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Create a Positive Corporate Culture

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 in creating 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 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, GA. 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. Some factors are: how much to empower employees to make decisions, how open the facility is to receiving input from others (i.e., employees, members, suppliers), what values to promote to your members and staff, and what behaviors to require and reward in your employees (Finklestein 2005). These details will make up the core of your corporate culture philosophy.

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

* Conflict Management – Establish ground rules for how disagreements among staff are handled. Addressing conflicts in a constructive manner, rather than avoiding them, maintains a culture of mutual respect and professionalism.

* 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 1996).

* Welcoming New Ideas – Resist the temptation to be content with the status quo. Encourage employees to brainstorm new ideas for programming, sales and marketing, and 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
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 the desired attitudes and behaviors. This means that club presidents, managers, and owners must all display your ideals. In other words, lead by example.

Additionally, 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. By doing so, managers encourage a collective responsibility for the well-being of the company. 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.

Furthermore, create an atmosphere that welcomes questions and suggestions. One way to do this is to establish a time of day when employees know 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, yet encourage employees to approach you. This set-up 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 is when it works together (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 feel 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 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 in reaching 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.

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

First of all, individuals should meet regularly with their supervisors regarding their role and responsibilities (no matter how big or small). This creates a feeling that each individual is crucial to the club’s success and is indispensable. During these meetings, identify the strengths of staff members and use each individual to their full potential. People doing what they do best are vital to executing and building the desired culture (Moneypenny 2004).

Secondly, 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, a change in title or responsibilities, a gift on employment anniversaries, or other types of acknowledgement that fit for you.

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 1996).

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?*

Valerie Applebaum, MPH, CHES, is a Certified Health Education Specialist with a bachelor’s degree from Wake Forest University and 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 [email protected].

DiRomualdo, T. 2005. Why corporate culture counts. Wisconsin Technology Network. http://wistechnology.com/printarticle.php?id=1973.
Finklestein, R. 2005. Creating a corporate culture of success. www.yourbusinesscoach.net/Creating-a-Culture-of-Success.html, December 31.
Green, T. 2000. Three steps to motivating employees. HR Magazine, November.
Haney, M.W. 1995. Employee evaluations. Fitness Management, November, 11, (12), 38-40.
Klein, K.E. 1999. Building a corporate culture: Getting leaders to deal with the "soft stuff." Business Week Online, October 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. 1996. Developing winning teams. Fitness Management, 12 (1), 19-21.
Sattler, T.P. & Mullen, J.E. 1996. Jump-starting morale. Fitness Management, 12 (3), 24.

Motivate, Collaborate & Celebrate
Here are seven ideas that cultivate motivation and collaboration among staff:

1. Organize staff retreats at off-site locations where employees gather to discuss business and relax; therefore working together outside the gym environment.

2. Arrange social outings that allow staff to get to know one another personally, which in turn helps them work better together.

3. Conduct regular employee evaluations, which serve as a tool for management to increase efficiency, productivity, and communication. For individuals, evaluations are an opportunity for growth, renewal and improvement (Haney 1995).

4. Have staff members spend time working in all areas of the facility to foster a comprehensive understanding of the club’s responsibilities.

5. Offer career development opportunities, including workshops or seminars, that assist individuals in continually honing their skills and knowledge base.

6. Feature staff members in your newsletter. Mention achievements, sales goals reached, and personal or professional accomplishments.

7. Post a bulletin board that features a photo and bio of each staff member. Use this board to post staff successes, certifications, birthdays, or awards received.

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