Giving your employees what they need.

Employees represent your club, so you need them to be knowledgeable, confident and competent. And they get knowledge, confidence and competence through training.

“Our business is only as good as our people, and we have to give them the resources and tools to excel, and that is done in part through training,” notes Debra Siena, regional vice president of Tennis Corporation of America (TCA) in Chicago.

The type of training program you have and how it is organized is based on the size of your club and your club's values. Here are some suggestions from industry experts on employee training programs.

  • Have a direction. The key to a successful training program is to know your club's mission statement and train toward that. “Your mission statement is your road map,” explains Frank Margarella, president of Premier Club Consultants, based out of Tampa, Fla. “It tells your employees where you are going as a club, what type of club you are going to be, what type of employees you hire, what type of amenities you offer, and the clientele you are attracting.”

    Tied in with your mission statement is sharing your club's philosophy and core values, notes Lauren Eller, human resources director for Fitness Formula in Chicago. “Your employees' commitment levels will be much higher if they are brought into your club's philosophy and core values, which [should be] instilled in them starting with day one through your orientation,” she says.

  • Take a look at what you have. If you have a small club, you may not need to invest in a big formal training program with outside consultants. A new employee's first day may include any number of inexpensive items, such as a club orientation, reading the club's company manual, spending time with her supervisor going over job expectations, listening to training tapes or doing exercises in a workbook. All of these are training options that won't tap too much into your budget.

  • Clarify expectations. This is an important factor, says Siena: “A lot of times when we give job descriptions, we emphasize the actions we want the employees to do, but not the result we want them to get.”

    Show employees the objectives to their actions, then devise a training program that gives them the skills to do the actions that produce the wanted results.

  • Manuals help keep it simple. Manuals are the foundation on which you should build your training program. They allow you to deliver consistent information to a lot of people and allow employees to go back and review specific areas, notes Eller.

    According to Margarella, your club should have a policy and procedure manual that puts in black and white what your standards of operation are. In addition, each employee should have her own training manual for her specific job.

    Branding also takes place through your manuals, notes Brenda Abdilla, president of Club Profit Systems (Portland, Ore.): “Organizations around the world that have the best branding are able to attract business on the basis of their brand because they have consistency. Their employees do the same thing in the same situation in every location.” This is because they are all following the same manual.

  • Plan ahead. While your training program doesn't have to be formal and stuffy, it needs to be preplanned and organized. Off-the-cuff training programs don't work well, notes Siena.

    When organizing your training program, survey your current employees about what they wanted to know when they were first hired (e.g., where the fuse box is located) and make a checklist. This way, when you are teaching new hires, each person will receive the same education.

  • Look within. In-house training programs are a vital aspect to the success of a club, but not the only aspect. Your employees can learn valuable lessons from the people who have walked before them in their soon-to-be shoes, states Siena, because the lessons are specific to your club and your club's philosophy, demographics and members.

  • Check outside. The best program combines in-house and consultant training, Abdilla claims. Outside professionals can offer fresh strategies for management, sales, customer service and more.

    “There are many industries out there that have older and better programs that we can learn a lot from,” adds Siena. “Take, for example, Disney World. No one has better customer service and cleanliness than Disney.”

    Bringing in outside consultants also gives your current employees a fresh voice. Since your employees work with you day in and day out, they may stop hearing everything you are saying. A professional consultant may say the same thing you've been preaching, but in a different way that catches the staff's attention, notes Abdilla.

  • Keep it going. Don't just think your training program is for new employees only. It's not just a once-and-done deal. You should have regular ongoing/refresher training because the industry is always changing, and you want to keep growing and fine-tuning your business, notes Margarella.

An absolute must is a yearly reorientation. It doesn't matter if it's a strategic planning meeting or a retreat — you just need to refocus the company on your goals and tweak any programs/services that aren't up to par. “We have to be continually learning,” stresses Siena, “because you are either green and growing or ripe and rotten.”


The Right Consultant

Hiring outside experts as part of your training program is a smart move, but you have to make sure the consultant is a good fit with your club and its philosophy. Here are some things to remember during your search.

  • You should look for a consultant who specializes in areas that may not be your expertise.

  • Find someone who is passionate about her work, and can inspire your employees and instill them with the same spirit.

  • Any professional you hire should agree with your point of view. You don't want her to be teaching your employees contradictory values and skills.

  • Talk to other clubs that have used the professional you are interested in and inquire about their satisfaction.

  • Try the consultant out for yourself. If she is holding a seminar at a trade show or near your club, go check it out and see if you like what she has to offer.