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Gentle Pressure Applied Relentlessly
Originally Posted 10/08/10

This single line may be the best advice ever written about how to be a good manager. No one seems sure who might have actually written or spoke these words but lack of attribution doesnít lessen their effect.

Most managers/owners in the fitness business usually use one of two styles to manage their businesses. First of all, is the absentee owner-who might actually still be on site but is worthless as an operations manager-who doesnítí know his numbers and normally can be found filling in at the front counter or training someone. This person is always busy and brags about the hours they put in every week but in reality these people canít create revenue or drive numbers. They spend their days working in their business and never working on it as an owner/manager.

This type of leadership is easy to spot. One owner in the Midwest would come to the club, which is about 12,000 square feet with a few thousand members, at 5:00 in the morning, train a few clients, do some paperwork and then be out by three in the afternoon hours before the real business in the club started. The evening, and prime production hours, was left to a series of loyal, but ineffective people who showed bursts of energy and then failed quickly.

It is worth defining loyal. Employees are employees and should never become friends. We normally define loyalty as someone who never misses a day and does a little extra when needed and who never leaves us for another employer.

Another way to look at this is of course they are loyal; you pay decently, they donít have to work hard and you never hold the person accountable for production numbers. They show up, go through the motions, donít really have to perform and then get their check and leave. Of course they are loyal, if they leave you they would actually have to do work at another business. Worry less about loyalty and worry more about paying well for production.

Another owner of a moderate sized club who managed by not being there was always frustrated that he had to be in his club. He felt that after a few years he should have staff that can make money without him putting in the long hours it does take to be successful. He too had a series of employees that would show short intense energy and then slowly fail over the next few months.

Employees want and need structure, at least the good ones. Neither of these owners provided structure. Many people have a hard time getting a good workout on their own and get more done with a trainer. Most employees are really like this too. They canít, and donít want to, manage themselves. The owner gets a new hire, sets them in motion with a little guidance and structure, and then ignores them. The employee produces for awhile and then fails because the structure was withdrawn.

Both clubs never made much money. They broke even, paid a small salary to the owner and just barely stayed in business. These clubs are also the ones that will fail quickly, and ugly, when competition appears. Both owners will, however, sit at the bar and cry about how unfair and nasty the new competition is and how badly the new guys are destroying their business.

The other type of owner/manager who is also ineffective is the one who suffers from the, "No one can do it better than meĒ syndrome. This is the guy who has to make every decision in the business and who is constantly stressed that his staff canít get anything done without him.

He is right, they do nothing because he trained them to do nothing. Why make a decision or take responsibility when the owner is just going to come in and change what the employee did. He didnít change it, by the way, because the employee was wrong. He changed it because he canít stand for anyone else to make a decision and that he has to change it because he has to show the staff person who is boss here.

I worked for a guy like this during the last real job I ever had, which is why that was the last real job I ever had. Good employees flee from fools like this because you never can become engaged in the business. All that is usually left are the employees too dumb and insecure to work for real bosses that might let you grow and take responsibility for their job.

These are also the bosses who define the term, "situational management.Ē Situational management means that there are no set procedures in the business written down in an employee manual or operations manual. Instead, every decision is based upon what is in front of the owner/manager at the time. For example, a former member that has been gone for six months is standing at the front desk. The owner liked the member and letís her back in at her old rate. The employee standing next to the manager says, "Okay, I get it now. Old employees start at their old rates with no membership fee.Ē

The next day the employee meets another former employee and lets him in at his old rate. The owner screams at the employee when he finds this out because that guy was someone the owner didnít like much so he should have paid full price with a new membership fee. What does the employee do now when faced with a former member? He does nothing. He simply waits for the manager to talk to the former member at hand and make the deal. There is no rule. There is no system. There is just the situation at hand and a manager that is so insecure he has to make every decision himself.

Effective management, defined as the businessesí ability to generate profitable revenue over time, can be explained with the line: gentle pressure applied relentlessly.

This means that you create standard procedures, set goals daily and then manage your staff by gently guiding and leading every day.

For example, you set a sales number of three new memberships a day. The sales manager knows this number at the end of the month for the coming month. It is clearly defined and tracked on a wall on the managerís office. The sales manager, whose sole job is production and the acquisition of new members, has total responsibility for hitting that goal.

The manager manages by asking for a plan everyday as to how we are going to hit that goal today (gentle pressure). Are you on track? How is the new weekend sales person doing? We are behind two sales, what is your plan to catch up? Did you get to the follow up on those five leads that were in yesterday? All these questions are the relentless pressure portion of the statement.

Most managers donít manage, they avoid. But itís your club and it has to go in the direction you set even if you have strong managers. Itís your business and itís your ass if it fails. Good staff can offer good ideas and take responsibility for getting things done but a good manager has to constantly, relentlessly, thoroughly ask the questions that keep the business moving according to the plan.

Failure is your fault. The guy down the street hurt your business because you werenít ready to fight. Most martial artists, for example, spend their life getting ready for something that might never happen, but when it does they are usually ready. One punch thrown by a drunk in a bar could end up as a night in the hospital or as a punch deflected and a drunk sat on his ass. Plan for the best but prepare for the worst is perhaps some of the strongest business advice you could ever get.

Failure in the club business is often the lack of preparation. Competition might ding your business a little but if you are ready you should have a chance to fight back. Driving your staff with a plan everyday to succeed is nothing but another version of preparation for the big fight. Gentle leadership applied every day to every employee is your goal for 2011.

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