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The Management Balancing Act


Steve Datte, the regional director of Colorado Athletic Clubs (owned by Wellbridge), looks at management as an opportunity to show you care about your employees.

“I always try and keep up with whose birthday is going on and try and make sure that something special is done for those people at work,” said Datte. “I have employees that take busses in, and I try and make sure they have bus passes. And although you could give them a different hourly [wage], they remember the bus pass a lot more than the wage. It’s the feeling behind that gesture of, ‘This person cares.’”

Datte takes this caring approach into consideration when it comes to employees’ time as well. If an employee wants to come in later and stay later, that’s fine, as long as everyone communicates. In addition, all team building or group activities are done during work hours, so that employees don’t need to spend additional time away from their families. Or, if it is after hours, spouses are invited.

“Any of the team-building things that I do, families are always invited if it’s outside of a normal work day,” continued Datte. “But I try to do 90 percent of mine within the work day, because to me, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing during working hours. I try to never infringe on my employee’s personal time in any way, shape or form. I just think it’s wrong.”

This attitude is not necessarily the norm in the fitness industry or outside of it, but it is a perspective that’s catching on. And Datte believes that if he treats his general managers a certain way, they’ll in turn take the same approach with their employees.

“I think if I start with the general managers, treating them with the professional respect that I want them to treat their employees with, they’d have to be pretty screwed up to get trained and then treat their employees any different than how I treat them,” said Datte. “So it’s really important for me to create a culture of respect of free time.”

But, this does not mean Datte doesn’t expect great things from his employees. “I demand to win, I demand good results — but I don’t think more time gives you better results ever,” he explained. “I think that proper time, proper planning, good business maturity and good business acumen gives you great results — not more time.”

When it comes to management, in all that he does, Datte uses the “golden” rule. However, his definition is slightly different than the norm. He explained the true golden rule means treating people like “they” want to be treated, not how “you” want to be treated. “Treat the employees the way they want to be treated, because they may not want to be treated the way you want to be treated,” he said.

Steve Datte’s Insights on Management

From the Top: As mentioned, we try to hire in the top tier of people in the industry for our leadership roles. Then once we set parameters, which are very broad, the next step is to help them and teach them how to think and give them the freedom to make a few mistakes.

Freedom within the framework: When my general managers have an idea, 90 percent of the time will tell him or her to go for it unless it’s a train wreck from the beginning. This rarely happens, but using experience to teach history is great conversation. We always ask them what their thoughts are before we give them ours. We discuss various ways of doing things and then let them decide out of the then created menu, how they are going to run.

Hire enthusiasts, train skill. At all levels you should love fitness if you expect to work here. Our members usually join to improve their lives in someway. It doesn’t matter if it’s a high-volume, low-end club or a low-volume, high-end club — people want to feel a part of something, they want to be welcomed daily. I believe the root of that inspiration lies within employees. Employees that also want to live their own lives that way first. I can teach anyone what to say when it comes to business or maybe how to act, but you can’t teach him or her to be nice. They either love people or not. We can’t teach them to have a passion for helping others through fitness. So we have to find that first and then the rest is easy.

Promote from within. We do a management interest day, and it’s really about promoting from within before you go looking outside for career growth positions. Once a quarter any employee gets 30 minutes with me to interview for whatever the next level job would be for them. This is created more internal growth and career path excitement than ever before. Our employees don’t need to leave to grow their careers.

Rachel Zabonick-Chonko

Rachel Zabonick-Chonko is the editor-in-chief of Club Solutions Magazine. She can be reached at rachel@peakemedia.com.

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