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Committing to Culture


A great company culture is critical to every business, not just health clubs. Among the many ways to measure success — i.e. new memberships, retention and revenue — your company culture is one of the least tangible but most important metrics to determine where your business is in the next few years.

“Culture is everything we do,” said Kristen Green, the executive general manager of AquaFit in Australia. “It is linked to our business goals, values and mission statement. Having a great, positive and inclusive culture is one of the most important keys for business success.”

However, a positive and inclusive workplace isn’t made overnight. Building a great company culture takes a great deal of intentionality, communication and an understanding of your club’s mission and core values.

Mission and Core Values

“It’s not just about the culture alone,” said Joe Cirulli, the founder and CEO of Gainesville Health and Fitness in Gainesville, Florida. “You have to understand your vision, mission, core values and envisioned future, as well as the culture. Define each of these areas and that’s what the company is all about.”

According to Cirulli, establishing your culture requires a great deal of thought from your leadership team and should not be a quick process. “We spent six months defining everything about us,” he explained. “We defined our goals and our core values — those things will never change. We then defined the elements of our culture — how we do things around here. And we built our hiring process around who we are and what we believe in.”

Whether you spend six weeks or six months defining your club’s mission and core values, they should be the foundation of the culture you create and guide decisions you make surrounding the customer experience.

“Once your company mission is identified, you must go deep and narrow on driving your core values around that proposition,” said Adam Sedlack, the president of UFC GYM, with locations across the U.S. and in Canada. “At UFC GYM, we ‘Empower the Fighting Spirit’ so our customers may become the best version of one’s self. There needs to be action around that claim, otherwise they’re just words on a piece of paper. Our relentless commitment to staying consistent around this message will establish a baseline culture of future success.”

Just like establishing a new program, establishing your culture takes commitment. Every staff member, from front desk staff to upper level management, has to take ownership of the club’s mission and core values in order to build a strong culture. And it starts with getting the right people on board.

Getting the Right People

In the book “Good to Great,” Jim Collins uses a metaphor that shows a company as a bus and the business leader as the driver. In his experience, the businesses with the best cultures first “got the right people on the bus” before focusing on the direction of the bus. In other words, the key to building a strong, long-lasting company culture is first devoting the time to finding the best people for your club.

“An amazing company culture is about establishing a baseline emotional intelligence and, through this awareness, finding the right team members who will be passionate about both fitness and your brand,” said Sedlack. “As everyone knows, great brands cannot be translated to customers without having great people.”

Once you have the right people in your organization, it’s important to consistently reinforce your culture through your interactions with staff and the example you set.

“Culture, once established, is not something you can simply ‘set and forget,’” said Green. “If people are your greatest asset in establishing culture, they can equally be the biggest challenge.”

Part of setting a good example is addressing poor habits and performance, which is just as important to culture as encouraging good performance. “As the saying goes, ‘Nothing will kill a great employee faster than watching you tolerate a bad one,’” said Green. “It is never easy to manage poor behavior, but it is imperative as a leader you have low tolerance for an attitude of an employee who doesn’t align with your core values.”

However, it’s important to be understanding when addressing behavior that doesn’t align with your culture. There could be other external factors influencing an employee’s poor performance or a bad attitude, which should warrant a conversation with the leadership team.

“If something isn’t working right with an individual, our response is simple,” said Cirulli. “The first time is our mistake, and we’ll sit down with an individual to be clear on our expectations. The second time, it’s the person’s fault and they won’t be part of the team any longer.”

Communication is critical to aligning expectations, reinforcing your mission and core values, and keeping staff members engaged in that mission.

“I believe people are the most important element of company culture, and providing clear communication of roles, responsibilities and shared purpose will provide positive, value-driven behaviors,” said Green. “A great culture is one where you have a community of happy members and team members.”

Positive Environment

“Culture always starts at the top,” said Green. “There is an irrefutable link between leadership and culture — both good and bad. As a leader, you have to be a role model for the desired behaviors that create a positive and inclusive culture.”

All behaviors and attitudes, not just the positive ones, have a trickle-down effect. Employees look to leaders to set the standard for how the club operates, so it’s imperative for leaders to emulate and encourage the qualities they want their employees to have in the workplace.

“Never let up,” said Cirulli. “Leaders have to be the example. Try setting up a reward system based on the values that define you to encourage great performance. We did this and have remained consistent in our service delivery for over 25 years.”

According to Green, positive reinforcement is key. “Reward and recognize behaviors and performance, and reinforce them by your actions,” she advised. “Maintain open, clear communication and support with positive leadership.”

Another way to boost your company culture on a daily basis is making a point to showcase the success stories of your staff members. This will encourage your outstanding employees to continue their strong performance and may even incentivize other members of your team to step up their game moving forward.

“Recognizing the success of others, with the goal of finding difference-makers to spread the company mission, is such an important piece to long-term brand awareness,” said Sedlack.

At the end of the day, the key to building a strong company culture is people. You have to find the right people, get them on board with your mission and core values, and reinforce their belief in the work you’re doing. When their goals align with your club’s, the foundation of your culture will be set to stand the test of time.

“We need to ensure all our team members have a deep understanding of where the business has evolved from — through traditions and stories — and what the business strategy is moving forward,” said Green. “This shared understanding is critical to building and maintaining strong, cohesive teams.” 

Bobby Dyer

Bobby is the former assistant editor of Club Solutions Magazine.

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