Taking Control of Staff Education, Training and Development
In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists. [Eric Hoffer]
The fitness industry is continually changing: new science, new products, and new innovative training methods – what was appropriate 10 years ago may not be appropriate today. Economy experts continually inform us that providing goods and service is no longer the way to generate prosperity, create growth.
The way forward is to create experiences.
According to academics and experts’ experiences are staged events and are measured by emotions and sensations. It’s the feelings created that during the experience that drive the consumer to return and pay more for the privilege.
The aim of this article is to explore [briefly] how to: develop facility staff that; enhance the facility culture, drive the unique facility experience forward, enhancing the facility’s reputation and driving exerciser behaviour, ensuring a return on investment for the facility.
This short piece will focus on the development of the facility team, whether that be the studio team, gym instructors, or Personal Trainers.
This article is not meant to be a deep educational piece of work around fitness industry standards or the roles and responsibilities of staff. It is purely a personal view on how a facility could create an education, training and development pathway that has purpose, meaning and direction for the facility and the staff – a pathway that truly supports the facility, the facility staff, and more importantly the facility’s members in being successful.
As the fitness industry grows experienced industry professionals need to continually learn new skills and adopt new behaviours. New members of staff require an on-boarding process that takes the information delivered on their initial industry courses and immerses them into an organisational culture and the experience they wish to provide to their members.
Before continuing we must clarify that there is difference between education, training and development. Education is defined as: “the process of receiving or giving systematic instructions, that develops knowledge and understanding.”
Training is defined as: “the action of teaching a person a particular skill or type of behaviour, that is required for a particular job.”
Development is defined as: “the process in which someone grows or changes and becomes more advanced.”
If a facility wishes to develop their staff, one of the first things they need to consider is whether education or training is required, or is it a mixture of both? Staff development will always be key in the creation of a unique exerciser experience.
With the expansion of the fitness industry over the last few years, and the number of fitness facilities offering the general population opportunity to exercise, the need to create unique exercise experiences is becoming a huge talking point.
There are only two basic strategies that a facility can utilise to create an experience. The first is content: content is the equipment, the exercises, the sets, reps, training approach, the science of exercise. The content is important, it’s very important, it supports the fitness experience, and, when used safely, effectively, and consistently, it moves the exerciser in the direction they wish to go, whatever their individual motivators to exercise.
The second strategy is to focus on the context: context is the ‘HOW’, the approach, the style, the environment in which the fitness experience is delivered.
When used correctly, both content and context can be uniquely framed into a staged experience that generates positive feelings in the exerciser, which in turn drives exerciser behaviour back to the facility, increasing the possibility of retention and secondary spend, which in turn makes the facility happy. It’s a LOOP! Create experiences via a unique mix of content and context that create positives emotions in the exerciser, which in turn drive the exerciser to return to the facility.
There are a large number of global training providers that offer quality education for facility staff, but unfortunately, if the uniqueness of exerciser experience is what the facility is seeking, then an in-house academy team that fully understands the values and mission of the business is absolutely key.
Disney does it, CrossFit does it, SoulCycle does it. They take responsibility for staff education, training and development, which creates outstanding experiences that create positive emotions, which in turn drives the customer back for more.
The benefits of an in-house academy:
- supports the unique facility culture;
- supports the delivery of the facility’s mission and values (the why and how) to the facility staff;
- creates a clear and unique pathway of staff education, training and development;
- enables education, training and development to be delivered in a more convenient manner
- enables education, training and development to be delivered and in a cost-effective way
- delivers education, training and development that moves the facility away from being bland and indifferent.
In the book ‘Disney U’ by Doug Lipp, it states that one of Disney’s first appointments was a gentleman called Van France. Van France was head of would become known as ‘Disney U’, an in-house ‘training and development’ department that trained and developed staff in the Disney experience (happiness) and he (Van France) had the responsibility of being a ‘human architect’.
He [van france], and his team trained and developed staff in the correct behaviours required to stage the Disney experience, which in turn drove guest behaviour back to Disney . Disney knew that the rides and attractions themselves would not drive guests back to his parks, rather Disney realised the emotions created by both the content and context brings them back for more, and in-house staff training was key to its success, as well as a good mixture of staff development, evaluation and self-reflection.
Education, training and development around safe and effective use of content, ‘the WHAT’, is still massively important in relation to the exerciser experience: content focus learning should focus on ‘reasoning’ and not ‘reproduction’.
It’s in the ‘reasoning’ that staff will develop a deeper understanding of when equipment, exercises, set, reps, time can and should be used to move an individual from point ‘A’ towards point ‘B’ safely and effectively.
In order to create experiences that drive facility members to continually return, the In-house academy requires a focus on the ‘HOW’, the context, the situation in which the facility delivers their experience, this is directly related to the ‘WHY’, the missions, values, and the target group of the facility.
The In-house academy needs to focus on the positive emotions that the facility wishes to deliver to the exerciser at all points within the journey around a facility.
At the facility entrance, the emotions could be ‘TRUST’, WARMTH’. In the free weight area, the emotion could be ‘ENJOYMENT’ through the acquisitions of skill development; in the gym induction, the prime emotion could be ‘PRIDE’, or ’JOY’ in the breaking down of barriers within an individual that have existed for a long time.
Emotions drive behaviour, which in turn drive adherence, which is a major factor in retention and secondary spend for a facility. If you cannot get exercisers coming back, they will not stay or spend money within the facility.
The experience drives the facility economy. This understanding and delivery of staged experiences need to be evaluated, and continually reflected upon to ensure constancy and development of the facility offering, and the avoidance of negative emotions within the exerciser journey.
There are many factors to consider when aiming to develop an in-house education and learning team that builds on the exerciser experience that reflects the values of the facility.
Education and learning will always be a work in progress, and that’s part of the enjoyment; there will be ups and downs, and there will be plenty of learning opportunities to reflect upon, but ‘success is in the journey, not the destination’ – there is always learning in the journey. What follows is a by no means complete list of factors to consider.
‘Only when the emotions work in terms of values can the individual feel pure joy’ (Frankl)
- What is the facility’s story? How does the facility’s fitness offering reflect the values of the facility and the individuals that work within it? Exercisers who join and use a facility are driven by their emotions, they buy into experiences that reinforce who they believe they are. The ‘function of fitness’ is not enough to draw and retain exercisers: there must be a ‘WHY’, and ‘HOW’. The facility must be able to define their fitness offering and allow the education team to educate and develop the staff effectively, consistently and appropriately.
- Who is the facility targeting? It’s impossible to please everyone – all of the most successful and profitable experience providers do not aim to please everyone, it’s unattainable. Think of Apple, CrossFit, Netflix, or any number of hoteliers: not everyone likes them, but those that do are loyal, and continue to spend their money to continually repeat the experience offered, or develop the experience through learning and/or the acquisition of skills, or continued improvement in personal on-demand entertainment. Knowing who the facility is targeting also supports the education team in delivering outstanding education and training.
- What does the target market want? Understand the values of the target group and focus on meeting these values in a positive way. This will then lead to being able to define your experience offering. CrossFit is not just ‘functional training’: they have defined it! ‘Forging Elite Fitness’: this strapline not only starts to define the experience, but it also makes a personal connection with individuals whose goals and values match up. It also gives direction of the programming, education and marketing. Knowing what the target market wants also supports the education team in delivering outstanding education and training.
- Ensure the education and training team understand adult education and training. For in-house education and training to be successful, it must have direction, meaning and purpose. The education and training team must fully understand the wants and needs of the adult learner, as well as having quality learning resources and a verification system that ensures standardisation of delivery. There are some fantastic courses that can teach facility staff to be educators and trainers and lead the in-house training department.
- Getting someone to think differently and getting someone to act differently are two very different things. The education and training aspect will be about 40% to 45% of the in-house education and training team’s role. The major part will be in the staff development, and ensuring consistency in the experience offering. This is where an in-house education and training team can be so very different, and have a major impact on a business, over external education. An in-house team can nurture staff, build the confidence within the team, highlight the aspects of the exerciser experience that creates positive emotions, and evaluate some parts of the experience offering that require development. It’s in the staff development that return on investment starts to demonstrate a real impact on the business: confident, motivated staff that understand the business and their roles and responsibilities, staff that have the skills to ‘reason’ within a situation to maintain the positive emotions of the exercisers. The beauty of staff development is that it does not take staff away from their job role: development is achieved while in a live situation – whether talking one-to-one or in a group session, delivering an induction, or providing PT – with feedback given soon after to ensure maximum effectiveness. Practice NOT talent is the key to success (M. Syed – Bounce) . Embedding the business DNA into everyday staff actions strengthens the facility culture and supports the exerciser experience.
The aim of this article has been to explore [briefly] how to develop facility staff that; enhance the facility culture, drive the unique facility experience forward, enhancing the facility’s reputation and driving exerciser behaviour, ensuring a return on investment for the facility. This short piece will focus on the development of the facility team, whether that be the studio team, gym instructors, or Personal Trainers.
An in-house training and development team is a major ingredient supporting facility DIFFERENT, and ensuring a return on investment.
Keith Smith – Partner EDT
Disney U – Doug Lipp 
Bounce – M. Syed