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How to Incentivize Personal Trainers: Hint, It's Not Always Money

Dr. Haley Perlus, Richard Synnott and Michele Melkerson-Granryd discuss creating incentives for personal trainers in this week's Best Practices.

Q: "Our trainers' performance is lagging and we think it may have something to do with our incentive scheme (hourly pay plus incentives for training sessions). What are some other effective incentive schemes that might get this group motivated again?"

A: Although we would like to think that ‘pay per performance’ is enough incentive to increase work output from our trainers, monetary rewards are often not enough to spark the fire. I recommend experimenting with the following three methods often used to motivate employees:

  1. Public disclosure. Friendly competition is a powerful mechanism to increase productivity. Place a white board in the trainer’s quarters that keep track of each trainer’s responsibilities and individual progress (e.g. number of new members he/she signs each week). At first you may encounter some resistance, but public disclosure will increase the probability of goal achievement. 
  2. Autonomy. Allow your trainers to feel a sense of control and determine their own course of behavior. Your trainers need to have ownership and feel they have a say in decisions affecting their involvement. Otherwise, they feel pressured or obligated to act. Allowing them to choose from a group of tasks and then selecting from a group of rewards they can receive once they complete the task will foster high autonomy. High autonomy encourages wanting to participate, whereas low autonomy means having to participate. 
  3. Develop competence and success in your trainers. Individuals who doubt their ability to perform are called failure avoiders. Rather than striving to demonstrate success, they focus on avoiding failure because they doubt they can compare well with others. Be sure to highlight your trainers’ strengths, provide positive constructive feedback, and always give them tasks they perceive are within their capabilities.  

Dr. Haley Perlus, Peak Performance Consultant

A: Conventional wisdom often centers on monetary “schemes” as a motivating force. Money, itself, does little to sustain motivation in the long term. If you read enough about motivation it’s about recognition, feelings of accomplishment, approval, camaraderie, and pride. Exceptional leaders know that. You need to re-commit to your core vision of why your club exists and why your trainers do what they do. It has to be about the results the members get, and helping people live a longer, healthier life. So here are the practical ways to start: 

  • Make sure you have a leader who can establish the mission and vales system for the PT team
  • Have a staff retreat to share that vision. Recognize the people who already embrace that vision.
  • Ask the top two trainers to be mentors for others
  • One of the measurements of success is that more people will train so the revenue will go up. Establish a team financial goal, with incentives
  • Find out what motivates each trainer to do what they do, and where they want to be in the long run and show them how they can get there
  • Meet frequently
  • Make them accountable for selling and retention
  • Take quick action to terminate anyone who is not performing 

Richard Synnott, Executive Director
Weymouth Club

A: Here are some suggestions:

  1. Run a competition such as a weight loss challenge – the trainers can train teams of small groups (4-8 people) over a designated period of time, for example eight weeks.  The team that loses the most weight wins a prize (for example 6 months membership) the winning trainer wins a cash prize (eg $500). 
  2. Have your trainers teach group ex – something they have a passion for so that they have exposure to a wider group of members.
  3. If incentives aren’t working – maybe the trainers don’t have the opportunities to promote themselves – do you offer discounted initial package to new members? (3 sessions for $99)  These introductory packages allow the new member to try out a trainer – the trainer has three session to prove their value

Michele Melkerson-Granryd, M.Ed., Executive Director
Texas Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association

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