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Thread: A few management/staffing questions......

  1. #1

    Default A few management/staffing questions......

    I own a personal training studio. I have 2 full-time personal trainer employees and one assistant. I have been open 65 months and we have been profitable every month but one (when we expanded and I paid cash for expansion items).

    I put about $100k in my pocket annually with salary and profit. In many industries that is not great but it is very good in the fitness industry (and it looks to be a bit higher this year-maybe $115k).

    I have about 4.5 months of expenses cash in reserve (I am risk averse in many ways). I have bootstrapped everything and have no personal or business debt. My personal overhead is pretty low so I am very happy with my financial situation. I am very proud of this aspect of the business.

    I love my business in many ways but the staffing has been a bear for me.

    I have had a very hard time finding personal trainer candidates who:

    1. have the necessary knowledge to safely and effectively train our mostly middle-aged clientele and;
    2. are able to "connect" with clients in a way that keeps them as clients (this can be the more difficult to find of the two). Contrary to what might seem intuitive, many in this field are not especially self-confident.

    If I could wave a magic wand and resolve the staffing issue my business would be very smooth.

    Evaluating the ability of a trainer to "connect" with clients during an interview is difficult. We have a probationary period during which that can be evaluated but every trainer I have ever hired except one somewhat grew into that...or not. I just haven't found an effective way to assess that. I spend a lot of time with them. Hundreds of hours in a year training them and trying to encourage them. At times, I am too uptight but I am generally patient and helpful, I believe.

    At a large gym like Equinox, the business hires 50 trainers and it is sink or swim as far as the ability to "connect". Those who can connect get to stay and those who can't have to leave. "You either have it or you don't." It is not really practical for me to do that.

    Bringing a new hire on is extremely labor-intensive and has resulted in mostly 75 hour weeks for me during my ownership (I am not really wired for that :-) although I have done it). Went through some burnout/depression/exhaustion about 2 years ago but things have slowly improved. I reached out and talked to friends and a counselor at my church and that helped a ton.

    If the trainers can't connect with the clients, I feel I need to be here to make sure that happens. I am sure this could be in part perception, but I think it is about 80% real. I also take each person's safety and well-being very seriously...probably more seriously than they do. :-) I feel horrible when someone is not making progress or heaven forbid get injured. I know this is a huge part of my challenge but it is hard to turn that off. I am happy to make a good living but I definitely am not just in this for the money.

    I think maybe a high-end hotel like 4 Seasons might have similar needs and I have read some how they evaluate during hiring but could read more-in fact, I think I will do that immediately.

    Our staffing is currently good but I would like to prepare for the possibility of a future change.

    Any feedback on these issues?

    Thank you!

  2. #2
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    Sounds like you need to hire for specific qualities, so you need to figure out how to devise an interview situation that allows to assess if potential hires have those qualities or not. Some of what you mentioned, like the ability to connect can be assessed, at least to some degree in an interview. There's also no law that says that part of your interview couldn't be a work-out, or a roleplay of a coaching session. You seem to at least have some idea of the types of people that don't work, so you could also try to devise questions or activities that can pinpoint or expose any issues you know are red flags, without infringing on any legal boundaries of course. You might also try talking to a headhunting firm and see if they could help you. Perhaps allowing someone else to do the hiring might make a difference.

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    What about implementing a mentorship program for new hires? Instead of you being the one to always train new people, why not pair new hires with a trainer who's already doing good work. This is done a lot in the software industry where a young inexperienced programmer works with a more experienced programmer to learn.

    Your basic problem is really the same problem most companies have that hire employees. Not every employee will turn out to be good. I agree with Kristine that you can probably improve your interview and hiring process and in doing so hire more people likely to become the type of trainer you want. However, you'll probably never come up with a perfect system for finding the right people.

    My guess is you don't really need to be responsible for making sure every new hire is the right hire and you can pass some of the load onto your best employees now.
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    I agree with the suggestion about engaging your current employees to help you in the hiring and training of new employees (if you have any current employees who might be up for the task, and to the extent that they can). The added sense of responsibility that comes from the trust you've placed in them can really help boost their self-esteem, morale, and loyalty. Note I am not suggesting turning over the whole process to them, simply involving them and seeking their input and help...

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