Thomas Plummer

The business of fitness

Good systems make average people great


(Three minute read)

Good systems make average people great.

Define systems as set ways of doing things, designed to make the business great and that can be carried out daily, easily learned and easily repeated by an average employee.

Without systems, you get trapped by what is called situational management. Situational management means that without consistent structure and procedures, every issue or problem in the business is handled differently as it comes up each time.

Today, you are in a bad mood and handle a membership problem in a way that reflects that member, your mood, time of day and maybe because of the money that problem will cost you. Tomorrow, you have a different member in front of you, and maybe one that you like differently than the member yesterday, so you handle the same situation differently.

The problem in front of you might be the same, but you handle this issue differently depending on the situation at the time. Situational management simply means only you can make decisions in the business, because each issue, even if this issue is often another version of the same problem you faced yesterday, is handled differently depending on your whim, mood and who the client is.

The problem with this method of madness is how do you teach anyone else to do this and to manage your business this way? If every situation depends on the client, the mood you are in, the time of day and the money in the bank, there is no way in the world you can ever teach anyone else to think exactly like you do.

This is, by the way, why so many young owners get frustrated with their staff people. “Why can’t he just do it the way I want him to handle it?” you scream, yet since you handle every major, and minor, decision off the top of your head, there is no way anyone can figure out how to manage your business. You don’t have procedures or a system, you have only you deciding to make some crap up as needed to get this current issue done and out of your face.

Developing systems allows the staff to have a set direction, in writing and in a manual that allows them to handle the major recurring issues in the gym. Systems mean that if a cancellation issue arises, for example, and it is a common one, a staff person can look up how to handle it in their procedures manual. It doesn’t matter who the client is. It doesn’t matter what day it is. It doesn’t matter what mood you are in as an owner. It only matters that the staff can handle the issue professionally each and every time even though you are not there to take care of it personally.

Here are a few examples of issues that should be covered in a procedures manual. Keep in mind that a procedures manual is also a tool you use to train new staff. The manual over time will grow to cover all the major issues you have in your gym and this tool can, therefore, be used to train new staff more quickly as to how to handle a routine day at work:

  • How to handle any complaints
  • Follow up procedures on all sales leads
  • How to answer the phone (common courtesy and message taking)
  • How to start a new client
  • Scheduling appointments, including how the scheduler works and how to fix it if is doesn’t
  • Asking for past due money
  • Proper dress for the job
  • Procedures on closing the gym each night. What lights stay on? What lights stay off? Where is the emergency key? What temperature is set at night? What do I do with the paperwork? Where does the money go?
  • How to open the gym in the morning
  • Handling inquiry calls on the phone
  • How the different trial memberships work. You would need a separate section for each trial

This list could go on and on. The real issue is that most owners like to be the one that makes all the decisions and handle all the problems, but in the harsh world of small business you ruin your staff by doing this, because they can never be able to handle anything unless they are standing there next to you for years trying to learn how one situation is different from another.

Yes, you can always override your own system. If there is someone who is a favorite client, who has major personal issues, or is politically important in the gym, yes, you can make that decision as an owner to do it your way. But if you want a staff that can rise to the occasion and take control of the gym when you aren’t there, then building systems that are scalable is the only way to stay in business over time.

The secret to a small business is how can you get an average staff person to deliver a super experience every single day? The answer is consistent systems developed to handle every issue professionally, ethically and quickly each and every time. Your gym will only be as good as the staff’s own ability to help you make money and you can’t make money if you have to stand and stare at the owner waiting for him or her to make a decision on every single issue in the gym every single day.


The old adage is that staff is only as good as you make them. In a training gym, our staff is often only as good as we allow them to be and many of them could be so much better if the damn owner would only get out of his own way. Maybe it really isn’t the staff that is the problem in your business; maybe it is you?

2 thoughts on “Good systems make average people great

  1. Hi Thom.

    Thank you for the enlightening articles.
    Are there any books or other material you can refer me to with regard to writing Standard Operating Procedures?

    • Hello, there are two types of operating procedures you should explore. The first are just whatever human resource material you have to give employees, such as an employee manual, for where you operate. The second is for the running of your specific business. There isn’t much of a model here. I recommend simply writing a page in simple talk for each procedure a employee might have to do in the business. For example, you would have a page on handling complaints, one for answering the phone, for one for closing the gym at night, one for opening the business that morning, etc. I practice, you wold train a new hire that opens the gym in the morning out of the book, which has a page dedicated to opening procedures, such as what lights to turn on, how to set the business up prior to opening that morning, and whatever else you might need to get the place open and ready for business. Hope this helps Keabetsoe. Let me know if you need more. T

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