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Five Crucial Steps for Better Employee Onboarding

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Chris StevensonChris Stevenson

Staffing the fitness industry is often a revolving-door scenario. Some team members move on, some are let go and some get promoted, leaving a gap to fill. Particularly in the post-COVID era, many facility operators will find hiring a top priority. Hiring encompasses team members new to your company, as well as returning team members in need of refresher training. In either case, a comprehensive onboarding program is crucial for team member success.

Training new employees not only gives them the skills and tools needed to do their job well but the sense of achievement critical for employee retention. For those reasons and others, taking the time to create and execute a strong onboarding program is well worth the effort. On a side note, using robust methods for recruiting new team members is essential. This will secure a larger funnel of talent from which to choose during a comprehensive interview process, thus guaranteeing you'll bring quality people into your organization. The best onboarding process in the world cannot overcome a bad hire.

That said, an onboarding program can be broken down into five segments, which when executed properly, lead to great results:

  1. 1. Warm Welcome: The first and often most missed step in the onboarding process is taking the time to officially welcome a new team member. It is tempting to simply jump in and train someone to do their job. However, new hires are much more receptive if the actual training happens after they feel welcomed and part of the team. Even the most experienced new hire might feel uneasy stepping into a new and unfamiliar workplace. A warm welcome includes having the new hire's uniform and name tag ready on the first day, as well as making an introduction on internal and external social media channels. At our clubs, we include a small gift, such as flowers or a Starbucks gift card. A handwritten note from the owner or manager also makes a lasting impression. I once wrote a welcome card to a new cycle instructor that he posted on social media with the caption, "Some bosses are the sh**!" I recommend preparing an agenda for that first day so the new hire knows exactly what to expect. We also made sure to assign a coworker as a buddy for them during breaks or lunch time. The first day always ended with a meeting with their supervisor to receive feedback and answer any questions. These little things add up to create a great first impression and can go a long way toward making the new team member feel at home.
  2. 2. Culture Training: All onboarding for new team members should begin with culture. Every employee must know the vision, mission and values of your facility. The new hire should learn a little about this in the interview process. However, during onboarding, they learn much more. A strong understanding of why a facility exists and what it stands for, the "facility DNA," is integral. It also helps instill purpose. A clear purpose helps employees make the right decisions and understand their roles and contributions within the company. As an example, while the hire may "work at the front desk," their real purpose is to be the best part of a member's day. When people find meaning in their work, they will be more engaged and perform better. Culture training is the foundation for all training that follows.
  3. 3. Member Experience Training: Now that a new hire knows what the facility stands for and the true purpose of their personal role, it's time to train on member experience. No matter what the actual day-to-day duties, every job should center around providing the best member experience possible. In this segment of onboarding, cover the importance of a great member experience using data and statistics as support. Data confirms it's not just your opinion, it's a fact. Once you have built a case for the importance of experience, it is time to teach best practices. Best practices include warm welcomes and fond farewells, using names, owning questions, body and luxury language, plus countless others. The list of strategies is long, so choose a dozen best practices to drill into your new team member. At this point, new team members know their purpose and understand the importance of providing an unparalleled member experience.
  4. 4. Product Knowledge and Technical Training: Product knowledge is exactly what it sounds like. Your new hire must understand everything there is to know about your products and services. This training includes teaching the hire about your programming, such as group exercise classes and personal and small group training, to the point the new person can speak to those topics with confidence. The hire should also be trained to promote any other additional amenities and offerings you provide, such as a snack bar or pro shop, aquatics components and childcare services. While some of this knowledge comes from your ability to clearly explain things, hands-on experiences guarantee the best results. I would have new hires take a few group exercise classes, do a personal training session, or participate in a specialized program. There is no better teacher than actual experience. We once had a situation where a woman picked up her daughter from childcare and told the childcare attendant she was going to cancel her membership because the barre class she had just taken wasn't traditional enough and had too much jumping. Because the childcare attendant had taken barre classes as part of onboarding, she was able to recommend a different barre format with a better fit for the member's needs. A membership was saved due to excellent product knowledge. Basic information about your business should be committed to memory, too. Knowing the facility address and phone number, emergency plans, where things are located, etc., creates a better member experience because team members can answer questions quickly and accurately. Technical training includes skills specific to the position. These topics could be as simple as clocking in or as complex as software system training. These are the real nuts and bolts of doing the job and are obviously essential. At this stage, new team members believe in their purpose, understand the importance of how to take the best care of members and possess the knowledge and tools to do their job well.
  5. 5. Cross-Training: In this final, but crucial segment of training, new hires learn about other roles performed within the facility. This creates an understanding of those roles, plus respect and appreciation for what others do. Not only does this foster a greater sense of and appreciation for the "team," it also gives team members enough broad job knowledge to help fill alternative roles when needed. For example, a personal trainer may learn aspects of working the front desk during cross training so that when the front desk team member is tied up, the personal trainer can check people in and answer the phone because they have been trained on how to cover those tasks. This builds teamwork and creates an enhanced member experience. Once this final training segment is completed, new hires are invested, purpose-driven and competent in their roles.

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Another aspect to consider when creating your onboarding programs is to vary training media. Use lectures, Power Points, videos, articles and any other means of communication you feel will be effective. People learn things better when they are delivered in a variety of ways. Plus, it helps eliminate monotony and boredom. Also consider giving homework or suggested reading, then test for comprehension and information retention by conducting quizzes on that material. Finally, employ interactive exercises and lots of role playing. Do your best to make your onboarding an engaging, educational and fun experience. When done well, the result is engaged team members, enhanced employee retention and team members performing at high levels to deliver an unparalleled member experience.

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JLR Associates