Hire Great People

hire the great

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It’s time to get down to business.

Although we operate in a campus environment, and may work as state employees, collegiate recreation is still a business. We have customers, both internal students and external members, we have employees, and we have revenue goals associated with our department budgets. For many of us, those revenue expectations continue to go up in the wake of tightening state budgets, frozen student fee rates and uncertain enrollment numbers.

Learning to turn a profit is important, even for campus recreation professionals. Luckily for many of us, a business degree is not required to set some simple guidelines for revenue growth and evaluating new entrepreneurial ideas.

The Profit is a television show that follows investor Marcus Lemonis as he partners with small businesses in a wide array of industries from candy shops to clothing brands, restaurants and many more. Most of the businesses are either struggling to stay afloat or trying to grow into a regional or national brand.

As Lemonis spends time with the businesses and their owners, he is faced with decisions on how to fix current problems and how to find the best path toward a successful future. In each episode, he lays out his evaluation method based on three factors: People, Product, Process.

In the next three months, we will take a look at how each of these factors impact the bottom line of our campus recreation departments.

Hire Great People

Our staff members are the heartbeat of our programs and services. Without employees that provide a high-quality experience and are invested into the success of the department, new and current initiatives have little chance of success.

So how do departments create great employees? It’s pretty simple: hire great people.

Campus recreation is far from brain surgery. Even our most technical positions can be learned within a relatively short time frame. We can teach people to officiate sports. We can teach people to lead group fitness classes. We can teach people to teach swim lessons or belay rock climbers. We cannot teach people to have a positive attitude or put forth effort.

We work in a customer service, high-touch environment. Our staff often create the experience that members pay to use. Fitness instructors, member services team members, event staff and others directly impact sales, and all other employees indirectly influence revenue as ambassadors for the programs and services they represent.

As you head into your next round of hiring, consider the criteria and process used for evaluating candidates. Would you rather have an “experienced” person that just goes through the motions or a less experienced person who is energetic, positive and excited to be a part of the team? More importantly, who do your customers want to interact with?

Find Ways to Keep Them

In The Profit, Lemonis puts an emphasis on hiring people that take responsibility, have a positive attitude and are personally invested in the success of the company. Once he finds those star staff members, he invests in them by improving working conditions, shifting responsibilities to fit their strengths, and even increasing their pay and benefits.

Boosting pay rates may not be feasible on campus, but it’s critical to find other ways to boost retention and increase the value of employment. A 2017 study found the average replacement cost for a full-time employee is $15,000. Replacing student employees may be cheaper, but costs for interviews, staff training and new employee mistakes still make a significant hit on the budget.

As more companies move toward living wage rates, and the fitness and wellness industry continues to boom with small and large companies entering the market, students and professionals have more employment options than ever. We are rarely at the top of the pay scale, so how can we compete?

Below are four ways to boost retention:

  • Build a positive environment. Create a culture of motivation and encouragement to keep morale high. Consider employee recognition programs or performance incentives.
  • Invest in their future. Implement programs to support student and professional development initiatives that relate to their specific role in the department, or to their future career. These opportunities will both improve their resumes and elevate the service they provide to customers.
  • Match passion to role. Understand the passion and interests of your staff. When possible, assign responsibilities in these areas to boost engagement.
  • Create upward mobility. Structure and growth opportunities are important to ambitious employees. Consider creating promotion or incentive possibilities, or they will find them elsewhere.

Next month we will dive into our products, but within campus recreation, our products are only as good as the people that deliver them.

Ben Strunk
Ben Strunk currently serves as the assistant director of sports programs at NC State University Wellness and Recreation. Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Ben earned bachelor's degrees in journalism and sports management at Ohio University ('12) and a master's degree in sport management at the University of Florida ('14) where he served as a competitive sports graduate assistant for the department of recreational sports. Ben is also the creator of Fat Guys Running Marathons, where he writes about his ultramarathon adventures and aims to inspire others to #achieveanything.

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