System Rot: How to Prevent It in Your Gym

A set of well-oiled gears mesh with a set of rusty gears.

So you’ve written all your SOPs and put them into a staff playbook.

You feel pretty good about yourself: You successfully systemized your entire business, which is a huge step toward reclaiming your time as owner and scaling the gym.

And then you drive to the gym to find the front door locked and confused clients waiting outside.

The Opening Procedures document was clear: “If you enter from the back door, unlock the front door immediately so clients can enter.”

Don’t hold a lighter to your playbook. That isn’t the issue.

Here’s how to solve the real problem.

Evaluate and Mentor

It’s common for gym owners to create playbooks, deliver them to staff members and dust off their hands.

But what do most people do when they get an 85-page book of procedures? They skim or they ignore it. Some read cover to cover—maybe 10 percent. But everyone forgets something over time.

Once you systemize your business with SOPs and checklists, your job isn’t done. You’re through the most tedious aspects of the job, so congratulate yourself on that. But now you have to install the SOPs and ensure they stick.

You’ll need to use two approaches:

1. Low-Level Tasks

With low-level tasks, you’ll go over a checklist with a staff member and ask if there are any questions.

Example: Cleaning—tick the boxes in order. It’s not complicated. But it’s very common for owners to miss “obvious steps,” and you’ll discover errors and omissions when you go through the list with a staff member. (My cleaner mopped floors without soap because I left out “add one packet of soap to mop bucket.”)

You must evaluate performance early and then at regularly intervals down the line—quarterly is a good starting point. With low-level tasks, you can just use a scorecard.

2. Higher-Level Tasks

With higher-level tasks, checklists often don’t work because senior staff members have freedom and responsibility within a framework. You need to teach them to operate inside that framework and coach them to success.

Example: Sales—you might go over your SOPs, then do role-playing in common scenarios. You might record sales meetings and break them down with the salesperson. You might provide books and resources to help the person improve.

You’ll need to evaluate performance at regular intervals—quarterly is best practice—but your evaluation must go beyond “is it clean enough?” Upper-level tasks are often tied to key performance indicators—like set, show and close rates for salespeople and retention rates for client success managers.

The freedom-in-a-framework approach requires you to be a mentor, not just an evaluator, so you’ll need to be prepared to help the person perform better. You can’t just say “your close rate sucks” and expect anything to improve.

“To boost your close rate by 5 percent, I want you to watch this video, and then we’re going to practice objection handling together on Friday.”

A Culture of Evaluation and Excellence

Here’s a bad plan: Do staff evaluations only when you discover all sorts of shortcomings and you’re furious.

When you do that, staff members sense your anger and are on the defensive. It’s tough to move forward.

But if you create a “culture of excellence,” staff members know evaluation and feedback are part of the deal. They expect it at regular intervals, and the best will welcome it because you’re clearly invested in helping them succeed.

In one of our mentor’s gyms, staff members know they will get at least one thing to work on in every evaluation. So even the most experienced coaches aren’t surprised when the owner brings up something that could be improved. They’ll also get lots of positive feedback.

The key: Schedule evaluations well in advance and be prepared to help your staff members address any shortcomings.

If you do that, your carefully crafted staff playbook will support the growth of your business, free your time as owner and protect your focus so you can work on CEO-level tasks.


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.