Whether you’ve been forced to overhaul your current communication strategy or you’re just making minor tweaks, it’s time to bring this column to a close. Here’s the new reality: If you expect to stay relevant as a manager, you need to think of staff as your “main audience.” Employees will react to your “performance” as any audience would. The challenge, however, is that your audience isn’t captive! You have to be crafty in your delivery and diligent in meeting each person where communication culture exists today. Otherwise, your messages may fall short.

A Centralized Communication Portal

Previously in this column we’ve looked at the need for a primary mode of communication. Have you determined what type of system you will use? Is it paper, electronic or a combination of the two? Remember, the biggest stumbling block to employees hearing your message—and, more important, acting on it—is an absence of clear expectations. It’s important to connect individually with employees to explain how they can expect you to communicate with them, how you will expect them to communicate with you and the frequency of communication that will be required to stay abreast of club happenings and employment responsibilities.

When you’ve decided on your preferred method of communication, remember that a majority of instructors will expect and respond best to e-mail, the Internet, your club’s intranet and smart-phone applications. These are the methods most people use today; they’re quick, “real time” and easy to access and reference. However, some instructors may not have embraced these “impersonal” electronic communication techniques, so keep the needs of this audience subset in mind while still striving to minimize input and output.

If e-mail has been your preferred way to communicate, go one step further and explore creating a Facebook group, sharing files with Google Docs, connecting with MyFamily (www.myfamily.com) or using your club’s intranet or other fitness-specific software developed for internal communications. The fewer portals the better. A centralized electronic portal will allow instructors to get in on the conversation and browse when convenient, rather than struggling to manage an onslaught of e-mails from different people at different times of the day, week and month.

For less-savvy electronic communicators, recreate the online community in a three-ring binder that instructors can review when they come onsite to teach class. Relocate your sign-in sheet to one location in the club instead of having sheets in individual studios. Put the sign-in sheet at the front of the binder and replicas of your online communications in the back. Date everything, and arrange items in reverse chronological order. You may also want to provide space for feedback and cross-talk.

When constructing your perfect communication portal (electronic or written), include the following:

  • Notices. Keep these short, sweet and to the point. They should be short snippets of information that instructors need to know, not a lengthy weekly update scattered with action items and erroneous information. Each notice should have a relevant title and only one subject.
  • Sub Board. Add an easy-to-use “swap” board that opens the subbing action to more than just “the usual suspects.” Make the board easy to double-check in order to avoid no-shows.
  • Discussion Forum. Develop this as a great place for instructors to start a conversation and ask open questions about policies, procedures, classes and more.
  • Reference Materials. Make a one-stop shop for anything that instructors may need to refer back to, such as employee handbooks, emergency procedures and manuals. That way, they don’t need to keep copies (sometimes the wrong version) at home or on their computers.
  • Calendar. Keep a monthly view of workshops, opportunities, special events, birthdays, etc.
  • Contact List. Provide preferred phone numbers and e-mail addresses only, and update them regularly to instill trust.
  • Schedule. Always keep a current schedule posted.

Make It Worthwhile

Once you create a centralized portal, make sure your messages are worth reading and responding to. Use the “Three T’s” method:

  1. Task
  2. Team
  3. Touch

Cycle through the Three T’s to stay interesting and engaging. If all you ever do is put out notices about subs, policies, protocols, issues or to-do items, eventually your employees will tune out. Tasks must be communicated, but if all of your outreach benefits only you or the club, you might start sounding like a nagging spouse or an annoying neighbor.

Balance the action items with Team-oriented postings. For example, share something that is relevant to nearly everyone in the group and may or may not be about fitness. Perhaps it’s an article about the newest piece of equipment, a brochure for an upcoming fitness conference, a review of a popular movie or ideas for improving productivity. These are “just because” notices that show you care about your employees beyond what they do for you.

Look for moments to Touch employees individually. Touch-oriented posts single out individuals for their positive contributions. We all want to be rewarded for a job well done, and we want others to hear about it. Create a space where you acknowledge people for helping other instructors or members. You may also want to share positive comment cards, or post accolades for no apparent reason. Individual recognition can go a long way toward getting your other messages heard. Remember, your team has many other responsibilities each day; be brief, to the point, grammatically correct and relevant.

Show Gratitude

You have a responsibility to reward compliance positively. As mentioned above, you can and should catch people doing things right. If you see an instructor acting on a task, give him a shout-out in public. If an instructor chimes in on a conversation, thank her personally. The more you reward your team, the better compliance you’ll get.

Congratulations! You are on your way. Overhauling a communication strategy is a work in progress, and it will take months to align. Keep your goal in mind, and head toward a plan that leaves you stress-free and in the driver’s seat of your program.