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Bad Staff – Who’s Fault is it?
Originally Posted: 04/28/09

Perhaps the most common owner rant, usually preceded by a few beers, is about staff and how truly stupid they are. The staff doesn't take responsibility for their jobs, they can't, or won't perform the duties we pay them for, and just when your club is really doing nice numbers your best employee leaves and you have to start all over again. Blah, blah, blah and more blah. Whine, whine, whine.

Keep blaming the staff if it makes you feel better but the reality is that most of this is your fault. The good news though is that, through the combination of heavy reading, divine intervention, a little trial and error and a good bottle of wine you can sort out these issues and move your business forward.

Most owners get out of their staff exactly what they put into them. You have crappy people working for you because you hired crappy people, didn't train them well, and then you get mad at them when they don't perform to some high level that really doesn't have any relationship to the business except you need the that much money and they have to go make it today.

One of the most true staff adages is that you get what you buy. Pay peanuts and get stupid monkeys. Many owners are so cheap they only get young, very stupid people who work for them. If you pay a low number for your area and attract a nineteen-year-old person who has no real business experience, or maybe you are her first job, then unless you are willing to put a lot of hours into this person nothing will change. You just can't fix stupid and you shouldn't spend a lot of time trying.

The magic number for most areas of the country that separates talent from just a dumbass filling a time slot is about $2-3 per hour. For example, local minimum wage is what it costs you to get someone to show up for a front counter position. Let's say you are in a market where you have to advertise and pay $8 per hour to get anyone to apply for the front counter position. How good is this person? How old will he or she be? How much work experience in the real world does this person possess?

Advertising a rate at $2-3 more per hour will attract a higher quality person to the job as compared to what the scenario above usually brings through the door. Although it sounds like a lot of money, a few bucks more an hour, or about $360 per month, isn't much if the person can produce and has some real business experience. Production-based people earn their money back in 60 days or less while young dummies never justify even the $8 you pay them.

Another way to look at this is that you hire lousy people to do a customer service driven job, which they don't have the maturity or experience to do, and when that doesn't work you end up throwing more stupid kids in the pile. The thing to keep in mind is that a full time person with business experience in customer service or retail working 40 hours per week can do more than 60 hours of untrained, immature rookies.

You then compound matters by poorly training the people you do hire. Think here deeply for a moment. You hire people with no experience in anything, and then don't train them once you get them, but still expect the person to perform at a very high level. Maybe the person you hired isn't the real dumbass here?
Training any staff, even one with maturity and some talent, takes about 4-6 hours per week. Put in less you get less. Put in more you might make more money over time.

But most owners don't know how to train staff. They know how to do a curl, which by the way is also outdated and useless technology, but you haven't read a business book or attended a staff training workshop in a year. The staff only gets better if you are willing to get better, but most owners bluntly won't do the work because it is too hard. If this is you, stop bitching about your staff because you are getting exactly what you put into them, which is very little at a big expense.

Another issue is setting expectations. Most owners create situational, and often unreal expectations, for their staff. For example, I was working with an owner who was doing a sales meeting. She puts up a flipchart and writes 100 new memberships, 70 renewals and $10,000 in new sales cash on a sheet and then tells the team these are the numbers for the coming month.

After the group left, I asked her how she came up with those numbers? "This is what I need to make this month to pay the bills and buy two new treads” What did you base those numbers on? "You don't understand me. Those are the numbers I need this month to pay bills.”

After pounding her for a little while longer we established that she had about the same chance of making those numbers as I have of playing golf on the PGA tour, which is beyond a physicists ability to calculate below zero.

The most she had ever done in that same month was about 80. Her renewals had been down and she had only hit this number once in the last 12 months and that was in a month where a much larger number of members had signed up the year before. She also had only been averaging about $7000 in new sales money in that target month. In other words, where in the wide expanses of hell did she come up with such donkey poo poo numbers? She mad them up and the staff knows they aren't realistic so how hard will someone chase a figment of the owners imagination?

Your staff can deal with expectations and in fact want numbers they can chase each month. Using more realistic numbers, and then showing the team how she came up with them and that each category was realistic for the coming month, would have better served this owner. If you don't know how to project, see my books because I do talk a lot about history and time line projections and how to do them each month.

Everyone, everyday, needs a realistic target to chase. Even the front counter kids need a daily goal to go after on their shift. Realistic expectations and goals are a motivator but fake numbers pulled out the magical butt demotivates a staff person over time because no matter how hard they work it is almost impossible to hit numbers that have no reality tie to the business.

Staff training isn't hard, especially if you stick to the basics of the business. How to greet people at the door, how to answer the phone, basic sales and basic courtesy, and other simple tasks that lead to high member retention and increased sales are all things that should be talked about weekly. Friday afternoons are still the best time to train staff and every owner should block out at least four hours every single week to get the staff moving.

Also consider bringing in outside people to train, such as your local real estate person or banker who might have the skills you lack to start basic customer service or sales training. You might also keep in mind that many of the equipment companies you deal with can do excellent training not only on their stuff but also with fitness in general. Aaron Moser from Perform Better, for example, has been know to do a four hour install that gets rave reviews from the owners and staff and brings everyone up to date in some of the newer functional aspects of fitness.

One of the funniest things the NFBA staff hears on the phone is the owner who states, "I don't want to bring any of my staff to the workshop because what happens if I spend that money and then they quit?” Good question, but I would be more concerned if I didn't train the person and they stayed for another year.

Keeping people on the job too long because they are nice is a curse. Nice people simple fly low under the kick-their-ass-out-radar and always get a longer break. I am especially concerned with employees who have been around for just too long.

During the last year, I have worked with a number of owners who brag because they have people on the staff that has been with them for over 10 years and in one case the owner had three staff people who had been with her for over 15 years.

The first thing to ask here is do these people still produce any revenue for the company? Not surprisingly, none of the five people in questions really did anything at the club. One worked the counter but had no accountability for dollars on her shift. One was sort of a manager but wasn't held accountable if the clubs she controlled didn't hit target deposit and the rest were equally as worthless. There is no production without individual accountability.

All of these people were deemed loyal employees and all should have been put on a 30-day probation period, given goals to hit and then fired if they failed. Work is a privilege you get only if you perform. This group cost the owners a lot of money because each one got a raise every year and were now making several dollars more and hour than the job was worth.

What happened here, and is an important lesson to learn, is that your best people will leave after three years or so while the laziest and lowest performers will stay as along as you pay them. Accountability weeds out the weak and people who just show up year-after-year will eventually leave on their own if there are numbers that have to be made each month.

The final point to note about most owners and their staff is that they become personality dependent. "I just lost Sarah and it is crushing me this month.”

Personality dependent means you make money when you have workers who work and you lose money when you are between employees that perform. You have no systems in place; you simply go from highs and lows dependent on whom you have working for you at the time.

System dependent means you create systems in your business that allow lesser employees to perform at a higher level, yet the better and more skilled people will even get more done. The vast majority of clubs are simply held hostage by the people they hire and get beaten if a key employee walks out the door because there are no systems in place to guide the staff; simply a little training that gets the staff moving and then abandons them to the day-to-day routine.

A website worth looking at: Warrior X-Fit, functional driven site done by Bill Clark of the ATA, or American Taekwondo Association. The site has a free membership and a workout of the day and if you get involved you can take part in the ranking system. Bill Clark is a legend in martial arts world creating a lot of the business systems in the ATA and influencing a lot of the fighters and early MMA training.

What I am reading: Made to Stick, by Heath and Heath, a book on marketing that will help you start to develop a different thought process for promoting your business in the next few years.

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