There is one type of employee you definitively do not want to have as a small gym owner, and that’s the “that isn’t in my job description” guy. That person can certainly thrive in a defined role within a mature organization, but not in your lean startup that rides a rollercoaster of emotional highs and lows every day of the year.
Hiring strong technicians is a great idea, so long as they are willing to acknowledge that we’re trying to 2x our business every day, week and month of the year. With this in mind, roles are going to change over time, objectives are going to evolve, and expectations of every member of the team need to be treated as malleable if we are going to keep this thing reactive and flexible.
I’d imagine you’re not managing a 15+ person team of personal trainers out of a massive big box gym, so closely sticking to the defined job description is rarely an option. If your back is up against the wall, and you’re worried about making payroll or rent in a given month, there isn’t room for coaches who aren’t prepared to embrace an all-hands-on-deck mentality every day that they come to work.
This means that if you’ve got a coach on salary, or pay him a defined hourly wage, he needs to know that he’ll likely be asked to go off-script during quiet parts of the day. The contract he signed probably doesn’t say: “will walk door-to-door handing out flyers promoting a charity event,” but that doesn’t mean you should feel guilty asking him to do so during operating hours.
This mindset applies to the gym that is struggling to just barely keep its head above water every bit as much as it applies to the one that can just barely keep up with explosive growth. Everyone needs to be prepared to bend when necessary for the greater good.
Ben Horowitz hammers this concept home repeatedly in his great business book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things. In it, he explains that even the founding CEO’s in fast-growing tech companies are faced with a lack of job security, especially when they do their jobs well enough to drive rapid growth. It is often assumed that the skills necessary for launching a viable operation are significantly different from those necessary to scale it. As a result, great founders often find themselves being replaced by a board of directors that wants experienced veterans charting the course for their hefty financial investments.
With this in mind, founding CEO’s either have to do the hard work to convince decision-makers that they’re prepared to effectively pivot in their role if necessary, or get out of the way for a more seasoned executive to do so. Our coaches in the private sector of the fitness instruction space are faced with similar realities. They can either embrace the fact that gym growth (or survival) will likely require that they embrace the need for more than assessing, programming for, and coaching clients, or they can get out of the way for someone who will.
The next time you sit down with a potential hire and find yourself running through a structured list of bullet-pointed daily tasks, remind that person that you may have to tear it all up and start from scratch if and when you hit the new client lottery and need to get creative. Your gym that is designed to accommodate 40 clients today will hopefully be taking in 80 a day in the coming year. Does the candidate sitting in front of you understand the realities of that kind of change?
If you don’t convey this message, you’ll likely find yourself both disappointed in that employee’s willingness to step up, and feeling like the bad guy asking more of him.