Employee turnover hits sports academies especially hard. That’s because our trainers and instructors tend to have close relationships with clients, helping them with very personal goals during a lot of one-on-one time. Our school-aged clients, in particular, look up to their instructors and can get very attached.
These relationships are the reason many of us love this business. However, they’re also the reason instructors can do a lot of damage if they leave your academy. And most will leave, eventually. That’s why we as owners and managers have to be prepared.
Instructors often move on with little to no drama, but it’s not uncommon for departing employees to try to take regular clients with them. That can have a devastating effect on your business, particularly if they’re taking clients that you’ve spent time and money to attract.
I’ve seen this scenario play out many times at my software clients’ academies, and unfortunately even at my own, so I know it’s essential to take the following steps to protect your business from the threat of departing instructors.
An Employee Agreement
The most obvious way to keep your employees from unethically taking your clients with them is to make them agree not to do so in writing, either in a noncompete agreement or in language in a signed staff handbook or work agreement.
Having my own staff sign a noncompete may have just saved my business when a few of my staffers left to start on their own several years ago. Because of the language in the agreement they signed, they opened a safe distance away from my facility. However, these other facility owners weren’t so lucky.
Laws on noncompetes vary by state, and some don’t allow them at all, so you’ll need to consult a local lawyer to find the best way to protect your business. The language in the agreement typically has to be considered reasonable to your staff if it is to be upheld in court.
When you’re considering a new hire, you need to know if they’ve burned any past employers. Check records by verifying as many references as appropriate, and use your connections to ask around. Don’t forget that due to legal concerns about defamation, most former employers will only answer “yes or no” questions regarding their former employees–often limiting their answers to whether or not someone is eligible for rehire and confirming dates of employment. You may not get much information if you only do a reference check. Use your local sports community’s network to get a good sense of a trainer’s background.
Once you’ve checked their references, you can move to the interview stage, but go the extra mile before you hire. Don’t just look at their certifications or past athletic accomplishments, which can impress on paper, but might not translate into great coaching skills.
Assess their skills in person by observing them run a few trial classes or lessons similar to the ones you’d like them to teach if hired. At DNA, I scheduled potential instructors for two classes. The candidates observed the first class, then participated along with a current instructor for the second class.
If you see any red flags or are less than impressed, wait for a better candidate. It pays to be selective.
If your best employees have great incentives to stay with you, they’re less likely to look for opportunities elsewhere and try to take your clients with them.
Turnover was one of my biggest problems at DNA Sports Center mostly because the people who tended to be attracted to these types of jobs were young and inexperienced in the workforce. In my current role as president of eSoft Planner, I work with enough sports facilities to know that I was not alone in battling this problem. This is an issue worth spending time trying to improve as it directly impacts your available resources and financial bottom line.
Retaining employees requires a combination of offering competitive pay and benefits, as well as less tangible perks, such as a fun working environment, flexibility, and a clear path for advancement. One thing that helped me learn how to keep instructors longer, was conducting exit interviews, where we discussed their reasons for leaving and then I followed up on those issues.
Control of Scheduling
Some academies I’ve worked with let their instructors handle their own scheduling for lessons and clinics. This not only makes it extremely easy for instructors to take clients with them when they leave, but it also puts your facility at risk for liability issues.
For insurance purposes, you should always have a record of who was on your property and what they were doing, at any time. Make sure that anyone who practices in your facility has a signed waiver on file, as well as updated emergency contacts on file. Staying on top of all of these moving pieces is simple if you run all your scheduling through a centralized program like eSoft Planner, the software my company developed for sports facilities.
Handling all the scheduling also means that you keep valuable marketing data for each of your clients, including how to contact them and information about their activities, interests, and abilities. You can use that data to tailor your marketing campaigns later, which gives you a chance to draw clients back to your facility even if they’ve followed an instructor away.
A Secure Client Database
Your client list is probably more valuable than any single physical thing your business owns, and if it falls into the wrong hands, it could seriously undermine your business.
Your clients trust you to keep their information safe and private. Best practices dictate that your client database is not easily accessible and that you can track every single person who has downloaded it. Again, this is much easier when you use a comprehensive software program like eSoft Planner, which does the heavy lifting for you. Because of this need, I specifically built eSoft Planner with the capability to set different access/permissions for each employee. For example, you may want instructors to only see specific pages such as scheduling, but your membership managers may need to see different pages in order to update memberships, etc. Your staff should always be able to access the client information they need easily and without the need to download large quantities of it.
A Consistent Exit Procedure
I’ve already mentioned the exit interview, and I can’t emphasize enough the need to have a standardized checklist to use every time a staff member quits or is terminated.
Checklists should include tasks like removing the departing employee’s access to scheduling software, changing their passwords to social media and other company accounts, and collecting keys and equipment, such as a company cell phone or computer.
Finally, always remember to take the high road. You’ve got a business to run, and you can’t let the sometimes unpleasant aspects of running a business become personal and impact your operations. Some customers and clients cost more to keep than is worth it — don’t be afraid to let them go if they’re interfering with your business goals, impacting your revenue, and becoming a time suck. The best owners learn from their experiences and keep moving forward.
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