The sun arose fresh over the horizon. Joe dragged open the door to the gym he purchased three years ago.
The door felt so much heavier now than it did back then.
Back then, opening the door was exciting. The front desk staff would greet him enthusiastically. He’d go speak with the trainers who were working with clients before they headed to work. Opening the door was a breeze because he wanted to open it. He wanted to see the friendly faces and celebrate victories with the team. There was a strong culture of growth. Trainers flooded the floors with clients who were eager to grow.
Clients would pause their workouts with a big smile and walk up to Joe. They'd ask him questions about his kids. They'd tell him funny stories that happened in the last week since they'd seen him. Joe's Gym was a lively community that everybody wanted to be a part of.
But that was years ago.
The last several months, Joe simply didn’t have time to make his rounds and speak with employees. The greetings from the front desk got quieter until greetings were no longer a thing- not for Joe and not even for the customers. There were less trainers on the floor in the mornings nowadays because they simply couldn’t stay busy anymore. Revenue was down. Morale was down. This was just the new normal.
This was a culture of stagnancy. The front desk was stagnant, the trainers were stagnant, and sadly, the revenues were stagnant.
Joe’s Gym not only had a heavy door, it had a revolving door.
Joe didn’t know it, but he had a nickname… “Last to know Joe…” When an employee quit, he would always ask, “why am I always the last to know?” And people were often finding better opportunities where they could learn, grow, and be a part of something bigger.
A once lively culture reached the end of the horizon and fell off- a "culture cliff." Every team has a culture. But to be a culture of excellence, the team must be in synergy. The leaders must carefully mold the atmosphere. Joe's Gym had an atmosphere alright... An ugly one.
Until one day, a man named Pete walked in. Pete was a culture coach, hired to help revive a once thriving culture. He joked that his goal was to “Make Mondays Great Again.” When he was feeling extra cheeky, he’d even wear his red MMGA hat. “I get the funniest looks from people when I wear that hat!”
“Jokes aside, making Monday the best day of the week is vital. We want the staff of Joe’s Gym to look forward to showing up and making a difference. We want every employee from the manager to the group instructor to the toilet bowl cleaner to realize that they are an integral part of a truly remarkable mission.” Pete was getting Joe excited with his sermon.
He continued, “You know, Joe, achieving excellence again in this gym won’t be easy, but my goal is to make the process as simple as possible for you. Right now, you’re so concerned with avoiding a shutdown of your gym. Let’s make your problems more exciting, a little at a time.” Pete laughed, and so did Joe.
Joe thought to himself, “Wouldn’t that be nice? Bigger, more exciting problems… Better leadership, better systems, better meetings, better hiring…” He remembered filling out the Dream Team document Pete sent them before their chat. He thought about the conversation they had that followed. The conversation in which Pete used to prepare a detailed Business Success Plan.
“The Business Success Plan will guide us along your journey to excellence. There will be hiccups. There will be 'failures.' There will be setbacks. And we will even visit certain topics unexpectedly because, well… Business is unpredictable.”
He walked Pete throughout the training floor. They spoke with the front desk staff. They discussed the financial numbers and the attendance numbers.
Pete’s chipper attitude turned grave. “Every trainer used to generate over $5,000 in revenue. Now they are lucky to hit $1,000. Joe, if you don’t bring ten trainers back to life, you will not have a gym next year.”
Joe did some quick math… “I’m losing $40,000 a month just because my trainers aren’t producing?”
“That's half-a-million dollars a year, Joe. And, no… you're losing far more than that..."
"And it’s not for the reason you think."
Joe's face turned flush. He felt his stomach sink. He tried to swallow, but it was as if he had a frog stuck in his throat… Quickly, Joe’s shock turned to anger. He asked himself the question no manager wants to ever mutter, "Is somebody stealing from me?"
“Joe, when is the last time you really sat down with each trainer and asked what they want to accomplish here?”
Joe’s long pause told Pete everything he needed to know, so he continued speaking. “This week, you need to sit down with every trainer and find out their personal and professional goals. Call me after that.”
Joe fought back. “Pete, I’m busy. I have to get people in these doors so we can stay alive! I don’t have time for meetings.”
"Do you want to survive, or do you want to thrive?"
With that, Joe said his farewells. “Call me next week, Joe!”
"Wait, Pete," Joe yelled desperately.
"How much money are we losing?"
But Pete was gone.
Joe’s Reflections on Culture
Looking back, I didn’t realize how broken my culture really was, nor how much it was actually costing me. I honestly knew we were struggling, but I thought my problems were average. That's what small businesses do, right? They struggle. And the truth is, I’m sure a lot of people feel the same… That their problems are average problems…
Now that I have some insight, and a ton more experience, I realize the immense detriment being average has not only on the business, but on the people in the business, the customers, and even the families of those who are directly involved with the business. The impact ends up being monumental, yes from a financial standpoint, but more importantly from a well being standpoint.
And here’s what I mean… My lack of leadership hurt the people I hired. They didn’t feel successful because, frankly, I was limiting them. But imagine how their loved ones felt! Think about Trainer Tyler. You’ll meet him in the coming chapters. Trainer Tyler got a job at Joe’s Gym so he could support his family. When I started cutting his hours, that impacted the people in his household- his wife, his elderly parents, and his children. Imagine the stress on the entire family. His problem here became their problem at home. When I was working inside the business and running it into the ground, I didn’t think about that. I was so busy trying to make sure the bills were paid that I thought his problems were menial. No, his problems were very real.
But culture is about so much more than the hours, right? It’s about how people feel when they’re in that space- whatever that space is. For me, it was in Joe’s Gym. You’ll meet Quiet Cathy, who worked at the front desk and basically thought she had a dead-end job. But I guarantee she had a ton of excitement when she went into her interview. To speculate, at some point, she must have had an experience that reduced her morale. Maybe it was when she spoke with another employee who told her how horrible the job was. Maybe it was when she brought up a concern to her manager and was pushed aside. Those small things break us down over time, but it happens so slowly that it might be weeks, months, or even years before we realize we’re miserable, and that we were sold a lie. Cathy showed up with a dream to excel. It was my job as her leader to do everything in my power to help her see that dream come true.
I found that the standards I set impacted lives in a very meaningful way. The way I hired impacted people. The way I let things slide impacted people. The way I micromanaged some days but then was completely disconnected other days… That impacted people. These things created a culture at Joe’s Gym- a culture of unreliability, carelessness, low-performance, and dryness. It’s no wonder we had a revolving door. People were bored to death, and they didn’t see a future with Joe’s Gym. And why would they? I didn’t create a future for them.
I learned that if I’m stagnant and afraid as a leader… If I create a culture of stagnancy… People get hurt. I was obsessed with the financial impact of my poor leadership. You’ll see it in these pages.
Now... Now, I’m obsessed with the human impact…
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