Procedure vs. Creativity: War Time

In an environment dependent on over-the-top energy and big personalities, owner Jesse has learned how to build (and rebuild) a foundation for the organized chaos produced by high-performing personal trainers. It always comes back to basics. Certain aspects of the leader/follower relationships at Fit Tribe largely stay the same. However, today I am discussing the aspects of those relationships that are contingent on the success of the business.


The values at Fit Tribe are always centered around personal responsibility, contribution, and collaboration, though they can manifest differently. When the business is performing well, ideas flow freely between all employees. Brainstorming is encouraged and decisions are made as a group. Influence is expected to be a give-and-take from everyone. If you think you have a better way to do something, you’re more than welcome to prove it. In fact, Jesse has even been known to get frustrated if there has been a quiet period without suggestion of a unique workout idea, potential promotion, or entertaining video to film. A consistent buzz of conversation around the office is the norm. 


If metrics are positive and no recurring errors are present, an employee largely has autonomy over their time in Fit Tribe’s office. Spend the whole day chatting with members on Facebook. Grab another coach and film a 5-minute zoo animal themed routine. Buy a dozen shake weights for an April Fools Day workout because you think it’d be funny. No one is going to be looking over your shoulder, unless you invite them over to talk about an idea. The expectation is if everything else is going smoothly, push for more. Create more. You should discuss decisions, but it is ultimately safe to take risks. 


There crosses a gross revenue line, however, where creativity is less welcomed. (That line is around $20,000/month for a facility.) Think of it as a kind of “war time” mode. If business is down, opportunities for creative freedoms lessen. A part of the procedure must have broken down. The environment becomes more stringent. Bonuses and extra commissions don’t get paid out for the month. Instead of brainstorming, time is spent thoroughly reorganizing data, reviewing metrics and following instructions. In times like this, no one is encouraged to make suggestions or decide to re-invent the wheel. Decision-making becomes centralized within Jesse and employee time is more closely structured and managed. Experimenting can’t continue until the crack in the foundation is identified and fixed. Since all employees have the agency to influence and uphold each others’ standards, everyone is responsible. And everyone, including Jesse, makes less money.


It is never ideal to have to resort to this energy in the office. Jesse notes that the whole purpose of reinforcing basic procedure is to return to a collaborative environment as quickly as possible. He doesn’t want to get into the weeds of day-to-day decision making, uncovering missteps in actions that employees should be completing reliably. Frankly, it leaves him annoyed and “preach-y.” But, he will do it when he needs to. In Jesse’s perspective, continually implementing new ideas without reflection makes it difficult to identify the root causes of issues. Creating a new, exciting promotional program can only fill the hole left by poor client retention for so long. Creativity is a privilege that we should be able to exercise all of the time- if we are doing the basic processes correct, all of the time.  


The office becomes slightly more intimidating in these times, knowing every part of the process will get a magnifying glass taken to it. Jesse asks a lot of questions and makes a point to tie every action (deemed correct or incorrect) back to company values. He is aware of the less forgiving environment he creates but asks the employees for trust. He reminds them of the successful teams he has built and reassures them of a quick rebound to healthy metrics- if they keep the processes airtight for a couple of weeks. I agree with his sentiment that even the best creative idea won’t be able to come to fruition if basic execution is faltering.


All things considered, I’m not sure how this strategy fairs overall. I’ve seen it both succeed and fail. Jesse has past statistics to back up his claims, is knowledgeable, firm, and charismatic. He views the $20,000 mark as low enough for serious concern, having had facilities that produced over $60,000/month with the same processes. However “war time” compliance can be unraveled quickly by an excessively anxious team member (it seems hard to find high energy folks who are also low maintenance). Based on my observation, if Jesse has spent sufficient time with an employee in their training process, they tend to be more “indoctrinated” and more likely to trust that re-embracing procedure is best for the group. Otherwise, a retraction of freedom seems to be taken by coaches as punishment, discouraging the very attention to detail Jesse promises will remedy a troubled facility. This makes Jesse’s time and attention of primary importance during employee onboarding, which is too difficult to ensure consistently with other demands on his time. I think finding a way to minimize his required amount of involvement in the business troubleshooting process could be beneficial. Or perhaps not even the amount of involvement, but somehow modifying how employees are connected to the brand so it is less dependent on their relationship with him. But I have a feeling you might not be able to take the “cult of personality” out of this industry without other impactful consequences on the bottom line…