A Coaching System for Fitness Managers

Categorizing by performance level helps you set your staff up for success.

By Amy Boone Thompson
Jul 23, 2018

I have worked with hundreds of managers in the fitness business. I have promoted most of them from roles such as personal trainer, group fitness director, café manager, massage therapist and leagues director. While these people were all knowledgeable and skilled in their job areas, most of them had never overseen and managed a team. They struggled in the areas of accountability, performance, communication and leadership.

To help these managers navigate their new roles effectively, I created a coaching system for them to use to lead their teams and drive individual performance. The system allows managers to classify employees into various levels of performance. The levels then dictate the employees’ meeting frequency and the number of activities they are accountable for. By taking on these responsibilities, employees control the pace at which their business will grow. Using a system for coaching removes any subjective critique of an employee’s performance and instead focuses on metrics and data. It puts ownership of success in the employee’s control, with frequent and direct touchpoints from the supervisor.

Best Practices for Managers

Before we get into this systematic way of coaching performance, let’s look briefly at how to lay out expectations and offer a thorough process for training and feedback.

Be clear, concise and consistent. Make sure your business has a scripted training process and that you follow that process consistently. Then you can rest assured that you have trained employees on how to complete the tasks associated with their role. Communicate expectations clearly. Show employees what “meeting” minimum standards means and what “exceeding” expectations looks like.

Align the goals. When you’re outlining organizational goals and specific goals for each role in the business, keep an eye on the alignment of personal life to business life. What’s good for the business is good for the employee, and vice versa. Thoughtful alignment helps to build a foundation of trust and respect. It is important to speak about goals and metrics often for alignment purposes and to reinforce key indicators for success.

Play to their strengths. Each player on your team will offer a different skill set, communication style and interpersonal ability. Once you understand individual strengths, you can cater your coaching style to leverage each employee’s unique talents and can customize activities to match where each person naturally excels.

Listen. Listen in order to understand. Listen with interest and curiosity and without bias. Many companies get their best ideas from their employees. Listening doesn’t mean you are obligated to act on every idea. It simply means that you respect people and will allow them the space and time to share their thoughts and ideas.

Leave emotions out. Many managers lead a conversation with an emotion, such as anger, or a display of empathy. Doing this can take focus off the development opportunity and lead the employee to reciprocate those emotions. Whenever possible, before a meeting rehearse the points you’ll address, and once in the meeting always bring the conversation back to the agreed-upon philosophy or guidelines of the team and business.

A Coaching System of Your Own

Outlining expectations and implementing a sound training process are fundamental for employee success. However, these actions alone will not be enough to drive performance and hold employees accountable. Introducing a coaching system for your team’s development provides a path for people to follow, with built-in challenges/accomplishments and training—complete with scheduled meetings and directed outcomes. To be valuable and to gain adherence, the system must be easy to understand and clearly defined.

After many years of managing teams and trying various methods, I found that a three-level coaching system worked for my teams; the three-level approach served as a continuum of their employment journey and progression. We used the stoplight logic (red, yellow, green) for our naming conventions, since identifying the levels with colors was easy. Know that no level is “bad”; the colors just define where employees are and what they need at a particular time in their development. Each level is defined by skills to be obtained, length of time a person has been employed, metrics achieved and agreed-upon characteristics of a model employee. To reach a given level, employees must meet or exceed the specific metrics and expectations of that level. The levels should be set to allow employees to move between tiers as their business grows in the organization or as they accomplish set tasks or achieve various skills.

The levels also determine the frequency of required meetings and business-building activities. This gives all employees the same opportunity for coaching and development, delivered to them at the time they need that attention. For example, new employees and those who have not been able to grow their business would be required to meet with their manager at least once a week. Each time the manager and the employee meet, they review performance against stated levels, review the efforts and activities the employee accomplished from the previous week, and then set clear action items and goals for the coming week.

Three Trainer Levels

Here’s an example of a color-coded coaching system.

Red-Level Trainers

A red-level trainer

  • is in the first 6 months of employment,
  • has been conducting fewer than 10 paid personal training sessions per week, and
  • is meeting competencies and requirements for employment.

A red-level trainer will

  • meet with the manager once per week for development guidance,
  • attend weekly business-building meetings,
  • work a minimum of 8 hours of fitness coach shifts, and
  • complete 5+ business-building activities per week.

Yellow-Level Trainers

A yellow-level trainer

  • has been employed for more than 6 months,
  • is conducting 11–20 paid personal training sessions per week, and
  • is meeting competencies and requirements for employment.

A yellow-level trainer will

  • meet with the manager for development twice per month,
  • attend weekly business-building meetings,
  • work a minimum of 4 hours of fitness coach shifts, and
  • complete 3+ business-building activities per week.
  • Green-Level Trainers

    A green-level trainer

    • has been employed for more than 12 months,
    • is conducting more than 20 paid personal tra/ining sessions per week, and
    • is meeting competencies and requirements for employment.

    A green-level trainer will

    • meet with the manager for development once per month,
    • not be required to work fitness coach shifts,
    • mentor red-level and yellow-level trainers, and
    • complete 2+ business-building activities per week.

    Taking the System to the Team

    If you choose to adopt a similar coaching system, you will first carefully define the levels and expectations, then create a plan to introduce it to your team. Here are some strategies for a successful implementation.

    Gather your current team and share the coaching system as a tool for providing more coaching to the employees who need it most at whatever point they have reached in their business. Explain that it will serve as a guide for each employee’s professional development. Employees may move forward and backward between levels based on what is happening with their business and performance. The frequency of meetings and the amount of leadership support will provide early indicators that the employee may be struggling with business growth, with interpersonal relationships, with communication or simply with effort. Then, together, the employee and the manager can determine how to move past identified obstacles.

    By focusing on the elements of success, you can help employees set short-term and long-term goals that coincide with levels, thereby growing their productivity. The weekly or monthly goals are selected and tracked by the individual employees; this allows them to choose activities that honor their strengths and passions while giving them autonomy that leads to a healthier work environment.

    In the end, employees will rise to set and meet goals and challenges—or they will not put in the work, and it will become apparent that they may not meet required expectations. Failure to achieve set goals would result in a performance improvement plan, additional training and/or termination.

    Once the team understands why you are introducing the system and how it can benefit them, you will rank each employee at the level that best matches his or her development. The level of each employee is typically a private ranking known only to the employee and the manager—unless the ranking is obvious, such as with a new employee.

    Helping Staff Grow

    By implementing a coaching system in your business, you can foster a good manager-employee relationship and elevate conversations beyond personal observations by addressing real data and a systematic approach to growing. The coaching system provides everything employees need in order to be successful; it supports them with ongoing goal-setting, consistent feedback and business-building strategies, and it allows them to demonstrate self-sufficiency in growing their business.

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    Amy Boone Thompson

    Amy BooneThompson is the national project director for Stroller StridesTM and is experienced in directing multi-purpose health clubs and spas.  Amy teaches fitness/nutrition with Stroller Strides and Moore's UCSD Cancer Center in San Diego. Certification: ACE 

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