a culture of feedback
The topic of “coaching development” is often near the top of the list for gym owners. Most owners are aware that they need to progress their staff forward. This awareness is a good thing; as actively engaging staff members through development is integral to ensuring their professional growth and delivery of a top-notch product on the floor. However, awareness without action is futile. The same owners who are interested in development are often paralyzed by the perceived depth of the task.
Where do you start? How do you even scratch the surface?
There’s an endless amount of material to cover and an equally endless array of strategies to employ. In thinking about development in this light, it can be an intimidating proposition especially if you are already strapped for time. In this article, we propose a single concept that transformed the way we think about feedback at NCFIT…make it part of your culture.
No matter if you are just starting out (small gym, 1 or 2 coaches) or you currently are running a well-oiled operation (multiple locations, dozens of coaches), we believe there is one thing everyone can do to help ensure the development of your team – foster a culture of feedback.
This simple shift in mindset will not cost you money, require intensive study, or demand that you and your coaches sit in on hours’ worth of lecture. Our firm belief is that the single most important thing you can do for your business and your coaches when it comes to development is to champion a culture where feedback is not a dirty word but rather a productive, refreshing, and growth-inspiring part of your team.
The “feedback culture” we are referencing deals much less with formal systems and procedures (although those can be extremely valuable, too) and much more with bedrock on top of which everything else is laid. If your coaches don’t believe or trust in you, your mission, or your motives – you will fail. Not only will your attempts at development fail, but you will also very likely find yourself hemorrhaging talent…a recipe for disaster. You must lay the foundation. At NCFIT, the foundation is cultural.
We define a feedback culture as an environment characterized by trust, care and excellence where openly giving and receiving praise and/or constructive guidance is part of the everyday norm. There’s a lot to unpack there…so let’s break it down in three parts:
The Characteristics of the Environment
Before you can go out there proudly proclaiming a culture of feedback you first need to establish trust, care, and excellence amongst your staff. This needs to be definitive within your organization, and you need to live these ideals in good times and bad. TRUST. Your staff must truly trust you, your words, and your actions. There can be no room for questioning motives or intentions. They must firmly believe in you and your mission. They need to know that even the tough decisions and conversations happen in trust. The best way to establish trust is through care. CARE. Care must be the motivation for everything you do. This is impossible to teach and it cannot be fake. You go the extra mile because you care. You want the people around you to excel because you care. You are open and receptive to feedback because you care. EXCELLENCE. The pursuit of excellence manifests through care. You are always seeking to improve yourself, your craft, and your business. Excellence means that you always put forth your best effort in everything that you do. No matter if it’s cleaning the bathroom or coaching the snatch, you are doing so with all of your effort. Once these take root in your organization, establishing a culture of feedback is possible.
Giving & Receiving Openly
A feedback culture means that sharing one’s thoughts and feelings in a productive manner is part of the day to day. Sharing is a normal occurrence and not just a reaction to an ‘event’. Through the establishment of trust, care, and excellence your staff will understand that this sharing is meant to better one another. It comes from a place of care. It takes place between relationships characterized by trust. It is given in the pursuit of excellence. Within your organization, no one should be above feedback. Your goal should be to make it okay to talk with one another about our craft and how to improve. Obviously, there’s a difference between formal reviews conducted by supervisors and informal sharing among your team. Right now, we are primarily talking about the latter. If this feedback culture takes root, you will find your formal evaluations much more successful and better-received.
Praise & Constructive Guidance
In the most successful manifestations of this culture, both praise and constructive guidance are shared equally. No one gets better by just hearing what they didn’t do well. Ultimately, this is demoralizing and demotivating. Similarly, no one gets better by just hearing what a great job they did. Drowning someone in praise without guidance will eventually lead them to a dead-end. You must carefully balance praise and constructive guidance. You want to motivate and encourage while also providing clear guidance on how someone may improve. This is a delicate balance and will only be successful through trust, care, and excellence in open, two-way communication.
some simple steps to cultivating
Creating a culture doesn’t happen overnight. But now that you have an understanding of the culture you want to create…we can outline some steps to start your journey. Below are a few best practices for cultivating a culture of feedback.
- Start small and be consistent. Perhaps the most important step of them all – start small and be consistent! Your team will almost always take their cues from you. And your community and staff will take on the culture and vibe you exude. Therefore, you must live and breathe this stuff if you are expecting them to adopt it. Start small by smiling and high-fiving more, asking coaches how they are doing, making yourself available to your coaches, and doing all the little things around the gym that people tend to forget. Do this everyday…every single day. You want coaches to do as you do…not just do as you say.
- Avoid pettiness and stay out of drama. Be above it…period. If you are engaging in the drama or inserting yourself in the drama, you are destroying your credibility. As the owner or head coach, you must be above it. Your coaches will watch how you react to situations or whether you engage in the gossip. Every time you talk poorly about someone behind their back, your coaches might be saying to themselves…what do you actually think about me? You can’t risk that kind of loss of trust.
- Take classes and encourage your coaches to do the same. You’d be amazed how few coaches and owners take classes within their own gym. This is a huge opportunity not only to engage with the community but to become more involved in the development of your staff. You should take classes often, and you should encourage your coaches to do the same! This will lead to very easy and natural feedback opportunities. In addition, your coaches, when taking classes as ‘members’, will learn a lot about what works well and what doesn’t. Encourage coaches to share their thoughts: ‘I really liked how you taught X’ or ‘I think you will find some more success with Y’. This is a tremendous opportunity, and it is a shame that more coaches do not take other coaches classes.
- Coffee one-on-ones. Get to know your team outside of the gym. Arrange coffee one-on-ones with your coaches to better understand how they are, where they come from, what their goals are, and what stokes their fire. This is a genuine, non-threatening way to also uncover any pain points within your staff. The question ‘how can we improve as a team or how can I be better as a leader’ will lead to healthy discussion about where your staff thinks improvements can be made. When you establish these connections with people you are bolstering their trust in you and your vision.
- Explain (and, more importantly, live) the WHY. When the time is right sit your team down and explain to them why a culture of feedback is so important. Once they understand the why, the how becomes much easier to grasp. Talk to your team about taking each other’s classes, sharing different concepts, and working with one another to help spur growth. When you put it out there to your coaches, you better be living it yourself! If you go out there and ask your team to buy into care, trust and excellence but you aren’t reflective of those values…watch out.
The most important element to any development initiative is the foundation on which it is laid. If your culture is not aligned to care, trust and excellence, we contend that your efforts, no matter how well-intentioned, will be in vain. Moreover, if you aren’t consistently practicing the giving and receiving of feedback within your team, you are missing out on the most important development opportunity of all. The consistent practice of giving and receiving both praise and constructive guidance will help your team perfect their craft more than any one certificate, course or initiative. Establishing a culture of feedback is the single most powerful opportunity you have to develop your team. It’s free but it won’t come without cost. You will need to work extremely hard, give up bad habits, and invest in your people. The payoff, however, is a healthier, better motivated, and stronger team.