Have you ever walked into a health club and noticed immediately that everything seemed to flow perfectly, that every single employee you encountered seemed to know their job inside and out and could perform any task efficiently with a genuine, competent smile on their faces? Chances are that club had well-documented all of their procedures, making for a well-trained staff, in turn leading to high employee satisfaction and, therefore, high customer satisfaction.

Geoff Hampton, creator of the Open Systems Management Model for the fitness industry, offers, "Sadly, the example of walking into a health club and being met with the above listed scenario is in the minority. Most clubs not only fail to document and record expectations, they fail to have their staff team practice them. As an industry, health clubs tend to hire poorly (panic modality hiring), offer lukewarm initial training and, even worse, provide little or no ongoing training. The cost in lost revenues and satisfied members is tremendous. Personal training revenue should be the number-two revenue stream in any club that offers personal training, yet due to inadequate preparation, most clubs lose a tremendous opportunity for additional revenue, member satisfaction and member retention through unsatisfactory personal training performance."

Why Document Procedures?

There are many compelling reasons to document procedures within a personal training department, several of which we have detailed below.

Training

Documenting procedures or tasks provides accurate, consistent information that can be � and should be � used for training new employees and for retraining current employees. The training process is simplified greatly for both the trainer and the trainee when procedures are documented. With accurate documentation in place, the employee doesn�t need to rely on their memory in detailing a task. Also, the chances of error are reduced when everyone follows one method of doing something, rather than everyone creating their own �unique� method.

The Libertyville Centre Club in Illinois is an excellent example of a club that has gone to great lengths to document their procedures. Steve Allen, Centre Club Fitness Director, offers, �It starts with the orientation process. A thorough and comprehensive orientation checklist is reviewed with every new associate to make sure all policies and procedures are covered and explained in detail. The completed checklist is signed by supervisor and associate and is submitted as part of the initial performance review.�

Evaluating

Documenting procedures within a club, and specifically within a personal training department, provides a clear, accurate benchmark for the evaluation of procedures, processes and employees, provided that the documents are adhered to.

Rich Schoeneman, Libertyville Centre Club General Manager, states, �If we provide our employees a written plan of operating the business and a set of rules to follow, they, in turn, will provide consistent service and answers to our customers. Both customers and staff deserve our efforts in consistency.�

Protecting the Facility

Detailed documentation provides a �safety net� when liability issues arise in the operation. For instance, a responsible training facility would require all participants to complete some kind of medical history prior to actively participating in an exercise program. The information provided on this form by the potential client should be reviewed by knowledgeable staff to determine how to safely proceed. If certain guidelines are not met, the client may need to get a physician�s clearance before participating in the exercise program, or the program design may need to consider specific physical limitations identified by the client. If the procedure is in place, deemed adequate to show proper care and attention by the facility staff, it would be difficult to prove negligence in a legal liability case, should that situation arise. Documenting and adhering to proven procedures demonstrates a serious sense of responsibility on behalf of club management.

Documenting procedures may also help to protect the club in the case of an employee making a negligence claim against the club. If a procedure in question was properly documented and shared with the employee during their training, it is then the employee�s responsibility to follow through on the written instruction. Club management is responsible to provide an employee with every possible chance for success in his or her job. Procedure documentation (to the necessary level of detail), in-depth training and proven assessment and evaluation processes can help eliminate or minimize employee issues.

Establishing Responsibility

Documentation of procedures also establishes and assigns responsibility, accountability and authority within the department. There is no question as to what information an employee has been exposed to, what their role is in relation to the task and what is expected of them. Having such a system in place provides a level of comfort to the department head and to all of the employees in the department.

Also, having documented procedures within a personal training department improves operations at all levels by integrating an environment of continuous improvement. If a facility uses the levels of documentation correctly, frequent operational system reviews will identify any problems in specific areas of the operation. It is critical that the management review all occurrences, assess the solution employed and determine the best plan for correcting the immediate issue and preventing (or at least minimizing the chances for) future occurrences. Reviews also help identify what systems are working and helping to support positive growth for the club � this provides a means to identify those employees who should be rewarded for their efforts, thus improving employee morale and motivation. Documentation of operational systems should be used to reward people as well as for correcting problems!

What Should Be Documented?

Tasks typically documented within a personal training department include, but are not limited to, the following:

� Hiring of new staff

� Training of staff

� Selling/promoting personal training services

� Assessing new clients� needs and goals

� Scheduling of appointments

� Contacting clients who have fallen by the wayside

� Tracking clients� progress

� Assisting members working out on the floor

� Attempting to renew sessions with an expired client

The level of documentation should be determined by each individual club or personal training department. We recommend using the following four-tier document system:

1. Quality Manual � a top-level document that addresses the general structure of the operational system of the business

2. Standard Operating Procedures � documents that provide more detail (the who, what, where, why and when) for each component of the overall structure identified in the Quality Manual

3. Work Instructions � detailed documents (the degree to which would be determined by management) that describe exactly �how� each operation within the department is performed and carried out and may identify measurements or standards by which a process can be evaluated

4. Forms � documents that are used for recording information and can range from a Preventive Maintenance Record to a Client Workout Record to a Purchasing form

How Detailed Should Our Documentation Be?

Each business and PT department should determine what level of detail is necessary in their documentation. The level of detail should be enough to provide the information needed to accurately and timely perform any function or operation within the department.

At the well-run Park Center Health and Fitness at Glenview Park District in Illinois, Lynne Brenner has developed a PT request form that is filled out by each prospective client; this allows proper documentation for prompt assignment of a trainer. �For our facility, customer service is priority; we require our trainers to contact new clients within 24 to 48 hours after receiving this form. This form also allows me, the Personal Training Coordinator, to follow up on all request forms.�

How Should We Maintain and Support Our Documentation System?

A great way to gain employee commitment to your documentation is to have them assist in creating the documentation. Ideally, all levels of employees should take part in this process. Typically, you will see more support of the documentation system from a team in which all members have been invited and encouraged to participate in its development.

To ensure that documented procedures are followed by staff, audits should be conducted periodically. The audits should be performed by employees who function in areas outside of the area being audited in order to get objective audits.

In demonstration of support of the documentation system, it is critical that top management be actively involved in all aspects of the system. Demonstrating support of the system and of the people involved on all levels breeds success and growth!

Tom Perkins, fitness business coach/advisor and industry speaker, states, �Though often overlooked, a business operations manual is an important element of any business, no matter how large or small the business may be. It is vital that each organization takes the development and maintenance of the manual seriously. This is not a task that can be left uncompleted until someone finds enough time to deal with it.

Perkins adds, "An operations manual is more than just an effective training tool; it will also empower your staff to keep your business running smoothly during the times when you will be out of the office for any expected or unexpected reason."

Lisa Ackerman is a Chicagoland-based fitness freelance writer, public relations and media communications specialist as well as a seasoned nationally-certified group exercise instructor. Lisa works with industry manufacturers, distributors, conference organizations and presenters to help them establish new relationships in order to grow their businesses. Contact her at 847.367.8125 or ackerpeople@sbcglobal.net.

Tim Rochford has consulted with small- to medium-sized companies to design and implement ISO 9000 Quality System Standards-compliant operational systems. He has also worked with fitness facilities to help develop and implement documentation systems to help assess and improve all phases of business operation. Tim presents continuing education workshops and home study courses in kickboxing fitness and self-defense training. He can be reached through his website at www.empower-usa.com.

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