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Recruit and Retain Top Talent

The fitness industry appears desperate to find ways to resolve the high attrition rate of its membership. Not one industry publication passes my desk these days without a focus on membership retention.

Each new year, countless numbers
of men and women make resolutions
to lose weight or get in shape and, as a result, join fitness facilities. According
to Julie Main, president of the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), the critical question “is not, ‘Why have they failed?’ but rather, ‘What are we as club operators doing wrong?’” Of course it’s easy to blame the members. People quickly abandon their new year’s resolutions because they are overzealous in their goals; they lose their focus and get bored. But let’s take an honest look in the mirror: Have we thought about the power our own staffs have in influencing membership behavior and commitment?

It is very likely that members who quit within the first couple of months
of their membership do so because they have not received sufficient motivation, support and recognition from fitness
facility staff. This is especially true if your associate turnover ratio is high and membership and staff no longer know each other. If you are fortunate enough to have high retention within your group exercise staff, either you are lucky or you are well structured to recruit and retain great staff associates.

For a fitness facility to be successful in recruiting and retaining members, group camaraderie or cohesion must exist. The catalyst to this group cohesiveness is certainly other members, but mostly, it’s your instructors! Without top talent to spark member interactions and create relationships, there is no reason for members to show up regularly. In my January column (“Recruiting and Retaining Members,” pp. 8–9), I said that program directors must look beyond the membership sales and program offerings and toward creating winning relationships. This must start within the staff!

Retention of great staff begins with recruiting the right people for the right fit on your team. The strategies introduced in this article have worked successfully for the GoodLife Fitness and VitaVie clubs in Canada, and they can be applied to any associate position within your business.

It is quite simple. To get members excited about joining or trying a new exercise program, staff must be passionate and highly committed to what they are doing. This begins with great leadership. If you commit to the recruitment process and to hiring the right fit for your club culture (which will be unique to every club)—and then do what it takes to retain your talent—you will be practically guaranteed success because you are focused on your people. Be present and turned on to your staff,
and you will be off and running in
your business.

Know Your Culture

Market your company, your current associates and your programs to prospective associates as you would to prospective members. Showcase your strengths and promote the benefits attached to working as either an employee or a consultant within your company. Do not be afraid to ask for a commitment up front. Provide a clear vision of your goals, expectations and methods for evaluating and rewarding good performance.

Every associate at the GoodLife Fitness and VitaVie clubs in Canada is hired as an employee in an “exclusive” environment. This means that instructors make a commitment to work only for our company and no other competing club. As fitness facility consultant Sandy Coffman says, “Exclusivity is a privilege, not a punishment.” It demonstrates a company’s caring and commitment to its associates. When instructors understand the true meaning of exclusivity, they know they will be taken care of and, in turn, will show the same caring and respect to their peer associates and facility members. This has helped to create a strong culture of commitment within the group fitness department and within the company overall. It is
incredible how many group fitness instructors have been promoted from within the company to find a viable way to make fitness a rewarding full-time career at GoodLife and VitaVie.

If you are unable to provide exclusivity to your associates, consider offering incentives—such as higher pay, choice of classes, a free membership while employed and professional development with continuing education credits—
to those who are able to give you their 100% commitment.

Recruit Attitude and Performance

Although we have all been guilty of being “firefighters” at some point in our careers, never hire under fire. With experience comes the wisdom to know the difference between filling the schedule demands for instructors and creating the schedule based on your members’ needs and your instructors’ abilities and availability. Creating a great schedule requires more than just trendy programs. It requires great instructors. (For 10 tips on effective scheduling, see “Group Fitness Takes Center Stage” in my March column, pp. 12–14.) The schedule and programs will only be as great as the weakest instructors’ delivery.

To find great instructors, create an interview process that manages all your needs and measures the key competencies that you are looking for within your instructor team: good attitude; knowledge; presentation skills; ability to communicate, educate and motivate members; and willingness to work and interact with other members of the team. Consider hosting quarterly, biannual
or annual group movement interviews. This allows you to evaluate how a prospective associate performs within a group environment. You are able to discern a lot about an instructor’s willingness to work on a team from the very beginning. Invite candidates to share feedback with their peers, and evaluate how they motivate, communicate and educate their peers while they are teaching. This type of interview is more than an “audition,” because you are able to evaluate much more than their ability
to move. Select candidates who will progress to the individual one-on-one interview stage. This is where you are able to learn about their individual goals and objectives for teaching.

Lead by Example,
Manage by Numbers

As a group exercise coordinator or director you are responsible for managing other instructors, who are leaders in their own right. This requires strong leadership and management strategies, and commitment to your club’s culture and vision. Successful managers focus on having systems and policies with a sense of direction—in other words, lead with a clear head!

Leading your team toward department goals and the club’s overall bottom-line goals requires heart. You will need to relate to and influence every person on your team to follow you toward the team goal. To get respect and have others follow you and believe in a common purpose requires that you walk your
talk by setting a strong example. To win this respect and coach effectively, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the unique personality style of each of your team members. Some instructors need to hear facts and policies, while others need to feel they can share their ideas and participate in the development of new protocols or programs. Still others are simply happy and motivated to show up and follow along.

Share your department and company vision with your associates and, when possible, involve them in some of the decision-making processes. This creates a sense of ownership and commitment to the system or program. If, as a leader, you do not know where you are going or why, then it will be extremely difficult to cultivate commitment and excitement from your associates about following you. Eventually they will give up and find their own way to success—likely at another club where the road is paved for them. Recruit and hire with culture in mind, and look specifically for the leadership competencies that you want in those people. When these align with a prospective associate’s goals and objectives, then you have a match.

The Secret Sauce

The secret to retaining staff is the same as for retaining your membership: results and relationships! Members of your team won’t quit their friends or those they admire and respect, but they will quit the club. Group exercise instructors need to find fun and reward in their employment with you to ensure long-term commitment. Since the majority of instructors teaching group exercise do this as a part-time “hobby,” it has to be fun or they will not stay long or will stay for the wrong reasons.

Most members believe that fitness professionals have the best career of all. We get paid to stay healthy and fit, and we have the ability to inspire members toward achieving a lifestyle full of richness. Perhaps that is true. Perhaps we are going about recruiting and retaining staff the wrong way. Perhaps, as in the movie Field of Dreams, if we build the dream, they will come (and with good leadership, they will stay). u

Motivate With Creative Incentives

Set criteria or create a performance scorecard to evaluate and measure both personal and team improvement. Track and reward benchmarks such as helping participants reach individual goals and contributing as a team member toward club goals for special events. Create variable wage levels based on the
established performance criteria, and budget for measurable improvement annually.

This creative compensation translates into more meaningful individual and team performance recognition than simply giving a raise for staying around year after year, or for being named the most popular instructor. You may present this compensation as a raise, a bonus or other recognition monthly or annually. For example, our “Instructor of the Month” program recognizes a group exercise instructor for going above and beyond her role to
assist either a peer associate or a member. The club spends $50 per month to reward
the instructor with a pro shop garment and posts the instructor’s name on the fitness board for members and staff to see.


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