The Fitness Industry is a large industry which has many niches within it. Massage, Meditation, Personal Training, Aquatics, Tennis, Aerobics (Group Exercise), Nutrition, etc. I can go on and on listing the different specialty areas that are out there. With that, there are many things that are taught to us by universities, certification boards, our superiors, mentors, etc. Things like: What to do, How to do it, When to do it, Why you should do it, etc. Again, the list goes on. I have been fortunate to have been a member of many clubs as well as visited several fitness facilities to observe these specialty areas. I’ve observed in our industry, that we tend to hire individuals who we perceive have great fitness skills without considering their level of “Professionalism”.
But what does “Professionalism” really mean and why is it important? The American College Dictionary defines Professionalism as, ” Professional character, spirit or methods’, or the ” standing, practice or methods of a professional as distinguished from an amateur.” Why is it so important to define? With this definition, we must ask ourselves on a business end, what are we doing in the Fitness Industry to live up to the definition? We must define professionalism and outline our expectations.
Why is “Professionalism” important? Bottom line… Money. In 2006, Bob Esquerre, President of Esquerre Fitness Group, was quoted in Club Industry as saying, “It costs 2 and half times the amount to recruit a new member as it does to retain as existing member. If you do a great job of taking care of your members, they’ll refer their friends, co-workers, and become your club’s business card. It won’t cost the club a penny.” Yet we consistently miss the boat on the service aspect time and time again.
We must define and set expectations for “Professionalism” and educate our staffs appropriately on how to be professional. One area we need to address is Floor Etiquette: Appropriate fitness conversation, appropriate work on the floor, and dress code.
I have seen poor floor etiquette, and I have seen excellent floor etiquette. I have seen employees doing homework, working out (on the clock), I have had members come to me and say, why does no one talk to me, where is everyone. I have also had instances where I have had to manage up a staff member for the service they have provided (outside of a personal training session). This is where service begins, at the front desk, on the fitness floor, pool deck, locker room, it is everywhere, and we need to not act the part, we need to be the part.
Mike Combes, Vice President Health Care Delivery for the Mercy HealthPlex and Chris Johnson, President of On Target Living International, both agree that giving good service means exceeding the expectations of our customers, our members. The issue is we assume our employees are born with these skills, and don’t address them with education and follow-up. This is where the Administration in the Fitness Industry has not lived up to our end of the bargain. We need to address services skills with our employees to perform at an expected standard. Then, we need to hold them accountable.
Finally: Dress Code and Uniform. Staff should be in the proper uniform, with name tags on, shirts tucked in. Facial hair neatly groom, hair neatly trimmed or pulled back, with no piercings. Tattoos should be covered. Again, Accountability is crucial to this simple yet important detail.
First Impressions are everything in business, and people are looking at our staffs in regards to Professionalism. Why? Competition!! We are in a state of huge competition within the Fitness Industry, as well as competition for entertainment dollars with the smart consumer. We need to be on the top of our game, everyday.
People watch and listen in our clubs. I don’t know how many times I have had a member come up to me after I had a session and ask about an exercise I had my client perform, or asked me to clarify a statement I told a client because the member overheard me say something. People Listen! People Watch! We in the Fitness Industry are on stage all the time, even when we are on break, working out, at home, or at the grocery store. Our actions speak volumes.
There are many characteristics you can point to when talking with your employees regarding professionalism. Here are five basic elements to address at an elementary level.
Character A Professional must be honest, show integrity and be trustful, be responsible and accountable. A professional also looks for the professional choice, does what is right, and projects a professional image.
Attitude A Professional must adopt a serving mentality, seek responsibility, have determination, and be willing to be a team player.
Competency A Professional must have expertise, be able to perform, have personal effectiveness, and be a good communicator.
Excellence A Professional is pressing for excellence, seeks continual improvement, and following instructions.
Conduct A Professional has and shows professional maturity, understands that manners matter, and understands confidences and confidentiality. A Professional also shows loyalty, respect, and performs with a touch of class.
Honesty is one of the key facts of Character, says Cindy Koenig, District Vice President Great Miami Valley YMCA. Without it, you don’t have much to stand on. Integrity and Maturity are also key factors in professionalism.
A key component under Competency is being a good communicator. This means listening. In our profession, many individuals talk too much. Chris Johnson says it is important to listen and react appropriately to the clients/members needs. Chris also states that being professional is an Attitude. You have to want it, and live it.
Mike Combes looks at not only Competency and expertise, but Integrity and Conduct during the hiring process. He states that when hiring, he looks at how the potential employee will treat others by taking them off-site for a lunch interview/meeting. He looks to see if the person uses manners and treats others with respect outside of the work environment.
They all agree that Excellence is a key factor: continued improvement and following instructions be 2 main factors. What I find interesting is that many sources have sited that we do not instruct our employees to do these 2 things. We assume our employees will work toward continued improvement and follow instructions, and we tell them to do be professional. However, we do not educate and follow-up. This sets us up for failure down the road when accountabilities come around.
As we know accountabilities come from the top, Administration. They are also reciprocal. Floor staff can/should be able to hold their supervisors accountable for items they request and for what the supervisor should perform. If there is reciprocal accountability within an organization and it is successful, then trust, teamwork, and professionalism begins to exist.
We all will interact with others who lack professionalism on a daily basis. These interactions directly impact customer service, group morale, and business results. Mike Combes maintains we have 2 types of customers in our business: Internal (Peers and colleagues) and External (members and guests). It is time we as an industry stand up and begin to be accountable for our own actions and educate ourselves to be true professionals. Not just the knowledge of what we do, but how we go about servicing our members, clients, guests, and as well as each other.