Training Strategies: Planning and Preparation

Over the last two weeks we’ve maintained that a lack of training is the Achilles heel of club operations.  Without formal and consistent training, a great number of clubs suffer from high employee turnover, member complaints about poor service, lack of organization, and generally inefficient operations — all of which have a negative impact on member satisfaction, recruitment, and retention, and ultimately the bottom line.

Here are some of the strategies to design and field a more robust, formal training program for both line employees and management:

1.   Start with a plan.  As with any major project, there must be a plan.  Things to consider when planning include:  goals, program requirements, training principles, impacted positions, priorities, budget, timelines and milestones, curricula by position, equipment and supplies, resources and materials, benchmarking, administration and documentation, annual certifications, plan and implementation review, and designated responsibilities.

Tip:  Check out the sample Club Training Plan on the Club Resources International (CRI) website for ideas.

Tip:  Start small and grow.  You don’t have to do everything at once.  Pick key member-facing positions with the greatest number of employees to get your biggest bang for the buck.  But don’t forget the importance of manager/supervisor training.  In the long run a well-trained, knowledgeable, consistent, and disciplined management team will be far more valuable to your success than anything else.

2.   Appoint a Training Manager to shepherd the project.  Assign this responsibility to an existing department head.  This individual will draft and present the plan, oversee its implementation, and report directly to the General Manager on plan progress and developments.

Tip:  The training initiative must have the absolute and enthusiastic support, backing, and “will to make it happen” of the General Manager or it won’t go anywhere.

3.   Charge each department head with the task of developing a curriculum outline for each position in his or her department.  These are the topics that employees in any given position must be familiar with.  Much of this information should be written, but some must be communicated or taught by other means, such as demonstrations, videos, DVD’s, etc.  In addition to the “what” (curriculum topics by position), the outline should also include “who” must learn the material, “when” it must be learned, and “how often” it must be taught for material that requires ongoing refresher training, such as sexual harassment, safety training, sanitation, and others.

Tip:  For service skills positions, the standard four-step training process of “Tell-Show-Do-Review” can be improved upon by Jim Sullivan’s 7-step process:  1.  Say What:  explain what will be covered, 2.  Say Why:  explain why the information is important, 3.  Show How:  demonstrate the correct way, 4.  Detail Variables:  since service is situational, discuss acceptable variations, 5.  Guided Practice:  rehearse skills together, 6:  Spaced Repetition:  repeat the skills training over time until each employee “gets it,” and  7.  Teach Back:  have employees teach back lesson as an instructor.

4.   Charge the designated Training Manager with developing club-wide training topics.  Usually this would be done in cooperation with the HR Manager, Safety Manager, or other subject matter experts.  Club-wide topics include an overview of club amenities, facilities, and operation; member rules; employee rules and work-related policies; organizational culture; club operating systems; legal and liability issues; and leadership development.

Important point:  Keep in mind that while much of the information employees and managers must know is similar; there is often a different thrust to the material.  For example, line employees must know what to do if they feel they are being sexually harassed, while managers must understand the nuances of what constitutes sexual harassment, how to avoid it, and what to do if reported to them.

values-2Tip:  Many of these topics have been covered in materials found on the CRI website, for example:  Organizational Values, Readings in Basic Leadership and Management, Leadership on the Line, Managers Handbook, Employee Handbook, Club Safety Plan, and Training-on-the-Go (such as F&B Training-on-the-Go, Safety-on-the-Go, HR-on-the-Go, Values-on-the-Go), and Daily Huddle topics.

5.   New hire training starts with basic information such as job descriptions, performance expectations, club orientation and departmental orientations (they are different, though covering some of the same topics for reinforcement), employee handbook, and managers’ handbook.  Any plan to provide a more formal approach to training must include a review of, or if not already in place, the development of such documents to ensure they cover all pertinent topics and are fully integrated, that is, they are consistent and reinforcing.

Tip:  Again, a good starting point for these documents is the material on the CRI website.  Follow the links above to check out the material.  Download or purchase the material and customize it for your own use.

Other Tips:

  • Experience has shown that critical information provided in small doses over time (hence the training-on-the-go material) is the best way to provide ongoing training at the lowest cost. Instead of specially scheduled, on-the-clock training sessions, some sort of pre-shift meeting for every department and shift is an excellent way to do this. The key here is to have a pre-developed, organized system of material, so that managers can take advantage of such meetings without having to jump through hoops to find and develop topics. Keep in mind that once such material is developed, it is available for future use with little or no effort.
  • Because of the one-time intensity of developing or gathering training material, this project should be done during the club’s “off season.” But to maximize the effectiveness of this limited time, the initial planning and timelines should be completed prior to the slow season to ensure that everyone “hits the ground running” when things slow down.
  • Training resources can be found anywhere. The advent of the Internet and search engines makes it relatively easy and convenient to find training material for almost any topic or position. Some will be free and some will cost, but once department heads determine topics, they should begin searching for relevant material.
  • Presenting the material in a professional manner is key! Do not hand your employees a 3-ringed binder filled with odd sheets of copied information. Efforts must be made to eliminate contradictory terminology and information written by different authors. Spend the time and effort to present it professionally — each topic should be presented in a common format with appropriate context, segue, and without extraneous information. You wouldn’t present such a jumble of information to your members, and you shouldn’t do it to your employees who you depend upon for your success.

As an aside:  the beauty of the Internet material is that is can be copied, pasted, and edited in your own formatted documents.  Also, when preparing training material, don’t forget to develop quizzes.  They can be used for formal comprehension testing or during informal teaching Q&As by supervisors.

  • Developing and fielding training information is an ongoing process. Review material over time, adding to it and improving it as you go. Ask employees to give you feedback on the adequacy and effectiveness of the material — ultimately they are the best judges of what’s useful and what’s not.

Developing a comprehensive training plan and program is probably one of the most challenging things your club will do, but the time, cost, and effort is well worthwhile.  Over the long haul, the effort you put into developing the professionalism of your staff and improving the quality of service at your club will have far reaching positive effects on member satisfaction and your bottom line.

Next Week:  Training Tools and Execution

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers — those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.

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