Ten years ago I attended a fitness business seminar hosted by Alwyn and Rachel Cosgrove. There was a moment during the Q&A portion of that event that I distinctly remember to this day.
Alwyn was hammering home the importance of being deliberate about employee training protocols when an attendee raised his hand to ask a question:
What if I invest all kinds of time and money in developing an employee and then he decides to leave?
Alwyn didn’t miss a beat in delivering a definitive counter: What if you don’t, and that guy stays?
40+ gym owners immediately began nodding their heads in approval. With a single question, Mr. Cosgrove had united the room in agreement on the importance of training employees.
I find myself coming back to that conversation more and more in recent years.
Alwyn’s response is the first thing I think of each time a fitness professional tells me that the gym owner he works for has a policy stopping employees from maintaining a personal blog, publishing a newsletter, or launching a podcast unless it is done under the company masthead. Intelligent coaches all over the industry are terrified to pursue any type of personal brand development thanks to tight rules enforced by protective and threatened gym owners.
I disagree with this approach. In fact, I’m comfortable saying that I hate this approach.
I know there are gym owners out there thinking to themselves: But Pete...what if I allow my employees to develop their own personal brands and then they take off and bring my business with them?
To this, I ask you:
What if you squash your employees’ interest in self-improvement, and they never leave?
What if your employees conclude that you’re more interested in fiercely protecting your turf from your own dedicated people than you are in developing great coaches?
What if you stifled their growth so effectively that the resulting dip in service quality devalued public perception of your brand?
What if that dip in perceived brand quality resulted in a dramatic decrease in great coaches and potential interns seeking employment in your operation?
What if your best client caught wind of you trying to suppress the career advancement options for her favorite coach on the team while knowing full well that you offer jobs more than you offer careers? Is that a good look for you?
What if there is a gym like mine, just down the road, that is perfectly comfortable with employing your best coach and taking the risk of letting him spread his creative wings with a little bit of personal branding strategy so long as he kicks ass on the training floor during the hours he’s agreed to be all-in in my operation?
What if, fellow gym owner...what if?