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Club managers: effectively manage and evaluate fitness personnel

Edward T. Howley & B. Don Franks

Given that program directors often spend considerable time addressing administrative responsibilities, it is imperative that they hire staff who not only are qualified professionally but demonstrate exemplary interpersonal skills. Successful managers dedicate a significant amount of time to recruiting, hiring, supporting, and evaluating their personnel. By doing so, they work toward the mission of the facility while fostering the professional growth of their employees.

Finding Qualified Staff

After determining what programs to offer, program directors must decide how to staff each program. A typical fitness facility requires the following personnel:


• Wellness director
• Fitness director
• Fitness specialist
• Membership or marketing manager
• Secretary


• Medical advisor (typically available only in clinic
based programs)
• Dietitian (typically available only in clinic based
• Health educator
• Receptionist for front desk
• Equipment technician
• Cleaning staff


• Instructors for leading group exercise
• Fitness professionals

Specific qualifications required of all personnel should be established, including education, professional experience, certifications (if necessary), and interpersonal skills. The minimum requirements for a certain position can be derived from an appropriate certification (e.g., ACSM, NSCA) for that position (see Sample Job Description). Establishing uniform qualifications for each type of position helps to ensure that all personnel are adequately qualified, to enhance the professionalism of the facility, and to assure the participants that they are receiving accurate exercise prescription and supervision (7).

Each position should have a detailed job description, addressing the major categories listed in the sample job description, that covers the responsibilities for the position. This document should classify the employee’s regular responsibilities into several categories such as organizational ethics, participant assessment, exercise prescription, and leadership skills. Categories that include the most important or commonly performed daily responsibilities should account for the majority of the participant’s evaluation score. Although facilities should have standard job descriptions, the descriptions may be modified based on the needs of the facility and skill of the employee.

The fitness industry is driven by customer service. Although prospective employees may have the professional experience and academic knowledge requisite for the position, their ability to work effectively with participants is equally important. The simple adage, "Customers don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care," captures this notion. Thus, the program administrator should thoroughly assess the prospective employee’s interpersonal skills during the interview, perhaps by simulating difficult customer interactions (e.g., role-playing) and assessing the employee’s responses, inquiring how the employee has successfully addressed challenging customer situations in the past, and allowing other staff members to address these categories as well. Overall, these interactions will provide greater insight into the prospective employee’s interpersonal skills and can serve as the decisive factor of whether to hire someone.

Evaluating Personnel

As previously noted, a job description details each employee’s specific professional responsibilities. This information should be shared with employees when they begin their employment. Employees should understand that their job description will serve as the basis for their annual evaluation and possible merit raise.

Formal evaluations are likely to be performed bi-annually or only once a year, yet prudent supervisors provide pertinent employee performance feedback regularly. Feedback opportunities present themselves when employees contend with customer service issues. For instance, a supervisor observes an employee who handles a participant’s complaint about a poor equipment orientation by promptly scheduling another one and explaining they will make certain the participant is satisfied with their command of the equipment when it is completed. The supervisor should quickly provide some positive verbal or written remark for addressing the situation professionally and improving the customer’s satisfaction with the facility. When employees handle customer service issues poorly, the supervisor should address the issue in a private setting. Depending on the extent and importance of the customer issue, the employee’s actions may only warrant a short discussion of how to better address a similar customer service situation in the future or require a formal written reprimand. The supervisor should document positive and negative customer service instances in the employee’s personnel file, which may be utilized in their next formal evaluation.

As a supervisor, the program administrator must rate the employees on their pertinent job responsibilities. The administrator may do so by assigning concise, quantifiable measures to each of the responsibilities (organized by category) in the employee’s job description. For instance, each responsibility may be rated on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 representing unsatisfactory performance, 5 indicating exemplary performance). Given that each category is weighted by importance, adding the results for each category together will produce the employee’s overall job performance. A uniform protocol for job performance evaluation quantifies an employee’s professional performance and shows the employee which areas and responsibilities need improvement.

Cultivating a Good Working Environment

Fitness facilities with employees who are properly trained, supervised, and evaluated tend to provide a warm and welcoming environment for their members. In addition, each fitness facility should provide equipment that is properly functioning, safe, clean, and readily repaired when it malfunctions. Achieving these objectives cultivates a successful work environment and is accomplished in part by maintaining effective communication among the program administrator, staff, and participants. Effective communication with all three parties requires multiple channels. Channels of communication may consist of annual performance evaluations, feedback from members (via surveys) regarding fitness testing and equipment orientation satisfaction, or allowing employees to make suggestions to improve the facility’s operations.

Providing consistent and accurate information is imperative so that employees understand their specific job requirements, how well they are meeting these requirements, and what they should do to address any professional shortcomings. The program administrator can meet these objectives by regularly supervising the employees as they work or during one-on-one meetings to discuss their professional progress or common challenges in customer service. In addition, monthly staff meetings enhance overall communication. During these meetings, the department’s contribution (e.g., financial, service) to the facility’s objectives should be discussed. Further, employees should be encouraged to provide input on improving future programming. Not only will they provide valuable insight, they will appreciate the opportunity to share their ideas with administrative staff.

Aside from employee input, the program administrator should also seek the opinions of the participants on program offerings and day-to-day customer service, possibly by administering a structured survey to members who have used the facility for a standard length of time (e.g., 3 mo), calling randomly selected members each week to inquire about their satisfaction with the facility, or simply maintaining a participant suggestion box. Suggestions should be addressed with the participant either in person or via a telephone call. The program administrator may also politely ask participants while they are exercising if there is anything the facility can do to improve their exercise experience. Establishing rapport with participants provides them with a greater sense of customer service that transcends simply providing a safe, clean exercise facility with an array of equipment.


This is an excerpt from Fitness Professional’s Handbook, Fifth Edition

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