Jim Thomas is the founder and president of Fitness Management USA Inc., a management consulting and turnaround firm specializing in the fitness and health club industry. With more than 25 years of experience owning, operating and managing clubs of all sizes, Thomas lectures and delivers seminars and workshops across the country on the practical skills required to successfully build teamwork and market fitness programs and products. Visit his Web site at: http://www.fmconsulting.net.

While working with health club clients who are struggling and attempting to turn around their existing situation, one of the common things I see are managers and owners who mistakenly think that money or the job itself is the primary motivator for their staff. This rarely proves to be true, and this thinking only makes the problems in the club worse.

We have found that the most important issue for most health club staff members is respect—both to be respected and to be able to respect who they are working for, usually through a sense of accomplishment in a job well done and recognition for performance. Although money is important, in the end, it is not as critical as these other components. If you’re willing to accept this as true, let’s look at how you can now better motivate your staff members.

1. Involve staff members. Many health club employees want to be involved in the ongoing development and progress of their club. Because they are on the front line, they also can have insightful ideas that make a significant difference in the club. When employees are involved in the process, they buy-in quicker to changes and have less, if any, resistance. In other words, they own it. This means you can implement club changes more quickly and easily.

2. Communicate with your staff. Very few health clubs can be accused of too much communication. I hear people in the business say “no news is good news.” However, most staff members want regular updates on the progress of the club and their personal performance. Use everything you can think of to communicate—memos, e-mail, telephone, and one-on-one and group meetings—to keep your employees informed. Talk to your staff members on a regular basis. Tell them what challenges are currently being faced in the club. They may have suggestions.

It is also important that your staff members receive feedback on their performance. If you have a concern with something, remember that silence is acceptance, so be sure to tell them about the issue and give them the opportunity to correct their behavior. When working with clients, I am always surprised how many of the health club staff members do not receive performance feedback of any kind.

3. Celebrate individual and overall club performance. Whatever you go looking for, you’ll certainly find. Look for people doing something right in your health club, and focus on recognizing excellent performance. On an individual basis, you can provide positive reinforcement by issuing awards or using a club newsletter to highlight specific achievements. Send thank-you, birthday and anniversary cards, as well as congratulatory notes to your staff members. Make personal phone calls, and send e-mails, too.

4. Set challenging goals. People strive to achieve what is expected of them. If you set challenging goals for your health club, your staff members will work hard to accomplish them, providing, of course, that they are realistically attainable. It is amazing what people can accomplish when they are given the opportunity to perform. Communicate these goals, and keep your staff informed on the club’s progress.

5. Give your staff the tools to succeed. No health club employee will stay motivated if they do not have the necessary tools required to do his or her job. This includes access to working equipment, regular training, accountability to the system and quality marketing materials. Put your staff in a position to succeed. Frustration will run high when this component is missed.

6. Manage poor performance in your club. Your health club staff members expect you to manage individuals who do not perform to standard or contribute fully to the efforts of the club. However, many managers and health club owners ignore poor performance because they are afraid of the potential conflict. Instead, they hope that the situation will resolve itself. It never does, and this blind approach affects profitability and sales, causes high turnover, and contributes to low morale in the club. By not getting it addressed, you really end up giving permission for low performance.

7. Lead by example. If you want your health club employees to treat each other with respect and dignity, you need to set the tone. It all starts with you. If you expect them to be motivated and enthusiastic, it is critical that you behave in this manner. As an owner of a health club or manager of a health club, your staff looks to you for direction and guidance.