How to Ascend Your Staff

Your team needs different training as they ascend in your business.

(That includes you.)

But most bosses promote people to the level of their incompetence.
For example, let’s say you find a great coach. One day you promote her to head coach. She’s great. Then you promote her to your only “full-time” role: general manager. For the first time, she’s managing people and money.
And she’s bad at it.
This is a remnant of the old industrial system: The best worker becomes the manager of the other workers. The best manager becomes the boss of the other managers. Everyone retires happy at 65.
But it’s never really worked.

Ascending in the Fitness Industry

This situation is common with fitness entrepreneurs: We open gyms because we’re really great at coaching fitness. But then we realize that 14-hour days are unsustainable, and we hire people—and immediately become managers without management skills.
Some of us instantly realize we’re in over our heads and start trying to learn to be leaders. We screw it up over and over. We say the wrong thing or hire the wrong person. We delay doing the hard things, and then they blow up when we wait too long. Finally, we get mentors or implode.
Then we promote certain staff people to be managers, and we’re shocked when they’re bad it it, too. We hire people for one skill, and then we’re surprised when they don’t immediately develop their other skills. And sometimes that hire is us.
CrossFit Inc. founder Greg Glassman put it eloquently in our interview on Two-Brain Radio:
“That growing pain in the individuals involved creates a psychological dilemma of the first order, and some of those people get left behind. And it’s tragic. And the difference can be as simple as being a great bricklayer, a lousy instructor of bricklayers and an even shittier instructor of bricklaying instructors. And it’s just getting worse for you. Really, you had but a singular skill—and it was bricklaying.”
There are four main levels of work in your business. If you plan to promote from within, you have to train staff members to have skills at their new level.
Here are the levels:


Let’s start at the bottom: the Foundational skills are non-client-facing. These are the cleaner and the bookkeeper. These skills are best learned through repetitive delivery through a checklist. Because the process is the same every time, excellence occurs through evaluation.
Do this:

  1. Write out a clear set of expectations—right down to the most basic checklists if possible.
  2. Review the work quarterly based on the checklist.
  3. Upgrade the staff person’s knowledge or replace the person as needed.



Next are the Tactical skills. These are the client-facing roles that can make or break your business. In a gym, these are your fitness and nutrition coaches, your client success manager, and anyone else who has regular contact with your clients.
Tactical skills are hard to develop and even harder to measure. Teaching a coach the technical parts of fitness (biology and physiology and mechanics) is the easy part. Teaching a coach to represent your values in a happy, caring way is harder. We developed the First and Second Degree programs at Two-Brain Coaching to do just that: develop the technical knowledge (left brain) and empathy (right brain) to keep clients healthy.
In general, you should hire these people for personality and train them for skill. You don’t need a doctorate to be a great coach, but you certainly have to smile.
Measuring your coaches’ skill should come through 1:1 conversations with your best clients. Forget client surveys: They’re useless and misleading. Talk to your best clients and upgrade (or downgrade) your team as necessary.
Do this:

  1. Hire for personality and train for skill.
  2. Evaluate every quarter.
  3. Seek feedback from your best clients every year or so.



The third level: Strategic. These are your management-level employees. In a gym, that probably means either a general manager or head coach, or both. It could also mean your sales staff if you have a separate role for sales.
The manager’s job is to make strategic decisions that follow your vision for the gym.
For example, should you raise rates? Run a six-week challenge? Discount your memberships? Base your rates off 200 members or 20 members? These are strategic decisions. And you’ll probably make most of them yourself at first. It’s the manager’s job to adhere to these decisions, implement them consistently and achieve excellence in delivery.
Now, if you haven’t written these decisions down anywhere, then they might as well not exist. Your manager will be forced to try and read your mind. He or she will make guesses. Most will be wrong. You’ll get mad. You’ll micromanage … .
A Strategic-level staff person should be given key performance indicators (KPIs) to track and assist in making decisions about delivery. The person should be evaluated based on delivery of your KPIs.
Do this:

  1. Break down KPIs to measure the manager’s performance (we give you these on the Two-Brain Growth ToolKit).
  2. Mentor the manager to success.
  3. Provide external leadership training (like mentorship) to your leaders.



Finally, the top level of your business pyramid is the Visionary role. Here’s how we break down the work on the Two-Brain Growth ToolKit:

You have to have a very clear vision of what you’re trying to build. And you must teach it, over and over, to everyone around you until they can repeat it verbatim. It must be clear. You’ll get tired of hearing it before they will. But it’s absolutely critical to do this hard work. If you don’t, everyone on your team will be playing a different sport with different rules on different fields of play.
Do this:

  1. Find a mastermind or mentor to get some outside perspective.
  2. Think about your vision.
  3. Write about your vision.
  4. Talk about your vision.
  5. Lead the leaders on your team.

Of course, no one figures this stuff out by himself or herself.
No one is a “born leader.” I’m sure not.
People can’t read your mind. They all think they’re doing really well. If you really care about them, help them ascend.

Other Media in This Series

Upgrading Your Team
How to Hire Coaches (Without Hurting Yourself)


One more thing!

Did you know gym owners can earn $100,000 a year with no more than 150 clients? We wrote a guide showing you exactly how.