Many trainers reach a point in their careers when they decide they’d like to open their own facility. Perhaps this is out of frustration with working for someone else, or maybe it’s the lure of making more money by not having to share training fees with the gym.

There are many obvious challenges to opening a facility: finding a proper location, negotiating a good lease and purchasing or leasing equipment are the first that come to mind.

But as any gym owner can attest, after all the start-up and fixed costs of maintaining a club are factored in, the only way to generate enough income to survive is to hire a staff so that more members can be served.

Whether opening a small, private studio staffed with personal trainers working as independent contractors, or a large corporate gym manned by an army of employees, the challenges of hiring, firing and leading people are perhaps the most critical to resolve to secure the long-term success of the club.

The single most important thing to determine before your first hire is to establish what your Company Culture is.

What IS Company Culture?

In the words of Southwest Airlines chairman Herb Kelleher, “Culture is what people do when no one is looking.”

In simple terms, company culture is what your business (and you) stands for. What do you believe in?

They best way to determine this is to take the time to investigate what your Mission Statement is and what your Core Values are.

An example of a Mission Statement is:

“Motivate a positive change in other’s lives through the communication of fitness and nutrition information that is ever-evolving and delivered with humor and passion.”

Examples of Core Values are:

  1. Be responsible
  2. Ooze passion
  3. Deliver excellence
  4. Act with integrity
  5. Speak with honesty

Once you’ve determined what you stand for, you can go about trying to find staff whose values align with the company, or at least those who are willing to adopt the values of the club.

When hiring the right staff, determining whether the prospective worker is a good cultural fit is more critical than a stellar resume with tons of work experience and an alphabet soup of certifications after their name.

Employees (and/or Independent Contractors) are the face of your business to your customers. How they not only treat the customers, but their behavior “…when no one is looking” is how your business is going to be perceived by the world.

As renowned business author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi said in “Good Business,” “A valuable product or service is one that customers perceive—rightly or wrongly—as making them happier.”

That perception, even if it’s WRONG, is what your customers leave your facility with, and what they share with the world.

Having an established set of Core Values that is the foundation for your Company Culture makes hiring and firing much easier.

If your staff isn’t exhibiting the Core Values that you’ve determined will make your customers happy (and thus make your business successful), it’s time to let them go.

Far too many gym owners and managers wait too long to let someone go. It’s never comfortable firing someone. Especially if it doesn’t seem like they are costing you money in the short-run. But make no mistake, a team member who does not represent your Core Values, who is not a good fit in your Company Culture, will cost you money in the long-term.

Knowing who to hire and who to fire is critical, but that’s not all there is to having a successful staff and business.

Keeping good hires is even more important. It’s simply too costly to constantly search for and train new people.

True leaders lead from the front. They lead by example.

No matter what you’ve written down as your “Mission,” no matter what list of Core Values are posted in the staff room, if you don’t “walk your talk,” neither will your team.

Many a gym owner has paid mere lip service to their Core Values, and then is surprised when their staff does the same.

Always remember, even the best worker will never care about your business as much as you do. And if you only give about 70% effort towards living your “Mission,” you’ll be lucky if your team gives 50%.

Nothing ruins the respect those under your charge have for your more that being inauthentic.

A good leader also develops staff that feels they have autonomy in their work. Micro-managing employees is a sure-fire way to make them unhappy. If your team members are unable to do the work without your constant chiding, it’s time to hire new people.

But if you have good staff, you must get out of their way and allow them to have a sense of ownership over their work. Foster good communication with your people. Allow them to feel safe to express their feelings.

Encourage them to come up with ways they think you can better serve your customers. And if the ideas are good, let them implement them!

Ego has gotten in the way of many owners and managers. If an idea isn’t their own, they dismiss it no matter how good it might be. Don’t be that kind of leader!

Take the time develop your Mission Statement and Core Values. Use these as a litmus test for who to hire and who to fire. Foster an environment of honest communication and worker autonomy.

And most importantly of all, always remember to “Walk Your Talk”!