Staff Ascension: From Mistakes to Managing 20 People at Two Gyms

Staff Ascension: From Mistakes to Managing 20 People at Two Gyms

Mike Warkentin (00:00):
Hard gym truth: If you want to grow your fitness business, you’re gonna have to develop staff. If you don’t, what you really have is a job. Now that’s not to criticize the owner-operator model. I’ve done it myself. Other gym owners have done it very successfully. But if you wanna move into a CEO role, and if you wanna earn more, and if you wanna free yourself from the responsibility of every role in your business, you’re gonna have to develop staff. How do you do it? It’s super challenging, but I brought in an expert. Now before we go further, this is Run a Profitable Gym. Do me a favor: hit subscribe right now. I think you can actually listen to the show every month and supercharge your fitness business. So please hit subscribe, and if you wouldn’t mind leaving a review for the show, I’d appreciate that, too. Now, Chris Williams, he owns CFT Fitness in Tracy, California. He won the Coach Education and Opportunity Award at this year’s summit. He’s gonna share the secrets of staff development with you. Interesting thing: I tested Chris this week and he didn’t know it. I emailed his personal account, and I asked for an appointment to record this show. I didn’t talk to Chris. His assistant Alyx jumped in, set everything up, booked the appointment, got the notes to Chris, and Chris showed up right on time. How is that for staff development? Chris, welcome to the show.

Chris Williams (01:09):
Thanks, Mike. Yeah, that was that was really cool ‘cause we just started enacting that right after the summit, when she was there learning from Dan, and that was the first thing she wanted to implement. So that was really cool.

Mike Warkentin (01:20):
I thought that was amazing because it was literally the thing that I was gonna ask you about on this show—it happened and it worked perfectly. And you showed up at the stroke of 9 PST. So I haven’t actually spoken to Chris since the summit till right now, but I emailed his personal account and his assistant took care of it. So we’re gonna dig right in. I wanna know right away, gimme the 60-second summary of your business just so people get the lay of the land. Like how many staff do you have and what do you do on a day-to-day basis?

Chris Williams (01:46):
So for me, I think at CFT this number is growing currently, but I think we’re at 14 staff for all different things. Coaching, front-desk management, nutrition, and we have some bench coaches. So yeah, about 14 there. And then I think we have four at my other location, so at my strength and conditioning facility

Mike Warkentin (02:11):
Like 18—is that about right?

Chris Williams (02:13):
20 is where the number is right now.

Mike Warkentin (02:15):
Okay. And full time, part time—do you have a breakdown of that?

Chris Williams (02:18):
At least six full time between the two. Four are full time at CFT and two or full time at APL.

Mike Warkentin (02:29):
Okay. Now what do you do? What is your role and responsibility? Obviously you’re, I think CEO, but tell me what you do on a day-to-day basis.

Chris Williams (02:36):
Yeah, that’s a great question. We had to sit down last week and figure that out cause I was starting—I didn’t really have a role anymore, and I wanted to make sure that I was still pouring back into the businesses wherever I could. So for me my day pretty much looks like family time, then creative time. So I do a lot of creative work, something I enjoy. So podcasts, video work, writing blogs, social-media posts, stuff like that. It’s stuff that I can do really well. I could do it in a one- or two-hour block two to three days a week and just create a ton of content. So that’s one way thing that I do. I also mentor my full-time staff, and I mentor anyone interested in improving on their business goals. So I’m really lucky. I have a lot of staff that are entrepreneurs. Some don’t know it yet, but they are starting to explore that. Some know it and know that in the long run they want to start a business in the gym space or another space. So I work with them at least once or twice a month, mentoring them and giving them space to talk and work through any questions they have or concerns within the gym, as well as any of the side hustles they’re working on at the moment. And lastly, I don’t coach anymore. I had to retire from coaching thanks to the development of our staff development program that we created about a year and a half year ago, a year-ish. We’ve developed six bench coaches or so; three, two full-time coaches; and a coaching development coordinator who literally develops and manages all the coaches, develops them. Plucked them out of the membership to the point where they were working so hard and training so hard I had to retire. So I couldn’t keep up anymore, and I felt like I was just a, you know, a sore thumb on a “hand” of just great coaching. So I decided it was time to put up my cape.

Mike Warkentin (04:32):
Okay. So it sounds like you made a conscious decision to prioritize your family, spend a lot of time there. You’ve also made a conscious decision to select roles that supercharge you, make you feel good. That’s a media role for you. It’s not dissimilar from what Chris Cooper does. He creates a ton of media ‘cause he enjoys it and he’s good at it. And then you’ve got a number of people who do some mentorship, and you have a number of people that you’re bringing up in the business, delegating roles. So you’ve got a real CEO role, but you’ve selected the things that you like and the things that fill your cup. Is that right?

Chris Williams (04:57):

That’s right. I don’t make a lot of decisions anymore.

Mike Warkentin (05:04):
So you offloaded that, too?

Chris Williams (05:06):

Mike Warkentin (05:07):
So that’s a goal, right? So let’s help people. Going from owner-operator to CEO is a huge move. Walk us through some of the steps. Like what were the things that you did very early on in this process to move the needle?

Chris Williams (05:20):
Probably got really over my head with the idea of separating myself from roles I didn’t like a little too fast. And that’s something I warn people about. If you’re coming out hot from this ready to delegate, make sure financially it makes sense, and make sure you have a training program in place to give people the opportunity to succeed when you elevate yourself out of a role. If I had to say one thing, that’s the one thing I wish I would’ve done a little better. But in terms of things that I’ve done to improve and elevate, I just found people that were really good at stuff I wasn’t. So I really kept a close eye on things. If I’m paying attention to someone that’s coaching but I notice that they’re really, really good with people, and that, through conversations, I realize that coaching is kind of a drag on them, but the people part of it is why they enjoy it, that makes a great CSM role. Or maybe front desk. and then I’ll notice people that are natural leaders, that just have natural tendencies to lead. I’m gonna start discussing the idea of becoming a management role, whether it’s head of nutrition, head of coaching, our operations manager. I try to hire from within as much as possible, which I think has made things easier. We have a Vivid Vision, we have a core values, we have a culture, we have a mission, we have a vision. So as I hire, I’m not having to teach anyone or hope that they’re bought into that. I’m hiring from within. I’m developing from within. So that’s kind of built in. It’s ready made in that regard.

Mike Warkentin (06:57):

Okay. So you’re looking at your crew around you and you’re offloading some stuff. Here’s a question: How were you able to offload things? Did you have all these roles and responsibilities laid out ahead of time so that you could put people in chairs or did you have to build them later on? How did you look at that?

Chris Williams (07:10):
So it’s a little bit of both. The book “Built to Last” really gave me a lot of help with that, and realizing that once you have the right people on the bus, you can start creating seats for ’em if necessary. Some of the roles that my staff are currently sunk into, full-time staff, are created for them, specifically built around their skills. But you know, at the same time, one of the great things my mentor Anastasia taught me was you can pluck tasks outta roles and move them around and then switch other things into roles. So like my ops manager has three main tasks that she does. She manages all the administrative, she manages HR, and she’s also the CSM. So she’s basically in charge of the whole operation. But if one day HR got too big, we could pluck that roll out, give it to someone else, and put something else in its place to keep her full. So it was that whole get-’em-on-the-bus-then-put-’em-in-the-right-seats scenario.

Mike Warkentin (08:12):
Okay. Now do you have all these roles and responsibilities documented somewhere so that you can literally just copy-paste from document to document and sheet to sheet?

Chris Williams (08:20):

So we are in the process of developing our playbook. We are finalizing it. Then we are going to break that down into departments. So right now we’re taking our playbook, and we’re splitting it up into departments so that we don’t get a little too squirrelly with “oh, well that role can just go over here, but it’s someone in a completely different department. And now that role gets lost and no one knows how to manage it, who that person’s supposed to be reporting to.” And the one thing that I noticed with that is that’s very much what happens in the corporate world where I spent most of my 20s, early 30s. And what ends up happening is that’s how you get “Office Space, the “Office Space” movie mentality where you have 14 bosses because you just got handed roles that are from different departments, and now you’re answering to six different people. So we’re trying to get that all separated to make sure that everyone has one boss, sometimes two, depending on if it’s like, you know, social media or something that’s a really small to part-time job. But we try to make it to where everyone has one direct report.

Mike Warkentin (09:20):
So you don’t have four Bill Lumberghs running around asking for TPS reports?

Chris Williams (09:25):
Exactly, yeah. We’re trying to avoid that as much possible. We found a few times we got a little too crazy and someone had three bosses and it was like, “OK, that could get really annoying. We need to figure this out.”

Mike Warkentin (09:38):
Is it fair to say that you are in the optimization stage? You’ve got systems, and now you’re optimizing them?

Chris Williams (09:45):
Yeah, and I think if you’re a growing business, you should always be looking to optimize things that you’re doing. So I think we stay in an optimization state all the time. And with me being kind of an in-the-clouds thinker, I’m always looking six months down the road trying to figure out how we can optimize everything. You know, pretty much every time I finish a book, I come in with 47 ideas from the book. And fortunately now I have that filter of a management team that goes “one idea was good. Let’s leave the other 40 over here for later. Great job. You know, pat on the head. Go on with your day now. We’ll take it from here.”

Mike Warkentin (10:27):
CEOs need to think like that. But then you’ve put in the structures in place to govern that. So you have the freedom and creativity, but you also have the structure that governs it. So I love that. I wanna ask you about something you said earlier. You told me that you maybe offloaded some stuff too fast, maybe abdicated instead of delegated, just gave it a mighty shove. I did the exact same thing at my business. There were some jobs I hated. I just pushed them onto some people. I didn’t put the structure in place, and they didn’t go the way I wanted. What happened there? And what are you doing differently now to make sure that doesn’t happen again?

Chris Williams (10:55):
Extensive training. Especially with coaching. I think a lot of the reason we were recognized at summit was because we took what we learned from Kenny last year when he spoke about bench coaches—it was just kind of a lightbulb moment for me that I ran back with and was like, “This is the Number 1 thing we’re gonna focus on.” We’re in a somewhat transient area just outside of the San Francisco Bay Area. So people tend to come and go for corporate jobs all the time. They move out here, they realize the commute is awful, so they move back to the Bay Area. So we’re constantly having coaches and other staff kind of come and go. So we wanted to make sure we always had an amount of additional coaches on the ready. So for us, that’s where we developed a really, really intense coaching system. So our onboarding system is extensive. It’s three to six months. It could be longer for someone that’s brand new to coaching. It’s definitely not as short as some people will advocate for. We want our bench coaches to be equally as good as our full-time coaches, at least to a certain level, where, you know, the best description I’ve ever heard is “if this coach is here, the members know they’re gonna have a great time. They’re not gonna get hurt. They might learn something, they might not, but at least they’re gonna have a good time.” But they absolutely know that shit has hit the fan with the gym. So like we’re just, making sure that they’re still getting serviced. And we wanted to go a step further where they, when they step on the floor, they know, “Oh, it’s bench coach today. Someone got sick, something happened. No worries. I know I’m still gonna have the same experience as I would with the coach that’s out.”

Mike Warkentin (12:45):
So you mentioned a word, and again, I need a gong here. Systems. So you have a clear system for getting coaches into your business and then making sure that they meet a standard, which sounds to me is very high. You’ve got that all documented. It sounds like you’ve got a whole program—like is there a whole book or binder there, or what do they get with this when they sign up?

Chris Williams (13:04):
So that’s the part where we realized we need to, you know, we were not passing the hit-by-a-bus challenge with that. So we are currently filming everything. We’re filming everything and creating—I can’t remember the names of it. There’s you know, the different online platforms where you can create courses. So we’re currently in the process of creating an entire ATC program, I guess is the best way to call it. You know, a training program for coaches to where they can come on and you go through the whole course and have homework—and very similar to the RampUp. You know, but one of the first things we found was when we do our fundamentals, foundations, on-ramp, whatever you wanna call it for new members, we didn’t have enough coaches confident in running that. So that’s the first thing we’re creating a course for is all of our coaches to be able to take that course and be able to do fundamentals.

Mike Warkentin (14:00):
Wow. So you’re actually building an internal course, like a learning management system, or LMS as the cool kids call it. You’re actually building one of those for your gym for the staff members.

Chris Williams (14:10):
Right. And in the long term we hope we share that with other gyms just to give them a leg up, especially the fundamental course, the way we’re writing it, is so that anyone can take it, input the way they do their fundamentals, and basically give this to new coaches or coaches that they want to get better at fundamentals.

Mike Warkentin (14:35):
Wow, that’s a huge investment. Is it worth it?

Chris Williams (14:38):
In my opinion, it is. Our main vision is to help at least 5,000 people beat chronic disease and obesity. So if part of that is through a branch of our tree passing that fundamental program onto other gyms that can help more people, that’s worth it to me.

Mike Warkentin (14:58):
Yeah. And honestly, one of the problems when people delegate things, and Chris Cooper has often said they abdicate instead of delegate, is you put someone in a position and they’re not as good as you are. They’re not even close, and they’re not trained properly, and all of a sudden everything falls apart. And I’ve seen this happen in other businesses that I’ve worked with in different roles. I’ve also done it in my own business. I’ve seen it happen in many Two-Brain gyms, where maybe they’re just not ready for something. They put someone, you know, as the face of the business, and it just doesn’t work. That happens. And then, you know, you kind of “kill the golden goose.” The whole point is that someone needs to like replace you in the business but still do things to the minimum standard, which has to be high, but it still has to be a minimum. And a really cool thing, you’ll remember this from the summit, Dan Martell said, “80% done by someone else is a hundred percent freaking awesome.” So we can’t get perfection out of that person maybe, but we set a really high standard and then offload the job and then make it better as time goes on. And that allows us time as CEOs to build the business. So did you struggle with that idea of “it’s not me. It’s not gonna be quite me. It’s not gonna be quite to my standards, but it’s still very high.” Was that hard for you?

Chris Williams (16:03):
I think I still struggle with that. Yeah. As I’ve developed over the last year, year and a half, losing all the weight, getting really, really structured with my time and myself and pushing that glass ceiling for myself up so high, I realized that I was starting to try to hold everyone else to that standard. You know, why aren’t they up? And you have to pull yourself back and realize, like Dan said, or Chris, too, I think it was Chris or someone along those lines said, “70% is the goal for anyone.” Like bare minimum is 70% of whatever you do. Dan said 80% is a hundred percent awesome. I completely agree to the point now where I have to remind my management team as they delegate: “Remember, you’re not looking for a hundred percent of yourself. You’re looking for 80%. You’re looking for it to get done good enough. We can make it better from there. We can fine tune.”

Mike Warkentin (16:57):
Yeah. And like, let’s be clear, listeners, we’re not saying that 80% is crappy. We’re not saying that that’s like a D+ or something like that. We’re saying that like if your standard is A+, a hundred percent, 80%, you know, B+ is still very good. It’s above the minimum accepted standard. It still is excellence in business. It’s not just saying we don’t care and abdicating responsibility for something or accepting garbage. The analogy is like if you go into the gym every day, and I did this, and straightened out the dumbbells because they had to be perfectly in line every day, that’s not a good use of your time. That is just not worth it. If the dumbbells are a little bit out of order but the clients are having an awesome time and the coach is doing a great job and someone else is coaching that class, well, you can grow your business. That’s good enough. Right? And it can always be improved. So you talked about a little bit about some of the mistakes you made, that abdication thing. Are there any other big mistakes that you made back in the day when you were trying to ascend your coaches that you realized that “wow, this was just the wrong path?”

Chris Williams (17:55):
Oh yeah. No, there’s a million. I mean, we tried to run programs that didn’t fit us, or our core values, whatsoever, but you know, you see dollar signs or think you’re being ahead of the game or a trendsetter and really all you’re doing is just walking into quicksand. And you know, there’s a million times where I feel like I definitely have “shiny-object syndrome.” So, you know, I’m lucky now I have staff that filters that a lot. But yeah, I think there’s a lot of times when you’re managing people and you’re like, “Okay, go out and figure it out. Like here we go. This is as far as I can take it.” I realize if I don’t have enough knowledge to teach someone, I better be able to bring someone else in that is an expert and pay someone else to teach them on a subject because a weekend course, you know, YouTube videos, a YouTube library is not gonna cut it. Like they need someone they can actually bounce ideas off of. That’s why we’re doing the kids program and we’re bringing in Brand X. I’m not an expert at kids programs. I’m not the one that can mentor them on this. I need to bring in a mentor for it. So that’s definitely something I’ve made way too many mistakes on, and now I’m literally paying for it.

Mike Warkentin (19:17):
And that’s such a CEO thing to do, though. Instead of being the person who has to do everything, you’re now the person that says “this thing has to be done, but I’m not the person to do it.” And then you bring in Jeff and Mikki Martin from Brand X, and they tell them exactly how to run a great kids program. Coaches make money, business makes money, you make money, but you didn’t have to do any of the work. You just made the investment.

Chris Williams (19:38):
I make sure things are staying within, you know, certain guidelines, and you know, with something like this, it’s very, you know, we have a youth strength-and-conditioning program with APL in the same building, but it’s a different brand. It’s a different goal. It’s for athletes. It’s very much strength and conditioning, not CrossFit. So, you know, for me it’s when things like this are happening, I’m making sure that we aren’t playing “Clash of the Titans.” Where now I have both of my gyms fighting for the same clientele. Like we definitely—I’m making sure the avatars of the clientele are very different.

Mike Warkentin (20:17):
Again, that’s CEO level stuff, right? Right. Like this is big-picture thinking. This is Vivid Vision kind of stuff. This is like, you know, not hitting the clouds necessarily to say, but like this is thousand-foot view is what a CEO should be doing when you said you’ve got, you know, I think it was 20 staff members or something like that. Now is it exponentially harder to manage a larger staff, or when you build the systems, do they apply for one person and 20? Is it more? IOs it harder?

Chris Williams (20:42):

I think the difficulty changes. I think it’s more difficult because, no matter how hard you try, you’re gonna have a really personal relationship with every single person that works for you. So it’s just gonna be more difficult to have hard conversations and hold people to a standard. Even with systems, everything in place. Like it’s still just gonna be hard. With 20 staff members and multiple layers of management and space between me and the everyday employee, I think the relationship part is not as difficult to maintain because we definitely have much more of just a mentor, like leader-to-soldier/follower type of relationship. Right? Whereas now it’s more, you have so many people doing so many things at once, there’s no way to keep an eye on everyone. So you have to hope your systems are in place. You have them be very quick if you find a chink in the armor—fixing it right away and making sure those conversations are happening. And for me it’s really more asking the right questions to my staff at meetings. Cause most of the information I’m getting is once a week. Every Monday, it’s “management Monday,” and I do meetings with all my team, individual meetings, everything. And so I have to be asking the right questions: “Okay, that went wrong. What happened? Did you speak to the person? Did you fix whatever it is? Did you double-check our procedures to make sure that it’s not something we’re training them on? That’s the problem.” So it’s, it’s just a lot more asking the right questions versus actually taking action.

Mike Warkentin (22:20):
And you said it again, systems—you know, you put the systems in place, you have checkups in place, then you have remedial measures, and everything goes, and you said you do it Mondays, right? Like everything goes according to these systems that allow you to make changes quickly, make fixes quickly, optimize things quickly and move on and be a CEO. Let’s take it down from the big 20, a lot of staff members. I never had that many. A lot of people haven’t. Take me down to like how would you help someone right now who is at a gym owner-operator and they’re saying, “I don’t have a clue where to start developing staff and ascending staff.” What would you tell that person just to get going and take a couple of steps in the right direction?

Chris Williams (22:57):
I would write a list of every single thing you’re either terrible at or you don’t like doing. And then rank it based on importance. And I would start at the very bottom of importance and start figuring out if you have someone on the staff that needs hours, could take hours, could do this job and not have an issue, and try to start hiring out for those positions. Again, it comes down to financials. It comes down to workload. It comes down to knowing your staff well enough to know if you have a yes person that’s gonna say yes to everything and you’re gonna overload them. Made that mistake about 18 times in the last five years. So being aware enough. Yes, you may have to hire from the outside and that’s okay. When it gets to that point, you also need to start realizing “do I need to create a full-time position to fill this?” Because I might need to bring in a professional for this that already has a job, and if I want a really good applicant, I may need to create a full-time opportunity to hire that person to fill this. But what else can I do? What else, what other jobs can I create and bundle together to make a full-time position? So those are the things that, you know, from the very bottom, it’s just create a list of things you don’t like to do. Create a list of things that you’re not good at. Figure out which ones are on both lists, and then start at the very bottom in terms of importance and start trying to hire out and train outta those positions first.

Mike Warkentin (24:31):
Okay. Now have you done the value ladder exercise?

Chris Williams (24:34):
I have.

Mike Warkentin (24:35):

Okay. So, listeners, what this is, Chris has basically described it. I’m gonna give a couple of details. You just make these lists and you can go through—I’m gonna put a link in the show notes to an exercise that you can do. You are going to do the value ladder. You’re gonna make these lists, and you’re going to assign times to all the roles. And then you’re gonna start putting dollar value on all the roles. And then you’re gonna start multiplying the two together and saying “to buy back the time that I spend cleaning, it will cost me $60 a week,” whatever that number might be. You can do that for all these different roles. So the time has a value to it. And you can start saying, “It’ll cost me this to buy that time back.” You can start at the very bottom. Cleaning is usually a good place to start. After that, you start thinking, “If I buy that time back, what can I do in that time to make more than the money I just spent?” And that’s the key part. You can’t just say like, “Oh, I’m offloading cleaning, money will appear.” You must invest your time. And marketing is a really great place. Something like that. If you follow this system, the value ladder, as Chris Cooper’s laid out for you, you offload tasks, you don’t lose money, you buy your time back and you generate more revenue. Chris, did that work for you?

Chris Williams (25:38):
Yeah, once I joined Two-Brain and realized that whole part about you need to do something else with all that free time that actually puts money back in the gym. That was the epiphany, the first epiphany I had in Two-Brain was I should probably actually work instead freeing myself up for some sort of early retirement I didn’t want. And actually I do really well in doubling, tripling, quadrupling down on those as long as they’re high-value roles. That was the other part that I also made a mistake on was I enjoyed coaching, I enjoyed front desk, so I liked being around the people, but they weren’t high-value roles. And I eventually had to realize like, “I can’t keep up with these coaches anymore. I could pay someone a lot less money than I want to make to do these roles. I need to find things that are high value that I still enjoy doing.” That’s when I really stumbled into—I really always have enjoyed this social interaction, social content creation, creativity. So I just add more of that to my day and boom, the gym started growing faster.

Mike Warkentin (26:45):
What were some of the first things that you offloaded?

Chris Williams (26:49):
First things that I offloaded. I actually, one of the very first things I offloaded, cause I bought this gym in 2016 and it was already fully operational, and I had a GM, but it wasn’t the GM that I have now. It wasn’t the same type of role. It was a completely different type of role. That person obviously fizzled out pretty quickly once I took hold and, you know, the culture started changing. So the first real offloaded position that I did was I created a brand new GM/ops-manager position and hired that out. Cause obviously at that point the gym didn’t know how to run without it.

Mike Warkentin (27:27):
It’s an interesting situation. Obviously buying a gym, you’re gonna have a different path up the value ladder than if you start a gym from scratch or if you are an owner-operator and rolling up through that. So that’s very interesting. When you got some mentorship and guidance and you offloaded these tasks, were you able—and I know the answer to this, but I’m gonna ask anyway—were you able to then invest yourself in those valuable tasks that actually measurably grew the business?

Chris Williams (27:52):
Yeah, once I got the right help you know, early to mid last year, I really dove in headfirst into content creation, personal development. And once I started really developing myself, I realized I had grown to a point where I could start pulling other people up, and I said, “Naturally, the first people I wanna pull up are the people working for me.” So that’s what I did. I started finding ways that I could help them develop, and my personal thing, and I’ll tell anybody that works for me, and I’ll tell anybody that is in ever interested in working for me, my Number 1 goal is to help people that work for me. I don’t care where they end up working in the long term. I’m very aware that like lifetime employment is pretty much null and void at this point. You know, people aren’t working for the same person 30, 40 years. My goal is just for them when they join CFT or APL, between then and when they leave, they leave to something way bigger, way bigger, way better. It has just catapulted their career value, their employment value and everything to a whole ‘nother level. And that’s what happened with the ops manager that I hired initially in 2017. By 2021 when she left, she left us for a job at a massive tech company. And when I hired her, she went from babysitter working for me to a pretty big job at a high-tech company in Silicon Valley. So, you know, that’s just my goal is to see that type of elevation.

Mike Warkentin (29:29):
And then I’m sure there if there are people that wanna stay in your business and make a career at one of your gyms, they can do that, too.

Chris Williams (29:36):

Correct, I have at least six staff that have been with me for six, for six outta the seven years or longer.

Mike Warkentin (29:43):
You’re kidding. That long.

Chris Williams (29:45):

Mike Warkentin (29:45):
What’s the secret to staff retention? Is it this ascension model that allows them to thrive or what is it?

Chris Williams (29:51):
It could be. I took some of them to that perfect game on Wednesday.

Mike Warkentin (29:55):
Did you?

Chris Williams (29:56):
Yeah, I took them out as a thank you for the growth at APL, and they’re Yankees fans. So I booked six months ago and took them to one of only 24 perfect games in the history of baseball. Yeah, that’s probably gonna give me some retention. But I always just try to make sure that I’m supporting them and I’m always asking them “how can I support you? Are you getting what you want?” And that doesn’t mean I don’t make mistakes. I recently, as in the last couple weeks, really made a mistake with one of my key employees in terms of not paying attention to their needs and how I could support them. And, you know, it was rude awakening for me, and something I need to do better. So, you know, as good as I’ve done with retention of employees, obviously I can still do better. So for me it’s just constantly keeping a finger on the pulse of what my staff needs, where they’re developing, how I can create elevation, right? How I can give them additional targets to reach for? So they don’t ever feel like things got stale. And I think that’s one of the worst things about the fitness industry as a whole is there’s, you know, there seems to constantly be glass ceilings in the career space, and it’s like, “Oh, well, you can only ascend to this point as a coach. If you want to go any farther, you have to go into corporate management.” And it’s like, I didn’t get into this to get into the corporate world. I got into this to help people. So I wanna make sure that there’s constantly some sort of elevation for them that doesn’t force them to put a suit and tie on.

Mike Warkentin (31:24):
So the first step, if it’s an owner-operator listing right now, write down those roles and tasks. Cause again, a link to the value ladder is going to be in the show notes, and then you’re gonna offload something, and you’re going to reinvest that time into growing the business. Now if you don’t know what to do to grow the business, you need to book a call with one of our mentors to talk about how that happens. And mentorship is the answer. That person can tell you exactly how to grow your business. But that’s the path from there. When you get to the point where Chris is at, you’ve got a team of people. Now you’re in the CEO slot, and you’re not necessarily offloading roles and tasks. You’ve got GMs and you’ve got this whole structure. You’re overseeing things, you’re looking down from above, you’re creating ascension models, you’re helping your staff create careers, you’re checking in with people, you’re checking in on systems and fixing them, and you’re doing all these CEO-level tasks and doing a lot of delegation. Not abdication but delegation according to a system, and helping people stay in the business, thrive in the business and grow the business. Is that an accurate summary of what you’ve done, Chris?

Chris Williams (32:21):
Yeah, it sounds a lot better than I did it, but yeah, that’s basically what I did.

Mike Warkentin (32:25):
That’s why I wanted to have you on here: to tell people some of the things you messed up, but some of the things that you’ve gotten to. So someone listening right now, we’re gonna tell them “click the value ladder link.” And that again works really well with the support of the mentor. Gimme your one tip for someone who’s at a CEO level—like maybe has five or six staff members or maybe more. What would you tell that person? What’s something they can look at today to help their staff grow and stay with the business?

Chris Williams (32:53):
I would audit your opportunity creation. How aware are you of the opportunities you’ve created for your staff? If you have a key player, someone that you right now could not replace, are you creating opportunities for them? Are you giving them a way to feel valued?

Mike Warkentin (33:10):
Wow, what’s an example? So someone out there is like, “Okay, that’s a big concept.” What’s an example of something you’ve done in your business for someone?

Chris Williams (33:17):
I took seven of my staff to the summit, and two of which I know aren’t gonna be here for another year, potentially with their school and everything else. But I didn’t care because, again, I wanna make sure when they leave they’ve been given tools to succeed at any level at any place in any career. So when I look at opportunity, when you look at opportunity creation, you shouldn’t just be looking at the benefits for the gym today. You should be looking at the benefits for the staff member.

Mike Warkentin (33:45):
Whoa, there’s a big one.

Chris Williams (33:46):

‘Cause if you look at the staff member’s opportunity, you’re gonna get 10 times bigger buy-in when you create an opportunity.

Mike Warkentin (33:53):
You know, that sounds eerily similar to Chris Cooper’s “Help First” thing, where you’re helping someone with their career, and they end up helping the business. What do you think of that?

Chris Williams (34:03):

I mean, the book sounds familiar. I might’ve read it at some point.

Mike Warkentin (34:06):                                                                      
Yeah, I think you probably did.

Chris Williams (34:09):

You know, yeah. I think that’s just something I agree wholeheartedly with is like, you know, I think, and I know it’s in his book and I’ve read it elsewhere, too, is your employees are the Number 1 most important thing in your business. Your members are gonna come and go, but your key employees, the longer you keep them, the more your business is gonna grow. Obviously there are gonna be employees that, you know, got you to a place and you’re gonna have to change over to get to the next place. But I think with the right training and opportunities and just finger on the pulse, you’re not gonna have to do that as much as you think.

Mike Warkentin (34:43):
Chris, huge value in here. Thank you so much for giving insight both to owner-operators who are struggling right now and people who are managing team members. Thanks for being here.

Chris Williams (34:52):
My pleasure. Thanks Mike.

Mike Warkentin (34:53):
That was Chris Williams. This is “Run a Profitable Gym.” Thanks for listening. Again, please hit subscribe on the way out. We give out the best information in the fitness industry here all the time, and I want you to have it so you can grow your business and live the life that you want. Now here’s Chris Cooper with a final message.

Chris Cooper (35:10):
Hey, it’s Two-Brain founder Chris Cooper with a quick note. We created the Gym Owners United Facebook group to help you run a profitable gym. Thousands of gym owners just like you have already joined in the group. We share sound advice about the business of fitness every day. I answer questions, I run free webinars, and I give away all kinds of great resources to help you grow your gym. I’d love to have you in that group. It’s Gym Owners United on Facebook, or go to to join. Do it today!

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