by Pete Dupuis
What if I told you you’ve made a career change without even knowing it?
If you have one or more employees, you’ve made the decision to work in human relations. In fact, chances are you’ve unintentionally become a one-man HR Department.
I saw half of my employee roster leave to open a competing business in the past 18 months. It would be disingenuous to say that my professional life was not changed as a result. Serving as the “Vice President & Business Director” in my business once required 90% revenue-generating efforts and 10% people management, but that time has come and gone.
In a recent self-audit, I’ve come to the conclusion that as much as 60% of the time I spend on-site at Cressey Sports Performance is dedicated to managing my team. Meetings, both scheduled and informal, eat up many of the most important hours of my week. Employees want to know how we intend to engage with the competitive landscape in the coming months, who we might have our eyes on for future employment opportunities, and, most importantly, where we see them fitting into the resulting puzzle moving forward.
Thankfully there have been far more highs than lows during the time that we’ve spent restructuring and assembling what we’ve deemed to be the perfect CSP team, and many important management lessons have been learned or revisited during this time.
Here’s a look at three of the most valuable reminders I have to share with follow gym owners managing growing teams:
Individualize the way you manage just like you individualize your programming.
Every new-age leadership book you open will point you in the direction of improving listening skills and embracing a sensitive approach to management. With the old-school Mad Men generation behind us, and sensitivity training being an almost mandatory component to every operation’s employee development protocols, it makes sense that books like Crucial Conversations are sitting on the Barnes & Nobles best-selling business book shelves.
But what happens when you encounter an employee who is unresponsive to discussing his feelings?
In a little over two years of employing my buddy Frank Duffy, I’ve come to realize he is unmotivated by management styles that are driven by soft skills and constant empathy. Frank would rather I pull him into my office and ask: “What the fuck is going on with you?” than be taken out to coffee to discuss his feelings.
An approach that is effective with him is not universally right or wrong. It’s what works for Frank, and that’s what matters.
Much like your approach to fitness instruction, the answer to the question “what’s the best managerial style” is typically “it depends.” Fight the urge to systemize your approach to align specifically with the methodologies touted by a trendy author, and embrace the fact that personalities drive optimal leadership styles, not text books. Observe and adjust, or your employee retention numbers will take a hit.
Casual commitments in your mind may not be casual to an employee.
As the business owner, I know you’ve got a ton on your plate. Your mind never shuts off as it relates to business development objectives. Marketing strategies come to mind as you’re in the shower, new training concepts hit you during your ride to work, and frequent brainstorming sessions fill your day as you chat with employees between coaching sets.
As a result, great new ideas can come fast and furiously, and it is easy to develop a habit of voicing them all, regardless of whether or not you intend to execute in the near future. I implore you to be careful of openly discussing the “next big thing” in front of potentially impacted employees if you’re not prepared to take action.
One of the fastest ways to sour a relationship with a team member is to make them feel like you’ve failed to commit to a project or initiative that could clearly improve their professional situation. You may have categorized an idea as something to consider down the road during one of these informal conversations, while at the same time, it was interpreted as “this shit is happening” in the mind of your coach.
If you say you’re going to sit down for a meeting, have that meeting. If you mention you’ll make a revision to the language on the company website, “I’ll get to it eventually” is a mentality that will cost you dearly. Words matter. Don’t be casual with them.
They’ll burn themselves out if you allow it.
I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you’ve identified and helped to develop some exceptional coaches. These are the employees who believe in you, and believe even more in your company’s message. They’ve made the decision to align themselves with your brand, a compliment that is difficult to fully appreciate.
The problem with these go-getters is that they have a habit of go-getting so aggressively that they can work themselves into the ground. Without you realizing it, they’re taking home programming responsibilities that otherwise could have been completed on the clock with a little bit of creative scheduling. They quietly tolerate their work lives bleeding into their valuable personal time, and choosing not to tell you when this is the case.
Occasionally you’ll have an employee who convinces himself that you expect the same level of commitment to the job as you demonstrate as the business owner. Unless you’re making a habit of handing out equity or significant revenue shares, it is up to you to make it clear that this isn’t the case. You may live to work, but your employees should be allowed to feel as if they work to live. Make sure they know you’ve got reasonable expectations for them.
Set a reminder in your calendar to connect with each of your staff members once monthly to ask: “How do you feel about your current work-life balance, and what can I do to help move it in one direction or the other?”
The worst thing you can do…
If there were one common gym owner declaration that pisses me off more than all of the others, it would have to be:
“I didn’t get into this to manage people and would rather focus on what I’m good at.”
Tough shit. You’re here now, and you’ve made the commitment to the coaches on your team to deliver a professional opportunity that will both help them evolve in their careers, and also pay the bills. A laissez-faire attitude as it relates to management and leadership isn’t going to cut it moving forward.
Either look for ways to improve, or embrace the reality of constant turnover.