Amanda Harris is a management development specialist with more than 15 years of industry experience, including 13 years as a personal trainer. She has presented at trade shows for both the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association and Medical Fitness Association. Currently, she is a faculty member of the Esquerre Fitness Group and is vice president of fitness and wellness at ACAC Fitness & Wellness Centers, based in Virginia. She can be reached at amandah@acac.com.

As a manager, would you rather be known as proactive or reactive? Most of us would choose the former, as it implies we're on the ball and making things happen. But do your hiring practices reflect that? It wasn't long ago that I could honestly say ours did not. I had so many other things on my plate that hiring took a back seat until I needed someone. Then suddenly, the human resources department and I would furiously scramble to sift through résumés I hadn't had time to look at, only to find that most of the good candidates had taken other jobs. I was forced to try to plug holes, take the best of a bad bunch, or deal with being short staffed until I could find the right candidate. Sound familiar? You're not alone. However, you can be proactive in your hiring practices, and that can help you find and keep your best people. In addition, it will save you money and increase your profits.

Proactive vs. Reactive
Proactive hiring practices mean you are always recruiting. If you are always on the lookout for great talent, you may find great employees before you are in dire need. The interview process can be more thoughtful and more careful, so that if you do decide to hire, you'll have a better chance that these people are not only a good fit for your organization, but your club is a good fit for them, too. It gives you the opportunity to be selective. Being selective may mean bringing people on before you really need them. In that case, proactive managers must determine how they can fit in. Is there anyone who needs to move up or move on? You may need to get creative to incorporate this new talent without busting your payroll budget.

These practices are in stark contrast to the more common reactive hiring process, where résumés come in almost by accident and no deliberate recruitment occurs until there is a need. Reactive hiring can leave managers with a narrow pool of candidates. Unless your club is well-known as a great place to work, you will probably not get great employees this way. The trouble with mediocre or worse candidates is the temptation to hire the best of a bad bunch. That employee can wreak havoc on an otherwise good staff. Here's an image: the new hire does enough to barely get by. Your star performers see this, and it annoys them. You continue to let it happen (because you really need the guy) and your star performers start wondering why they're working so hard. Before long, you have a de-motivated, disenfranchised staff, doing just enough to get by. Before long, some of those (former) star performers start to leave, but they are the ones that have built great relationships with your members. Do you see where this is going?

In "IHRSA's 2007 Guide to Membership Retention," John McCarthy, former executive director of the association, states, "Every person employed by a club either strengthens or weakens a culture that either supports or depletes a club's initiatives aimed at improving membership retention." Just think: You could improve your club's profit margin by getting the right people on board and keeping them on board. Those people can act as strong "glue" to keep your members coming back month after month, year after year.

Qualities of a Fitness Professional
You want your employees to be true professionals who can be assets to your club. Those assets must be able to manage the club's members—your other great assets. Gone are the days you could afford to place a "gym rat" on your fitness floor to sit behind a desk and talk to his girlfriend on the phone. You are no longer looking for the person who is the most comfortable around a weight room. You now need certified, competent professionals who are capable of delivering a superior member experience. These professionals must be able to lead members in exercise instruction and make them feel welcomed and valued every time they come in. They must possess a high degree of emotional intelligence and be skilled in conflict resolution, coaching and sales. They need to have a strong commitment to your club, which goes way beyond any personal training clients they may have. Their primary role is to take care of your members and keep them coming back to your club.

Dollars and Cents
How does this translate to dollars? Let's say that you have recruited Mary Smith as a fitness professional to manage the member experience on your fitness floor, making members feel welcome and comfortable, providing instruction and encouragement as needed. She works eight hours a day, five days a week. In those eight hours, she has a positive contact with 10 members per day. She's a diligent professional and is great with people. She makes new members feel welcome and long-term members feel appreciated. Let's say you pay her $25,000 per year. Now let's say you charge $75 per month for membership. Suddenly, Mary is affecting $900 per year, per person. If those are 10 different members per day, and she works 50 weeks a year, she is now affecting $187,500 in revenue per year. Not a bad return. Obviously, Mary doesn't work alone. Consider what having 20 people like Mary on staff could do for you. It could turn that $187,500 into $3,750,000. This is just an example of the kind of revenue you trust your team to influence every day — and that's without adding the peripheral services that Mary and her colleagues can refer members to or deliver themselves.

The bonus is that with great people like Mary, your members will want to refer their friends and family to your club. That equates to even more revenue in both dues and peripheral sales. After all, who wouldn't love to work out with Mary? Great employees are worth their weight in gold. Doesn't a return like that warrant more attention to your hiring process? Put recruiting and selecting great talent at the top of your management to-do list, and watch your profitability grow.