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Are You Speaking Your Staff’s Language?


I recently had a membership sales team member approach me to say, “It’s like my manager isn’t even listening to me.” This resonated with me. I knew both the manager and the team member to be caring, committed and competent. So why the discrepancy?

After some thought I realized these two were not speaking the same language. As club operators and managers, we work hard to attract, retain and cultivate staff. It’s crucial to understand the specific language our team members are speaking to us and what language they best understand, respond to and appreciate.

This is especially important in terms of retention. Take the time to learn the language of your employees. Especially those who live your mission, exemplify your core values and make your club a better place each day. The ones you want to ensure stay with you for a very long time. It’s easy to assume that money talks. And money certainly does speak a language all its own. But you must consider who’s on the receiving end. What other languages can we speak?

Sharing your time with employees can be very rewarding for those who speak this language. Maybe it’s taking a team member for coffee, inviting them to work out with you or just giving them 100% of your attention when they come to you with a question/concern. When you have a team member you’re trying to develop, it could be creating an opportunity for them to spend quality time with a mentor or leader in your organization.

Many individuals respond to verbal praise and affirmation. But, be careful with this one. Not everyone wants this verbal praise shared out loud with a group. Some prefer just a one-on-one praise conversation. Get to know your team member well enough to determine when, where and with whom to share this praise. 

Leading by example can be another form of communication with your team members. I know many staff who feel they can get behind and support leadership when they see them in action. Great leaders demonstrate no task within their facility is too menial. Think of a front desk team member who sees their general manager folding towels, or a club owner who is giving a tour for prospective members. This speaks volumes.

We often assume our team members are looking for monetary bonuses. But, many times the unexpected gift is a great way to “speak” to your employees. It shows you’re not just thinking about them when it’s payroll time. And, of course, it’s a great tool to cross promote other amenities in our club. Giving those team members a personal training session, a massage or specialty class is a win/win for both the team member and your club as a whole. But don’t forget those restaurant, gas and store gift cards.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming your team members respond to the language you do. Determining what language is best can be as simple as a conversation with that employee. Do a little digging, observe and ask questions. When I onboard a new employee I always two questions in reference to this topic. One is, what management style do you best respond to? This is also a question I ask in the interview process, but I like to circle back to it. And the second, how do you prefer to be praised? Store these nuggets of prized information. Share with other leaders on your team who come in contact with that team member and speak their language.

Ann Glor

Ann Glor is the group fitness director at the Wisconsin Athletic Club-Lake Country. She can be reached at aglor@thewac.com or visit thewac.com.

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