Is It The People? OR It’s The People!

Posted by Bill McBride on Nov 9, 2016 3:42:48 PM

There is a lot of talk about people being the key to a successful business. We all get it.  People are the key. Big, successful companies strive to be voted on Fortune’s Top 100 Companies to Work For list each year by adding unique and sometimes crazy perks to attract and retain THE BEST people.

 People make the team work.

Yet even when you make this list, you still can’t satisfy all employees: These are reviews for some of Fortune’s Top 100 Companies to Work For as noted on “Very busy all of the time, hard work, have to deal with rude customers, must park off site on the weekends to allow spots for customers.”  “Very hectic on Mondays and the initial training period is without breaks. So expect to stand on your feet from the time you come in till the time you leave for nearly 6 hours. Not so bad though if you're used to it.” “Sometimes people are promoted or moved to another area and are not properly trained. I have noticed that this often leads to miscommunications and problems.”

We could easily hear these reviews from some of our employees in the fitness industry.  No matter the perks you offer, it comes down to people; the way they feel internally; and what motivates them individually.  In reality, people are motivated by what benefits them personally.  When an employee is not engaged in the mission of the company or the work that they do, an employee’s self-interests seem heightened to the company.  If your employees feel like they are working with a “stranger” or even worse, an entity that one does not trust, self-interests are amplified to a sense of “self-protection” and “getting what one deserves.”  I believe this sense of misalignment (justified or not) is what leads to high turnover, egregious wage, hour and employment lawsuits and a lack of premium performance.

One does not typically give less than 100% to a friend or family member and rarely does one sue a friend or family member.  Organizations are legal entities created only on paper. People are what bring organizations to life. This is not always easy territory to navigate. Hiring good people with good character can avoid many problems; training, aligning goals & compensation while showing appreciation can avoid many as well. We need a two-pronged approach: 

1). Hiring.  

2). Managing/Leading.

A simple example is to look at the reviews mentioned above about the Forbes’ companies that employees fight to work for. In the first review, the employer is rated poorly because the employee feels they are very busy, have to work hard, deal with rude customers and park far to save the good parking for customers.   

As an employer you may read this and think, “I pay you to be busy, work hard, handle customer issues (both good and bad) and to make the best possible experience for our customers, which in this case, means saving the good parking for them. How do you not expect this?  You agreed to the pay rate, the job description and expectations that were set during the hiring process and on your first day.  Hopefully you have had regular conversations around performance and expectations.  Why would you write us a negative review?”

Is the employee wrong for feeling this way (underappreciated, over worked) or is the employer wrong for not doing enough to create trust, recognition, appreciation and clarity?  A lot of times, the truth usually lands somewhere in the middle. However, it is our jobs as employers, to figure out the problem.  We need to discover how to hire engaged individuals who are just as passionate about our business as we are; what motivates each individual- not as group- not as generation-not as department.  Figure out how to keep the good ones by building on their motivation with recognition and reward. I know this is not an easy task especially because of the amount of different personalities in the workplace today.

Did you know that we currently have five generations in the workforce? It is the first time in history this many generations are working together.  While the age spectrum is welcomed and even celebrated, this creates challenges for both engaging employees and collaborating with colleagues.  Try Googling each type: Traditionalist: 71+ years of age.  Enjoy the traditional mindset for work: the more experience and the longer you stay the more respect and status you earn.  Hardworking & loyal. Boomers: 52-70 years of age.  Also hardworking and loyal.  This is probably the last generation that you will hear “they have worked for me for 30+ years” and is excited for the gold watch for their years of hard work and service.”  They value money and “stuff” and need to see you at work- work from home? Not happening. Gen X: 36-51 years of age. Claim to fame is demanding “work/life balance”. Value productivity, not how many hours you are at work, but what you get done.  Need flexibility to care for both parents and children. Gen Y (Also generally categorized as Millennials): 20-39 years of age. Claim to fame is being called “too entitled.” They grew up with technology and information at their fingertips. They teach the older generations about technology and enjoy mentors to help them learn fast. Managers in this generation prefer collaboration and input into decision making.  Gen Z: <20 years of age.  Too early to tell, but more reliant on technology than Gen Y, especially communicating through technology.

Now that is a lot of various personalities to manage and please in the workforce!  However, all people want similar things: respect, recognition, rewards (monetary and non), communication and connection to the company’s mission.  It is the way each individual prioritizes these wants that differ. A millennial may want to work-out in the middle of their shift, while a Gen X employee may want to work through lunch to get home earlier.  It is our job to utilize flexibility to achieve a fair workplace while rewarding our valued employees with what motivates them, uniquely.

No matter what generation you are from, “lack of involvement leads to lack of commitment”.  So, one lesson for us all is to involve those affected by decisions and to get their input and involvement before the decisions are made.  It doesn’t mean you do something different, but at least we have all the facts and the implications of decisions BEFORE we implement.  

We have all lost a “good” employee or someone we wish would have stayed a little longer.  Unfortunately, we are either too late to learn how to keep them or we weren’t what they wanted and they would have left anyway.  These people normally have “potential”, but we may not have been able to afford to pay more or to lessen their workloads.  Have regular conversations about their job and what excites and motivates them.  In today’s work environment, do you really expect to keep your employees for 20+ years?  Can you even afford to do this?  Historically, employees were kept by offering pensions to fully paid benefits for their families.  We can’t always economically do that today.  We need to find out what will make employees stay or create the best win-win with them during their tenure, however long that may be.  

Whenever you lose someone that you didn’t want to lose, there are lessons.  If you learn from those, you can improve your talent retention. At Active Wellness, we try to do all the right things:

1). Use a professional, consistent system for hiring with printed out interview questions.  

2). Understand traits that are non-negotiable versus those that can be trained.

3). Writing Example (Cover letter, detailed questions, one-page assignment, etc.

4). Work Style Assessment.

5). Multiple interviews.  

6). Background Checks.  

7). Reference Checks.

8). We are continuously working on our Training & Development programs.

9). We do our best to live our core values.  

10). We recognize and share appreciation.  

11). We are continuously working toward being competitive with compensation and benefits. Even with this commitment and focus, we find areas where we miss the mark.


Sometimes people leave organizations based on the organization’s doing, but most times people quit based on their direct supervisor and the relationship they have with him or her.  Many people stay loyal to a “bad” organization because of a “great” boss.  The “Boss” carries “The Culture”.   

According to a Gallup poll of more than one million employed U.S. Workers;  A bad boss or supervisor is the number one reason people leave due to the environment their boss creates and how they feel they've been treated.

 Let’s lead by example and train our managers and supervisors to be great bosses. This will pay off in spades by developing a great culture.  We need to focus on how to manage all of the generations, but companies really need to pay close attention to Millennials as they will make up 49% of the workforce by 2020.  

In a Business Insider article dated, April 23, 2015, Dan Schwabel notes 4 things Millennials want from an employer:  

  • The chance to work with talented people: I believe this includes the notion that the talented people spend time mentoring, coaching and teaching the new team member.
  • The opportunity to create meaningful work: We have the most meaningful work there is – supporting people in healthy lifestyle change and healthy living.  “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
  • Flexible hours: While we are a retail business with retail hours, we do offer schedule flexibility as our “work hours start early and end late – some 24 hours.  This can be attractive with some weekdays off, mornings off, etc.  We aren’t a 9-5 grind.  We are a lifestyle with flexibility.
  • Higher salaries: This is one of the bigger challenges in an industry with relatively low profit margins.  Rent and Payroll are typically the two largest expenses for a health club.  This is an area we need to spend some time figuring out.  Pay for performance or incentive pay for results generated is an area we all can spend more attention on to allow people to make more for contributing more.  Granted this is a big challenge, but not one to ignore.  I am a believer in the old adage that in most things in life, “You get what you pay for”.   This industry is particularly difficult on this front, but we shouldn’t stop trying to figure out the right balance for performance pay and club level margin.

After reading that article, I realized that I must be a Millennial too and so are just about everyone in our organization. I guess Millennials aren’t so different from the rest of the artificial classifications of people. Maybe people aren’t fundamentally changing as much as their environments are changing. The key is how we all react and adapt to those changes. How we adapt to a changing world will dictate our success. People come first, before, now and always. Let’s keep focusing on people; our staff and our members in that order!

Bill McBride is Co-Founder, President & Chief Executive Officer, Active Wellness & BMC3.  He is a health club industry veteran with over 25 years of experience leading and managing all aspects of commercial health clubs, medical fitness centers, community centers and corporate fitness centers.  He owns BMC3 – a health club consulting company and is Co-Founder, President & CEO of Active Wellness. Bill has served as Chairman of the IHRSA Board of Directors, on the ACE Industry Advisory Panel and is actively engaged in industry consulting, education and speaking on industry topics throughout the world.  

To contact Bill: (415) 299-9482;

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