Hiring For Your Culture

In today’s small business culture is everything.  Finding employees who fit your companies’ culture are many times more important than hiring someone with exceptional talent or experience. Culture is something that is deeply routed into the lives of everyone who works in a company.  It is a way of thinking, acting, and living.  In fitness, culture flows from its leaders, to its employees, to the clients you attract. When you hire someone who doesn’t fit the culture, the results can often be painful if not damaging to the entire organization. 


Our core values have always been Hungry, Humble, and Committed to Excellence.  We foster an environment where everyone works hard, helps each other, and constantly tries to better themselves and those around them.   


In 2012, Varsity House had experienced exponential growth.  We doubled revenue every year during the previous two years and were growing faster than we could service our clients.  There was a serious bottleneck and staffing was an everyday conversation. Up to that point, our hiring was done solely through our lengthy internship process took at least three months to get potential coaches up to speed with becoming a coach at VH.  Because of the pressure we were under to serve the growing number of clients, we broke from our standard and decided to hire a well-known coach who had elite experience and potential talent.  


In the years that followed, we learned some very valuable lessons about culture that changed the way we hire, fire, and reward our employees.   


At first, we were very excited about this new hire.  We could plug him right into our programming and classes with very little training and they would immediately alleviate some of the client service bottleneck we were experiencing.  But soon after, there began a slew of issues that we now can look back on and attribute them to this person not fitting the existing culture and core values of the company.  In this case desperation truly got the best of us. What started off as little “issues” like being late, or leaving early without notice, or bringing his kids in the gym all day with little supervision or without ever asking if that was ok, quickly become points of resentment.  


We had multiple conversations about these issues, but they still reared their ugly head here and there.  But because we had justified this hire based on experience and potential talent we pressed on.   


In 2014 we moved into our new and current gym.  We had started fresh.  New gym, new systems, and had completely doubled down on our core values, mission, and the vision of the company.  Not to mention at this point hired a real HR firm to create employee handbooks and a code of conduct.   


At first these changes were met with excitement and things looked great.  But eventually things slipped back to their original position and the issues of cultural fit began to rise again.  


How did we clearly identify the culture issues as they related to our core values and mission? Here are a few examples: 

  1. Hungry: A VH employee must be hungry.  Hungry to work hard, hungry to learn, hungry to help others. On any occasion this employee was late to sessions, called out sick, and was unwilling to spend any of his own time or money on education.  We would ask him to fill in for a day here and he would often say no or give that little bit of attitude that made me feel as though I shouldn’t have even asked.   
  2. Humble: A Varsity House employee needed to express humility and self-awareness.  This was our biggest tissue.  The last of self-awareness.  Being late to a meeting is one thing (not acceptable) but being completely disengaged with a face that says “why am I here” is another.  This employee was completely unaware of how his body language and even his words were a disrespect to everyone else who showed up prepared and ready.  It also made the rest of the room feel uncomfortable and set a bad tone.  We would often feel like there was this air of anger and disgust amounts the crew.  NOT GOOD  
  3. Commitment to Excellence: A Varsity House employee needs to hold themselves to a higher standard of education and personal development.  We would constantly put learning opportunities in front of this employee even offering to pay but were mostly met with negative responses such as: No time, I’m busy, I don’t need to learn that.  This became a major point of contention for myself as I have always pride myself on over educating.  I believe personal development is the door to new thought and experience.   


As the year went on, we knew we had to make a change.  We were documenting any issues we had and had a close eye on everything the employee was doing.  The end was near.  


The cultural issues came to a head when the employee had a several issues with a few weeks of each other.  A shouting match with a client in which he called her an “asshole”.  We reprimanded him and gave an official warning.  The bubble burst one night when our head coach, Mike, had asked him to cover a session that was over packed and to help another young coach.  His response…” That’s not my session.” 


The next day he was fired.  My only regret was my lack of leadership and foresight.  I take full responsibility ,and admittingly like many business owners, got fought up on “potential” and “experience” over great fit for the team.   


What did we learn? 


  1.  Great People: Hiring a GREAT PERSON is way more important than hiring high level skill set or experience.  We have a team in place to teach coaches what they need and develop them into great coaches from within.   
  2. Fire Fast:  We waited too long.  After this employee was fired most of the employees expressed their relief.  “Finally, was the tone”.  We also had MANY clients come to us saying his negative energy was felt across the board. Now our policy is (Two Strikes NOT A THIRD!) That included one verbal warning, one written warning with the opportunity to improve, then it OUT THE DOOR!   
  3. Document Everything.  In today’s HR world and covering one’s proverbial ass has become ever more prevalent.  You NEED an employee handbook that everyone signs.  It should at least contain your core values, mission, and code of conduct.  That way when an issue arises you have just recourse to stand on.  
  4. Hiring Process: Create a “Hiring Process” that showcases your companies’ culture and forces potential hires to either shine or shrink within it.  A great way to do this is to have potential clients come on for several days to “shadow” or “observe”. Have them take a few of your classes, watch the interaction with client and staff, take them out to lunch and see how they interact outside they gym. Ask them questions specific to your core values and how they fit into them.   
  5. Look Outward: Seek out potential employees from other industries.  If you’re looking for a customer service team member or executive admin look for people who have given you great service in other areas, like a hotel attendant, or even a Starbucks employee.  I want people people.  In the end, the gym is a place of good vibes, high fives, and teamwork, your staff needs to reflect that.   
  6. Stockpile Interns: Each summer we used to bring in one or two interns.  This year, we hired seven!  WHY? No better way to make your company more flexible than always having potential hires in the bullpen.   


Hiring and firing will never be an easy process.  We are dealing with the ever-changing human emotion. That emotion can make a business thrive at times, but it can also slow it down. The due diligence is up to you.  Hire great people, make them work for it, provide leadership and direction (constantly), and fire fast if need be.   


Don’t let the potential of greatness or failure derail you from the process of fitting the right person to the right seat with the right qualities to fit your company culture.  


Stay Hungry Humble and Committed  

Coach Joe Strong