One term not heard as often, yet of equal importance, is corporate culture.

Corporate culture reflects a facility’s values, norms and behaviors. When a culture promotes positive and value-driven behavior, your gym gains an edge on the competition. A well-defined corporate culture creates unity among staff and loyalty to the club. But when the culture has significant negative aspects, this leads to a reverse cycle characterized by conflicted values, high attrition and poor morale (DiRomualdo 2005). Thus, making the effort to delineate and execute a healthy corporate culture is essential if you want to create a facility that is profitable, respected and a desirable place to work. Read on to learn how to define your facility’s corporate culture and how to implement your vision at the organizational, team and individual levels.

Defining Your Corporate Culture

Corporate culture can be explained as the way a company defines and captures what is important to ensure the organization’s success (Finklestein 2005). The key is “to help [staff] expand the horizons of their awareness, and to facilitate them into taking responsibility for their own actions, behavior and attitude,” explains Larry Lipman, founder of Fun Team Building, in Atlanta. Your corporate culture should be precise enough that it helps guide employee behavior (Moneypenny 2004).

The first step is to define what corporate culture means for your facility. Factors to consider include how much to empower employees to make decisions; what values to promote to your members and staff; what behaviors to require and reward in your employees; and how open management is to receiving input from others (i.e., employees, members, suppliers) (Finklestein 2005). These details will make up the core of your corporate culture philosophy.

In addition, there are three other areas to reflect on when outlining your corporate culture:

1. Handling Conflict Management. Establish ground rules for how disagreements among staff are handled. Address conflicts in a constructive manner, rather than avoiding them. Maintain a culture of mutual respect and professionalism.

2. Matching Responsibility to Competence. While it is acceptable to challenge employees, be cautious about overloading staff with responsibility. Proper levels of responsibility foster feelings of accomplishment (Sattler & Mullen 1996b).

3. Welcoming New Ideas. Resist the temptation to be content with the status quo. Encourage employees to brainstorm new ideas for programming, sales and marketing, as well as other activities.

Once you have fleshed out the details of your desired corporate culture, write it out clearly in a document that is available to all employees and reinforce your vision in company meetings. Your corporate culture should ultimately create a supportive environment that nurtures personal, professional and organizational growth.

Implementing Corporate Culture at the Organizational Level

Following these principles will help you implement your culture at the organizational level:

Lead by Example. A health club’s culture starts with the organization’s leader. The leader must clearly communicate the company’s vision statement and serve as a role model for desired attitudes and behaviors. This means that club presidents, managers and owners must all display the ideals of the corporate culture.

Encourage a Collective Responsibility for the Well-Being of the Company. Upper management should convene regular meetings to discuss the company’s long-term goals and how the staff plays a critical part in achieving these objectives. Once you have instilled a sense of ownership among your employees, the potential for organizational success is almost limitless. Employees who truly care about the organization demonstrate superior attitude, enthusiasm and customer service, which is apparent to members and leads to their satisfaction and retention.

Create an Atmosphere That Welcomes Questions and Suggestions. One way to do this is to establish a time of day when employees know that you and other managers are accessible for private discussion. Otherwise, your staff may consider you available at any time, even if you have deadlines to meet, or they may do the opposite and perceive that you are unavailable. By setting aside a specified time, you avoid inconvenient interruptions, while encouraging employees to approach you. This setup creates an environment that instills confidence, trust and job satisfaction (Green 2000).

Implementing Corporate Culture at the Team Level

Fostering teamwork is essential to maintaining a positive and productive atmosphere. Interdependence is important because no one staff member can be as productive as a functioning team that is working together effectively (Sattler & Doniek 1996).

Team building is largely based on trust. Since your employees don’t necessarily choose the people with whom they work, growing trust among your staff is essential to building cohesive teams (Sattler & Doniek 1996). Trust is achieved by instilling individual accountability and letting employees know that their efforts are valued. The environment must be one where staff members feel that they can openly discuss tense topics with superiors and each other, knowing they will not be criticized. Encourage employees to bring up both positive and negative issues. For example, staff should feel comfortable discussing pleasant topics, such as member compliments and praise for fellow employees, as well as more difficult topics, such as job dissatisfaction. Once this trust is established, teamwork can be very successful in finding ways to improve company systems and processes, solving problems or planning for opportunities. In general, trust must be earned and can be achieved by leading your staff in particular ways: avoid micromanagement, which only discourages employees; set realistic expectations and then encourage and guide your employees to reach them; and always keep your promises to your staff.

In order for teams to thrive, there are several guidelines to follow. Each team must have a clear purpose and distinct goals. Each team member must know the team’s purpose and goals as well as his or her specific role. When these boundaries are not spelled out clearly, the team loses energy and momentum. Teams must meet regularly, and each meeting should have a detailed agenda. Make sure there is a system for tracking action items, deadlines and team progress. Rewarding teams for their accomplishments and empowering them to make decisions will go a long way in fostering motivation and momentum. “When teams are empowered, they are naturally energizing to employees because they allow them to have a measure of control and influence over their work,” explains Bob Nelson, PhD, in his book 1001 Ways to Energize Employees (Workman 1997).

Implementing Corporate Culture at the Individual Level

There are several ways to motivate staff to achieve the company atmosphere you desire. Essentially, when employees know that each individual is vital to the success of your organization, they will be invested in the overall good of the facility.

First, each employee should meet regularly with his or her supervisor regarding the employee’s role and responsibilities (no matter how big or small). This creates a feeling that each person is crucial to the club’s success. During these meetings, identify the staff member’s strengths, and make sure you are using these fully. People doing what they do best are vital to executing and building the desired culture (Moneypenny 2004).

Second, recognize and affirm employees when they work in accordance with your corporate culture. Managers who fail to acknowledge the contributions of individuals are missing a simple opportunity to foster high morale and could end up with poor work performance, troublesome attitudes and resignations (McGraw 1998). Celebrate employee successes through verbal praise, monetary rewards and bonuses, opportunities for advancement, changes in title or responsibilities, gifts on employment anniversaries or other types of acknowledgement that fit with your culture.

The bottom line is that your employees are key assets in implementing and maintaining the corporate culture you desire. So do your best to affirm your most valuable resource—your staff (Sattler & Mullen 1996a).

It will take time and effort to define and execute a thriving corporate culture in your facility. The rewards are well worth it. The benefits for a cohesive corporate culture are employee retention and productivity, a stable company, better customer service and ultimately larger profits (Klein 1999). Who wouldn’t want that?


DiRomualdo, T. 2005. Why corporate culture counts. Wisconsin Technology Network. http://wistech

Finklestein, R. 2005. Creating a corporate culture

of success.


Green, T. 2000. Three steps to motivating employees. HR Magazine (Nov.).

Haney, M.W. 1995. Employee evaluations. Fitness Management, 11 (12), 38–40.

Klein, K.E. 1999. Building a corporate culture: Getting leaders to deal with the “soft stuff.” Business Week Online (Oct. 12).

McGraw, J.J. 1998. A well-oiled staff. Fitness Management, 14 (2), 41–43.

Moneypenny, N. 2004. Five foundations for developing a corporate culture. The RMA Journal, 2.

Nelson, B. 1997. 1001 Ways to Energize Employees.

New York: Workman.

Sattler, T.P., & Doniek, C.A. 1996. It’s a matter of trust: Team building. Fitness Management, 12 (2), 36–38.

Sattler, T.P., & Mullen, J.E. 1996a. Developing winning teams. Fitness Management, 12 (1), 19–21.

Sattler, T.P., & Mullen, J.E. 1996b. Jump-starting morale. Fitness Management, 12 (3), 24.

IDEA Fitness Manager, Volume 19, Issue 3

Find the Perfect Job

More jobs, more applicants and more visits than any other fitness industry job board.

© 2007 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Valerie Applebaum, MPH, CHES

Valerie Applebaum, MPH, CHES IDEA Author/Presenter

Valerie Applebaum, MPH, CHES, is a certified health education specialist with a master’s degree in public health from the University of South Carolina. She currently resides in Connecticut, where she is a health writer for a variety of trade and consumer magazines. She can be reached at