Implement Strong Culture in Your Club for a Competitive Edge


The fitness industry has changed and evolved in recent years. To be competitive, you can be the largest player in your market, have a big multipurpose family club, be the low-price club or have a niche market. You also can compete based on culture, which is easy to design but hard to implement. That is why it is a great differentiator. Culture is a competitive edge that your competition cannot easily copy. 

Business success is based on the company’s leadership, its culture and its core competencies. Designing a business model with these ingredients is one of the best ways to make a business very successful. 

We revere companies with great culture and idolize CEOs such as Tony Hsieh of Zappos who put culture first in a public way. But much of what we call “culture” is about the day-to-day interactions between staff and executive team members or club members and your staff. And so the actions you do (or do not) take as a leader are what really influence perceptions of your company’s culture, both inside and out.

Successful clubs have defined their organizational culture or values. The challenge is doing something more than just defining it. In many cases, the culture is written, not implemented.

Culture isn’t a few platitudes on the wall. Culture flows from true values. Discuss how strategy and hiring reflect company values. Include values alignment in performance coaching. Celebrate team members when their actions embody company values.

Show your staff that you are putting your values into action. Try to write a message each day to staff that reinforces your organization’s culture. Most people could care less what you say. What’s important is what you do.

Culture is the invisible component of your organization. It consists of the actual attitudes and beliefs your managers and employees hold. It guides all behavior and decisions. The bigger the gap between the formal rules and the informal culture, the less likely employees will speak about the informal. So whenever an employee is not doing what you expect or hope or plan for, it is likely they are guided by your culture.

Will Phillips, founder of REX Roundtables, has created a checklist to look at the front line power of your culture and see how well it is implemented:       

1. Can everyone in the club recite the organization culture in their own words? 

2. Can everyone explain why each element of your organization culture is critical to your success, particularly in their area of work, whether it is the back office, front desk or sales? 

3. Can everyone point out examples where staff in their department has gone out of their way to live up to the culture?

4. Do you frequently share near-misses where individuals own up to having not quite supported the organization’s culture in a time of challenge or stress? 

5. If you looked at major decisions in your club in the last six to 12 months, would each decision be congruent with and supportive of the elements of your culture?

6. Does your culture enable a dramatic reduction in supervision and management because each employee has an internal set of guiding principles, i.e. your culture? 

7. Does the daily expression of your organization’s culture lead to your members regularly commenting positively about staff and the club? 

8. Do you have an orientation for new employees that presents and explains your culture in-depth? 

9. Is all staff empowered to solve problems in line with your culture, even if it costs the club extra money, time or inconvenience?

10. Does everyone use the culture to make decisions, even if no one is looking?

How does culture pay off for clubs? When your club culture is implemented, you can expect to retain staff, keep staff members engaged and eliminate your own supervisory activities. As a result, everyone is proud of the club, and member referrals increase.

How does your club measure up? And what are the next steps you are willing to take to get better?

Ed Tock is a partner with REX Roundtables, which runs 10 Mastermind groups for more than 100 club owners and general managers in the industry. He is a consultant who also has worked with more than 1,100 clubs since 1983. He can be reached at 845-736-0307 or [email protected].

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