Change is inevitable. Organizations restructure, fitness facility ownership turns over and managers come and go. Although change can be positive, for many people the mere thought of it breeds anxiety and fear. During times of job stress, productivity declines; in addition, the rumor mill ramps up, morale may deteriorate and valued employees may look for other opportunities. As a manager, you are responsible for guiding employees through these potentially difficult times. You’re seeking to deter negative repercussions and channel attention in the right direction—toward the job. You can accomplish this by creating and implementing a “change management plan.”
What Is Change Management?
According to the Association of Change Management Professionals, change management is a deliberate set of activities that facilitates and supports the success of individual and organizational change (2014). “The ultimate goal of a change management plan,” explains Dawn Gassmere, MS, a global change and transformation professional based in Chicago, “is to manage the transition“ for all impacted audiences in order to build commitment and support.” Organizations that effectively implement a structured change management program increase the success rate of their organizational change to as high as 96% (Prosci.com 2014).
Since the fitness industry is ever-changing and is strongly affected by current trends, adopting and implementing change management policies is a wise move. How do you do this? Consider the tools presented below.
When change happens, get ahead of the rumor mill. “Early communication is key,” stresses Gassmere. “You need to effectively communicate to administration, staff and your consumers.” Begin with the management staff. Gassmere says it’s important to let these people know early on about looming transitions, because being aware of the changes “will absolutely allow them to better support the people on the floor.”
Next, communicate promptly with nonmanagement staff and direct reports. This helps give your team members ample time to become accustomed to the change. In addition, inform your trainers, instructors and front-desk personnel. These are your front-line staff: the employees who have contact with facility members on a daily basis. Your members are certain to ask questions, and educated employees will be able to respond positively.
Speaking of members, be sensitive to how your clients handle change. As you may already know, people can get pretty upset when you schedule a sub for their favorite group exercise instructor. Imagine how unsettled they may become if there’s an interruption in the schedule or if you replace an existing class with a new one. Make sure the communication flows down to the membership level in a timely manner, so people have sufficient time to adjust and so you have a chance to engage with them professionally.
Offer Various Channels of Communication
How many different ways have you taught a squat? Sometimes you have to physically demonstrate the move, or relate it to an activity in daily life; other times, you may need the help of a stability ball. Learning styles vary, and as you interact with different people you figure out what works best for each of them. Use this approach when communicating with your employees about change. It’s likely that they will not all respond well to the same mode of communication. Some may prefer that you send them an email. Others may be so overwhelmed with emails that your important memo gets buried in their inbox. It’s essential to engage employees in various ways. Send that email, but also send a written memo or a text. In addition, schedule one-on-one meetings and/or hold an all-staff meeting. Make sure your message is communicated successfully to everyone.
Change can have a significant impact on your team; be aware of that, and be sensitive to people’s feelings. Your Pilates instructors may seem unaffected, while the personal trainers may become quite troubled. “All employees will go through the four phases of what we call the ‘change curve,’” says Gassmere. “The phases are denial, resistance, exploration and adaptation. As an administrator, you have to be prepared to manage each phase effectively. The challenge is that each employee will work through the curve at different rates. Some employees may deny or resist the change for long periods of time, while others adapt easily. Establishing a strategy on how to work with employees at each phase will make the entire process more efficient.” For more information about the change curve, visit MindTools.
Show What’s in It for Them
Too many times, managers focus solely on how the change will positively affect the organization. However, the employees are really wondering, “What’s in it for me?” Concentrate on how the upcoming change will also benefit the employees. This will send a message that you’ve taken the staff’s well-being into consideration.
Let’s say your personal training director earns the role of general manager, and you promote the group exercise director to the combined role of personal training/group exercise director. Naturally, the personal trainers have questions regarding this decision. The group exercise director is well-liked and respected by administration and has over 20 years of experience. You believe this person will bring in a large number of new clients, who will then try other programs at the facility and consequently add revenue. Although this explanation is great information for your employees to have, they would rather hear about how this change is going to be a plus for them personally. Therefore, be sure to share that because the new director is already familiar with the club, the transition will bring almost no initial change—except that the additional training clients who are expected to sign up will offer trainers further career opportunities within the group exercise department.
Keep an Open-Door Policy
Employees will be looking for answers and assurance. Always keep an open-door policy. You may not know all the answers or have a solution. That’s okay. Just be honest; your employees will appreciate your sincerity. “Be present for your team,” emphasizes Gassmere. “Don’t hide behind your door. If people think you’re hiding something, you’ll receive a lot of resistance and slow adaptation.”
Ask for Feedback
Engage your staff in the process on some level—big or small. Then you can all work together toward a common goal, which will lead to faster, better results. If you decide to hire an aquatics coordinator, obviously you will be making the final decision. However, ask your employees for input. What qualities would they like to see in the new hire? Do they know anyone who may be a good fit for the position? During times of bigger organizational change, such as a restructure or a technology systems change, ask your staff to complete a survey every 3 months or so. Employee feedback is essential for successful change. For example, you may think that your front-desk staff has been sufficiently trained on the new membership software. But the response you receive shows that half of them are totally confused. Based on this information, you can modify plans if necessary.
The bottom line: Having a plan before you institutionalize change will lead to a smoother transition on all levels. An easier transition means less anxiety, as well as increased commitment from employees and members. This, in turn, makes your fitness facility more efficient in reaching organizational goals, and makes it a much happier place to be overall.