You have probably heard the phrase; failure to plan is planning to fail. It is my firm belief a business is only as good as management’s ability to hire, educate, and create a dynamic staff model. Having a well trained, dedicated, and engaged staff is the foundation of any successful youth sports business. You may think you have a great product or service to offer the community, but if your staff is not organized in an efficient manner, the business will struggle instead of grow. In this discussion, I will focus on the significance of hiring, training and managing an educated, dedicated, and engaged staff.
I have discussed topics related to class structure, technique, spotting, and much more, and all have one common denominator: the quality of the staff. There are many factors that need to be considered in planning, launching, and operating a successful youth sports business. Before you begin you need to address the most basic question; what is it exactly that you are going to sell to the youth sports customer? Answer; Instruction!!! The building, parking lot, equipment, mats, furniture, even the telephone are simply tools – you need to sell…instruction. Hence the most important tool in your business tool box will be your instructors. No matter the business size, this should be the highest priority in your business plan and must be managed and continually evaluated.
Every business manager/owner goes through a continual hiring process as a function of operation. This is where the employer has the opportunity to screen the applicants and determine if the candidate is a good fit for the position. There should always be an application filled out that includes references. It is important to follow-up with these references to see if the candidate would be eligible for re-hire. Former employers are not required to give details on a terminated employee so you may not receive a lot of information on a reference call. The interview process should be designed to learn as much as possible about the candidate. A rule of thumb in this process is to ask open-ended questions and let the candidate elaborate. Listening is the key – let the candidate do most of the talking. With a considered outline and thorough interview plan you have a better chance of picking the best candidate to fill a position.
Unfortunately it is almost impossible through the interview process to determine all of the candidate’s personality traits, good or bad. Initial impressions can easily mask behavioral problems that may only come to light after the employee is in place. For this reason, many businesses have a probationary period for a new hire. This period can be any length of time the owner/manager sees as necessary to establish a level of trust in the employee ability. This is pretty standard operating procedure in larger businesses that offer benefits to employees. During the trial period, the employer should get a good feel on the productivity of the new hire. All positions within a business should have a detailed job description in writing so the employee has a clear understanding of their obligations. This will ensure there is not confusion on what is required of the position.
Training should always be a part of a new hire’s initial introduction to the position. Even if they have extensive knowledge in their position, every business is different in some form or another and the new hire needs to understand and become familiar with the new environment. In my programs, I always have the new hire shadow existing classes so they become familiar with our particular dynamics and structure. This also allows time for adjustment in a new environment. New hire’s should be introduced to a class environment gradually which also allows time for the students to become familiar with the new instructor.
Management should also conduct periodic performance reviews in order to keep the staff focused on company policy and procedures. One-on-one reviews can be stressful and may only be necessary if there is an existing problem.
I often see posts from other gym owners regarding employee’s being late to work, demeanor, and loyalty, to name a few. These issues are often difficult for many business owners and managers to deal with due to the sensitivity and stress involved in confrontation. It is human nature to avoid conflict, unfortunately avoidance will not make the problem simply go away. Worse, in the coconut telegraph of the day (social media) it will almost assuredly fester and create a negative image for the business. When it is necessary to address a behavior issue with an employee it is important to remain calm and not allow excuses or accusations to supplant documented fact. While uncomfortable, it is imperative that the owner or manager deal with these situations quickly and professionally when they occur, or risk damaging the businesses image to the community at large.
One of the more concerning scenarios that can occur is the potential for an instructor to develop a close personal relationship with an individual student, or parent. Inappropriate fraternization can create embarrassing and potentially damaging fallout to the gyms public image as a business. In an effort to avoid this scenario, the gym should have a very clear written policy regarding appropriate contact with parents and students outside of the gym (as discussed in my previous post regarding:(Coaching the Parents). Additionally, while it’s important to develop a strong working relationship with your instructors in order to build a foundation of trust, the owner/manager must always remember they are employees first and keep that relationship on a professional level.
There are special techniques that can be used when the need arises to correct an employee’s behavior. Never confront an employee in a group setting, or within earshot of students, parents, or other staff members. Doing so may only amplify the problem. Schedule a private meeting behind closed doors, and always keep the conversation to the point, and professional. The owner/manager conducting the meeting should also be prepared to offer recommendations to help the employee correct their behavior, as well as suggestions on how to avoid a recurrence. To avoid any misunderstanding it’s a good idea to have another manager present as a witness, and document the meeting in writing. At the conclusion of the meeting it is good idea to have them read and sign the document as acknowledgement that they have been warned about their behavior. This is to help protect the business, owner/s, and/or manager in the event the employee considers legal action. In most cases if everyone involved can stay rational through the meeting it should end with a positive resolution, and may you save a valued employee.
Once the problem with an employee has been addressed, they need to be monitored to ensure the behavior has been altered. If the problems continue, the employee must be terminated!! Firing an employee is never a pleasant task; however there are times it must be done for the overall health of the business. The rationale or cause for termination of an employee should always be documented in detail, and include any documentation from prior meetings. It is not necessary to have the employee sign the termination document (they will most likely refuse to sign anyway). Termination should only be a last resort after all other options have been exhausted, and it becomes necessary to stop further escalation.
It is important to recognize that a great staff will create great results. If this segment of the business is not managed well, serious problems can and will occur. Having just one problem employee can disrupt the motivational dynamic in the gym. Worse yet, it can adversely affect staff morale and could ultimately damage the business beyond repair. When employee policies are violated, they need to be addressed immediately.
With all I have written above there is also the other side. If an employee has done a commendable job, let them know it and celebrate it openly! Periodic staff meetings to reinforce company policy are always a good practice. These meetings reinforce a team spirit in the staff, and will allow them to openly discuss their individual concerns. The meetings will also provide management some insight into potential unforeseen problems, and help you as the owner/manager to proactively address the staff’s concerns.
I hope this post helps in knowing this is a common issue in all businesses. As always, I would love to hear your comments. Also, if there are any subjects you would like me to cover, let me know and I will do my best to post my thoughts. Please Like and Share to all you believe will benefit from the information.
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