As fitness facility managers and owners we wish there were never any conflict with staff members and between staff members. We all just wish everyone would do their job, get along and all hit goals. But that isn’t the reality is it? As you know, issues are always going to surface. A good leader has a system in place for managing staffing conflicts and issues.
I have been working in the fitness industry for over 25 years and have been managing staff members for almost that long as well. I have seen it all, heard it all and had to handle it all! I have learned from my experiences. I want to share with you the 3 steps I believe any good leader should follow in order to have less conflict with staff and to be able to handle conflict in a productive, fair and professional manner when it does arise.
The 3 leadership/conflict resolution steps we will review today are the following:
- Step 1 – communicate clear expectations: the more clear you can be with your staff about your expectations the less likely they are to slip up and the more common ground you will have with staff when working through conflict or issues.
- Step 2 – know what the action plan is when a staff member is not meeting expectations: have a systemized approach to approaching staff members when they are not meeting expectations so that you feel confident and so you know you are treating all staff members equally.
- Step 3 – deciding when it is time for a staff member to move on: as a leader you must do what is best for your business, your clients and your other staff members. Sometimes that means a staff member should leave your business. It is essential that you have clear and fair steps for this process.
Communicate Clear Expectations
Ask yourself. Does everyone on your team know exactly what you expect of them?
Are all of your procedures, expectations and systems clearly communicated and documented so that everyone can review them and fully understand them? It is imperative that you have the following in place for your fitness business:
- Have Systems in the Form of a Corporate Manual – This systems manual should include everything anyone would ever need to understand in order to run your business. When everything is documented it is easy to operate your business because everyone knows how to do things and, at the very least, knows where to find the answers. Having a corporate manual turns training new people into an easy turn-key process because everything is documented and you’re not relying on other staff members to remember how things are supposed to be done. Our business manual clearly lists general guidelines and procedures relating to dress code, punctuality, attendance at meetings, appropriate usage of work hours, cell phone usage, procedures for absenteeism, client conduct, team conduct and more. Our corporate manual also has our Customer Service initiatives, our approach to marketing and advertising, our system for sales, client programming guidelines, operational systems and more. Having all of your systems documented will bring you the closest you will get to having your business run itself!
- Remember: You can’t just print your corporate manual and expect your business and your staff to run smoothly. You have to have systems in place to ensure your staff members read it, understand it, and adhere to it. You can accomplish this by requiring all new staff members to read the manual and finish a quiz to test them on all the important components. Also, all of the monthly evaluations we conduct….enforce that critical company expectations are being met regularly.
- Require Employees to Sign an Employee Agreement – When a new staff member joins your team, clearly lay out their job description and expectations in a written document. In a face to face meeting go over each item to make sure the new staff member truly understands all aspects of his/her job. Going over the compensation package should also be a part of this conversation.
- Conduct Regular and Scheduled Evaluations – Don’t make the mistake of only evaluating your team once per year. If you’re only evaluating them in December, for example, you’re really only evaluating them for a couple months previous to that because who can remember what happened before then?! Additionally, if you don’t conduct regular evaluations, you’re not taking advantage of the opportunity to highlight your teams’ strengths. Staff members love to hear about the good things they are doing so tell them as often as you can what they are doing well and what you appreciate about them! You’ll find the more you do that, the more your team will perform in a way that gains your praise and recognition! If you do this, you will find that you have A LOT less conflict and issues to work through! If you don’t conduct regular evaluations you are also not giving staff the opportunity to see when they are not meeting your expectations and they won’t have an opportunity to improve and do better….which is what you want in the end isn’t it? Having only one evaluation every year for each staff member can be overwhelming because there is so much to review for each person. So regular evaluations throughout the year can make the whole process more manageable for you and your team. In our business, each staff member undergoes a number of scheduled formal and informal evaluations throughout the year…here are just 2 examples of the many evaluations we conduct with our staff each year:
- On-Floor Evaluations – This review is designed to evaluate practical skills and technical knowledge, reinforce client programming guidelines, assess communication, and client interaction skills. An on-floor evaluation includes the following:
- An On-Floor Evaluation conducted by a manager
- An On-Floor Evaluation conducted by a peer
- An analysis of a Video-taped training session
- Yearly Performance Appraisal – This appraisal/evaluation is conducted in December each year and includes the communication in regards to wage changes that go into effect January 1st of the following year.
Although our process is very detailed and extensive, at any given time, a team member has no excuse for not knowing exactly whether he/she is hitting goals and meeting expectations etc. At each evaluation, establish goals, we highlight strengths and address areas to focus on for improvement.
Know The Action Plan for When a Staff Member is Not Meeting Expectations
No matter how clearly you set expectations and how many quality evaluations you conduct you are still going to have staff members who are not meeting expectations. It is critical that you deal with these situations right away. If you don’t, your strong team members will start to notice that the ‘problem child’ is getting away with not meeting expectations and the virus spreads! Before you know it more team members are slacking. So address your staffing issues directly and quickly!
The first thing you should do is schedule a meeting with the staff member in question. Don’t forget the rule….“Praise in Public & Criticize in Private”! Avoid public humiliation which will often times send the staff member into defense mode. Talk to them in private. If you are aware something that you need to address immediately, pull the staff member aside privately and address it right away without other eyes and ears looking and listening in.
I have found the following approaches to work best when addressing issues with staff members:
• Start by saying something positive about the staff member: There has to be something about this person that you appreciate, respect and value. If there is nothing, why are they still on your team?!
• For example “Mark, I appreciate the energy you bring to your sessions and the creativity you have with your exercises” or try “Sally, the rapport you have with clients is incredible, I can tell they really like you!”
• Ask questions about the issue and/or state facts – Asking questions about the situation first can calm things down and can make the staff member feel less attached. Most of the time the staff member will bring up the concern before you have to!
• For example
• Issue – Trainer not hitting revenue goals “I wanted to meet with you to discuss how you’re doing with your revenue goals. How do you feel things are going?”
• Issue – Trainer not attending team meetings “I wanted to take a moment to chat with you because I noticed that you haven’t been to three of our four last team meetings and I wanted to find out if there is anything going on that I should know about?”
• Offer your help, support or a suggestion
• Issue – Trainer not hitting revenue goals “I’m so excited to hear that you’re just as disappointed at not hitting your goals and are willing to do whatever it takes to be successful. How about if you and I schedule a weekly role playing meeting so I can help you with closing the sale and how to ask for referrals?”
• Issue – Trainer not attending team meetings “I totally understand not being able to find a sitter for meetings. I know we have a number of other trainers who have kids also. How about if we get you all together to talk about spliting on a baby-sitter during meetings so it’s easier for all of you!”
• Finish on a positive note – Be sure the staff member leaves understanding that you care about him/her. The reprimand has nothing to do with him/her as a person – it’s about changing actions so he/she and the business can be successful!
Deciding when it is Time for a Staff Member to Move On
Anytime you have a conversation like the conversations we discussed above or the conversations we will discuss now… it is a good idea to document the conversation. Record the goals, outcome, the action plan everyone agreed to and a time frame to speak about the situation again. If later you have to let someone go or in the event of a ‘wrongful dismissal suit’ these documented conversations come in handy!
So when do you give up on a team member? I have been known to give people many chances, probably too many! Yes, I’m a little bit of a softie!
Here’s are reasons that would let someone go or at least seriously think about it:
- Severely unacceptable behaviors like stealing, extreme lying or insubordination, harassment, drug abuse etc warrants an immediate termination.
- The 3 strikes and you are out policy when it comes to poor attitude and not meeting expectations. After the first meeting, if they are still not meeting expectations…schedule another meeting. Each meeting becomes less fluff and a lot more pointing out the facts and where they are not meeting expectations. We continue to set goals, action plans, time frames and consequences. Finally it becomes very easy and if I’m lucky, they realize that it’s not a right fit and they quit. Having a team member quit is always better than firing them from a legal perspective. If they don’t get the hint, I will say something like “We have met multiple times over the last few weeks, and it is clear to me that you are not able to meet the expectations that I have and that we need to part ways. At this point, I will give you the opportunity to resign.” If they do not, you terminate their position and again, document the reasoning and rationale.
- When a staff member has a great attitude but lacks skills I give him/her multiple chances and opportunities to redeem his/herself. This is where I can be a little soft. If the staff member is really trying hard and it is clear that he/she desires to meet the expectations but is just having difficulty, I will pour my energy and resources to help that staff member along. Eventually, the staff member will either catch on and everyone is happy or they get too frustrated that they just cannot meet goals and will resign.
- If you are still having a hard time deciding whether I need to terminate someone, I will ask myself “Knowing what I know now, would I re-hire this person?” If the answer is no, it’s time to move on!
Now you have the information you need to be an exceptional leader even with faced with difficult staff related conflict and issues. It can be stressful to be the enforcer, but it must be done for you to keep the respect of your team and to keep your business in order. If you have systems in place to remain consistent, fair and reasonable when working through these issues…being the manager and leader of your team can be a lot less stressful!
My hopes are that with this information, you will arm yourself with systems to ensure less conflict. But if and when it does surface, I hope this article provides you a step by step approach to resolving it very quickly!