By Ingrid Owen, AFS Community Expert

Building a team of dedicated and engaged employees sits at the foundation of every business strategy.  In the fitness space, this becomes more critical as success in our industry means we provide a service that enables people to live a healthier quality of life.  It’s a grandiose mission with (typically) a less than grandiose compensation plan. 

Ask any manager, trainer or even instructor, none of them chose this career to make a lot of money.  They chose this career because they want to impact and change lives for the better.  You would think that a group of people committed to changing lives would in turn become a reliable solution for member retention.  However, many of these well intentioned folks lose their way and instead most of us struggle with turnover. 

With over 25 years in club operations and programming on my resume, I can confidently say that always and without exception, the golden ticket to retention lies in the team that delivers the experience.  It’s your team that determines your fate in the loyalty game.

So, what do we do to maintain positive team dynamics?  There are a ton of positive team building activities that can help. But today, let’s discuss why eliminating negative folks is the most positive thing you can do. First let’s clearly define the people we are categorizing.  The folks typically do one or more of the following:

  1. Question changes in policy or business strategy consistently
  2. Create team conflict as they are more concerned with what drives their paycheck than the common good of your club and it’s members
  3. Follow policy and procedure only when it’s convenient
  4. Gossip and speak poorly about coworkers and supervisors equally.
  5. Try to find loopholes or opportunities to capitalize for their own gain.
  6. They make life harder on your other staff because their lack of competency put more responsibility on other people.

The industry has notoriously allowed these people to maintain employment if they can “gross” or consistently sell enough to make the pain worth bearing.  But here is where the rubber hits the proverbial road.  When you allow these folks to remain on your team, you lose the really good ones instead.  The ones that are willing to go above and beyond to create a great customer experience. And to make matters worse, they will go find another place to spread their positivity.

So how do we cut out the negativity?  The easy answer is “performance management’ - but that is such a generic term these days.  So let me get more specific.  The easiest model is one that recognizes that people who don’t perform fall into one of three categories...They either Can’t or they Might or they Won’t. See the table below for more details

Employee Action




Unable to perform duties under any circumstances

TRAIN them (per training guidelines)


Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t

COACH them (written documentation and goals)


Unwilling to perform duties as assigned

FIRE them (follow proper documentation protocol)

In order to follow  this simple protocol, here are three actions to take that allow the performance management process to work

  1. Establish standards around performance that include HOW the work gets done, not just WHAT gets done.  So, that means it’s not just about hitting goal, it’s about having great survey scores.  Or in the case of a trainer, establish standards for self generated business.
  2. Create a simple and continuous structure for feedback so everyone knows where they stand.  There shouldn’t be any surprises when it comes to performance management.  The tough conversation you avoid today, becomes tougher tomorrow, when it needs to be accompanied by written documentation or performance plans.
  3. Be fair and consistent.  Ensure training is documented and skill assessments are completed so you can hold your team accountable for the basics.  There is danger in making continuous exceptions instead of holding your team to high standards. 

In today’s world of consumerism, we need players on our team that play for the name on the front of the jersey...not on the back.  For  many of us, this is a culture shift that requires us to remember that actions speak louder than must follow through if you want to truly shift your team.

For more information please contact me at

Ingrid Owen has been in the fitness industry for the past 25 years including 18 years with 24 Hour Fitness where she served in various capacities as the Vice President of Fitness, Group Fitness, Learning and Development as well as corporate Operations. She started her career as a GX instructor as well as a personal trainer. Eventually she entered the club management track and was elevated to Vice President of Operations before moving into a corporate role.

Join the Conversation!