For many fitness business owners, the thoughts that keep them up at night are often about their people:
- Did I hire the right person?
- Can I trust her with my clients? With my business?
- Am I paying him too much? Not enough?
- Are they happy? Am I giving them everything they need? Is anyone going to leave?
- Am I following all the labor laws? Paying all the right taxes?
Your payroll isn’t the only thing that increases when you decide to hire a team. In addition to the many responsibilities you already have as a business owner, now as an employer, you must commit focus and time to hire (and even fire), train and support your staff all while ensuring you are in compliance with labor laws, liability and human resources issues. Employing a team is certainly not as simple as hiring, managing and signing paychecks. The reality for most fitness business owners:
- They aren't trained human resources professionals, labor attorneys or accountants.
- Despite good intentions, many are hindered by a sheer lack of training in leadership skills.
- They unknowingly put their business at risk because they are not in compliance with countless labor and payroll laws.
- Though they may 'intuitively' know when there is something amiss with an employee, they don't know how to identify or rectify these gaps that are ultimately limiting their business potential.
Leading a high-performing team even without any formal leadership or management experience is possible; and arguably is the linchpin of any successful business. Whether you have one employee, one hundred or planning to hire your first, here are 10 best practices to help you attract, hire and lead a loyal and high-performing team.
1. Hire EQ over IQ
We all know the highly credentialed trainer who lacks effective communication skills or the instructor who doesn't know how to adjust their program based on the needs of the clients. There is a tendency in the industry to hire based on resume credentials with little-to-no emphasis on hiring on interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence (EQ) and other critical soft skills that make a well-rounded, coachable fitness professional.
2. Lead with standards. Manage with systems.
A strong company culture begins with clear vision and clear standards. Standards should be clearly defined and visible to prospects, clients and employees. Standards serve as the guiding principles of your business that impact the experience you provide, who you hire and how you lead. Systems create the accountability to these standards. Your systems are only as strong as your standards. Lead your people with your standards; manage your day-to-day operations with systems.
3. Create an employee experience
You know the importance of offering an exceptional client experience, but are you as focused on creating an exceptional experience for your employees, too? Companies make the 'Best Places to Work' lists because they understand the direct correlation between staff engagement, loyalty and company success. The interview process, on-boarding, ongoing training, opportunities for growth, and team building are a few elements of creating a positive employee experience.
4. Invest in your leadership skillset
Your business is only as strong as your ability to lead your people to reach their full potential. Invest in management courses, leadership coaches and mentors, study other leaders, and consider outsiders to educate and develop your team.
5. Solidify your HR practices and employee systems
A few questions to begin:
- Are you aware of the legalities of hiring and firing practices; understand employee rights?
- Are you in compliance with state and federal labor laws including correct employee classification (1099-contractor vs. W2-employee), payroll taxes, worker's compensation, proper tracking and documentation of employee hours?
- Do you have an employee handbook and signed contracts in place to protect you and the business?
- Are you properly filing and maintaining employee documentation in the case you were to be audited by the state or federal government?
- Do you need to seek professional guidance to ensure you are protected as an employer?
6. Learn to identify “staffing gaps” using key performance indicators (KPI)
Staffing gap is a human resources term typically used to describe any disparity or weakness that limits your company's success as it relates to your people. Staffing gaps that go unnoticed or unattended can result in costly consequences including stagnant or declining sales, decreasing client retention, unhealthy company culture, lack of trust at all levels, and in some cases, legal, financial and liability repercussions with the potential to cripple a business. Keeping a close eye on your business KPI can reveal staffing gaps in skills, leadership, training/development, strategy, culture or resources.
7. Provide clear expectations with defined benchmarks
“Maximize revenue;” “Create and deliver safe fitness instruction;” “Take initiative to improve XYZ Gym.” These expectations, among others, that are commonly listed in job descriptions. The problem is that they give little to no clear guidance for the employee to achieve. What does “maximize” mean? Is there an actual sales goal they are expected to reach? What is “safe fitness instruction” by your standards? “Take initiative” leaves too much to individual interpretation. Clearly communicate job explanations with defined benchmarks to set your employee up for success and it will alleviate the need to micromanage.
8. Understand individual motivators and reward accordingly
Many employers wrongly assume that the only way employees want to be rewarded is by financial incentive. Multiple employment studies have found that compensation, while important, is not the primary motivator for most employees. You’ll be surprised how many employees are motivated less by money and more by signs of appreciation, opportunities for growth, education and development, a positive work environment, involvement in decision-making, chances to take leadership on projects, just to name a few. It’s incumbent on you as the leader to be aware of what motivates each of your employees and reward and incentivize accordingly.
9. Regularly connect with your employees
Regular meetings with your employees (quarterly at a minimum) are critical to help your employees perform at their best but also to protect your business should you ever need to terminate the employee. Equally as important are regular (weekly) check-ins as a team. Consistent communication with employees will give you an opportunity to get to know them, their motivators, get insight in their job satisfaction and to address any underlying issues before they become more challenging to mitigate. Check-ins must be a priority on your calendar. Communication earns trust with your employees; and trust is the lifeblood of your business success!
10. Place employees in positions where they will thrive
Maybe an employee is most skilled in training small groups, but you have her doing only personal training. Or your new trainer isn't properly trained in selling, but you've put unrealistic expectations on him incongruent with his current skills. Knowing where each employee will thrive and then helping them strengthen areas where they are less competent is imperative to maximizing your business’s potential.
Perhaps the hardest reality to appreciate is that all problems are leadership problems. Leadership requires a very specific skillset including a variety of management skills, a high degree of self-awareness, emotional intelligence and a keen understanding of people and human behavior. Like any skillset, successful leadership requires an ongoing commitment to learning. The great news is that strong leadership skills are developable and will undoubtedly have the greatest impact on your personal and professional success!