Business Owner Insights

How to Create and Maintain the Culture of Your Studio

Jack Cuneo | May 27, 2021

Instructor turnover: the struggle is real! A revolving door of teachers at your studio creates a host of problems. It’s difficult to build your optimal schedule, hiring and training can absorb a ton of time and energy, and loyal instructors may have trouble getting coverage when they can’t teach their class. These challenges can decrease morale and/or force you to jump in at the last minute.

A disconnect within the staff can be frustrating, but there’s an even bigger problem: many clients join your studio—and keep renewing their memberships—because they love their favorite instructors. If those instructors leave, some of the clients who love them may follow. Make no mistake—your membership revenue and the health of your community depend on creating a culture that encourages instructors and employees to stick around for the long run.

Here are nine tips for how to create an irresistible studio culture that lowers your trainer turnover rate and keeps clients coming back for more:


#1: Understand the kind of culture you want to create.

Before you do anything, it is important to understand what kind of culture you want to create in your studio. Consider your methodology, customers’ needs, brand identity, competition, management style, and current team. Write down what kind of culture you would like to create and what type of person fits into that vision. Are they laid-back, super-friendly, detail-oriented, helpful, challenge seekers?

Many studios don’t spend much time on this step—this is a mistake for which they usually pay dearly down the road. Defining, refining, and communicating your culture determines who you attract to your studio, what they expect, and how they behave. Without a clear culture, you’ll need to spend a lot of time and money negotiating your way through conflicts and demands from all corners of your community. 

Keep in mind that even though you should be defining the culture you want to create, it will probably never look exactly the way you imagine. Why? Because culture is a web of relationships–it’s always changing, and can never be controlled. Envisioning a culture should usually not require wild creativity either. It’s more about determining basic boundaries, principles, and directions that you can reasonably expect quality clients, instructors, and staff to buy into and feel invested in. It’s about saying “this is who we choose to be, and this is how we demonstrate that every day.”

 

#2: Hire the right people.

Once you have carefully considered and defined what you’re trying to create, you’ll need to grow a team that can align with your culture and contributes to its vibrancy. This is a balancing act; you want to cultivate staff and instructors that broadly agree on your culture and your goals, but who will also provide healthy diversity and actually contribute to the culture. Evaluate your current team, and begin to organize your recruiting and hiring with this in mind.

Think about the role that you would like your instructors to take. Will you ask them to help out around the studio? Help you build your business through client communication? Take an active role in building your schedule and programming? Are you looking for expert instructors or newer individuals who will come in without preconceived notions about how things ought to be done? There is no one answer to your questions, but you must know what you are looking for before you begin the hiring process. Create a “culture fit and culture add” assessment that fits your needs and use it to vet everyone who comes in for an interview.

 

#3: Be wary of rockstars.

It's easy for owners to get excited about a rockstar teacher with a big following, but hiring people who don't play well with others or who don’t consider themselves as a member of the team can be destructive to your business—and some rockstars can fall into this category. Not only do these relationships often end in acrimony, but they can also divide your community of students. Make sure your hiring process includes mechanisms for identifying and weeding out people who place greater importance on furthering their career than being a member of an awesome team.

Related:
How to Hire the Right People


#4: Get clear on expectations.

Once you’re ready to hire someone, get super-clear about what you expect from them as an employee. What will be their role? What will their day-to-day responsibilities look like? What expectations will you need to create so that everyone upholds the policies, procedures, and culture in word and spirit? Make sure people know what they're saying "yes" to. Either write out a contract or a simple outline of basic agreements so you and your instructors can refer back during the working relationship. This document will also be helpful during reviews, assessments for promotions and raises, and interventions or terminations.


Related:
Rebuild Your Team With Star Fitness Instructors and Thrive Post-COVID


#5: Be consistent AND solicit feedback.

Creating a culture that employees love isn’t about hiring enthusiastic folks, giving them a few speeches, and then turning them loose. The situations your business will face over time are complex, and your employees—and you—will need reminders and resources to make good calls in the face of these complexities. So be sure that everyone in your business has access to the tools and reminders they need to navigate through their work.

Remember that no matter how compelling your ideas about culture are, the true measure of culture is NOT ideas—it’s behavior. There’s no faster way to cause behavior to disintegrate than to tell your employees to act in one way, and then act in a different way yourself.

Also, keep in mind that consistency shouldn’t mean rigidity. A positive culture is meant to be participated in and celebrated. So let your instructors and staff discuss the culture openly and help it evolve and improve. Ultimately, having a good culture helps you as the business owner or manager—but it’s not actually about you. It’s about the whole community. Like cultivating a garden, you envision it and guide it and weed it, but you are not the force that causes it to grow.

 

#6: Conduct training sessions for your employees.

Hold onboarding training sessions to help reinforce expectations, brand identity, and company culture. Remind your instructors that being an active member of the team can help the business (and therefore themselves) thrive. It is also beneficial to hold regular events to nurture and evolve your culture. Team building events, continuing education opportunities, or company outings can help create a cohesive team that is mutually invested in your brand. 

 

#7: Be proactive in checking on new instructors.

Check-in with your new instructors and make sure they have all of the tools they need to succeed. Don't rely on them to check in with you—they may be overwhelmed or nervous about making mistakes. Once they feel a bit more comfortable, you can begin to use a tool like FitGrid’s instructor insights to keep an eye on their performance. This data will allow you to track your instructors’ success and work with them to identify and execute improvements. 

 

#8: Pay attention to your staff and their needs.

Many instructor roles don't pay a lot of money, but they do come with the benefit of allowing people to do what they love surrounded by others who they admire and respect. Remember that the work environment you create is a big part of what keeps your instructors and staff happy and engaged. As the owner or manager, don’t underestimate the power of showing up to work with a smile and a joke, or bringing everyone a surprise coffee, or acknowledging and thanking people for their efforts personally, or offering an ear to provide advice or consolation. These gestures can help instructors feel that they are being appreciated and that they are part of something bigger than themselves, with a relatively low cost to you. Caring for your people and being honest and transparent with them can create loyalties for life.

 

#9: Intervene immediately if an instructor goes astray.

The expression “one bad apple spoils the bunch” pertains to the studio environment as well. One instructor can unwind all of the work you have done to create and maintain your studio culture. If you start to see someone acting outside of expectations or against your values, don’t ignore it and hope for the best. Before reprimanding them, hold a one-on-one and see if their frustration can be resolved with a little appreciation or tweak of responsibility. It’s easy to blame an employee’s personality for issues, but that’s often unfair—so focus on identifying whether there are resolvable environmental factors first, like lack of clarity around roles, goals, and processes. Pull out your agreement and make sure everyone is still upholding their end. If the contract is no longer applicable for some reason, go through a revision process with your employee. If you don’t see an improvement after this intervention, it is probably time to have a conversation about respectfully and mutually parting ways. In this situation, remember that who is “right” doesn’t usually matter much—it’s about separating in a way that minimizes anxiety, hurt feelings, and community damage for all.

Ultimately, investing time in making careful hiring and training decisions will save you time, energy, sanity, customers, and revenue over time. Building a company culture that inspires your team to stay in it for the long run can help you not only lower your trainer turnover rate but also build a more successful business and more enjoyable place to work. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jack is a yoga teacher, SaaS professional, business consultant, and former CMO and COO of Kindness Yoga, a nationally recognized chain of yoga studios based in Denver, Colorado. He currently serves as Director of Client Services for FitGrid, a fitness technology and social wellness company that enables studios, instructors, and students to connect with one another in meaningful ways.

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