Understanding the 4 P’s of Your Campus Rec Business

Campus Rec Business

At the end of the day campus rec departments are a business. Many campus rec professionals come into management positions and have to learn business administration basics while on the job; it can be challenging but also exciting exploring and adopting new skills. Here is a crash course of the 4 P’s of basic business management.

Profile of the Organization

At the core of an organization lies its values, which are essential to define. A department’s core values determine how we operate. They are the building block for our departmental profile. Thus, theoretically, core values never change. Core values don’t necessarily need to be displayed on your rec center’s walls or website; if executed properly, they will be evident to members by how your programs, facilities and business are conducted.

Your departmental mission is a simple statement answering the question, “Why do you exist?” Your mission statement should be short, catchy, inspiring, realistic and measurable; expect your mission statement to be around for 20 years. Your vision statement is a values-based statement that drives your department to reach a challenging goal. It should be specific, motivating and shape your organizational culture. Expect your vision to be around for five to 20 years. Think about SMART goal setting; you have your big, hairy, audacious goal (BHAG) in your vision statement, so break that down into how you will achieve it; that breakdown becomes your goals and objectives. Having the framework of your organization is key to putting your people first.

Pro Tip: If you are struggling to define your core values, take your department’s pulse. How are you currently doing business? Why do people work in your department? Creating core values doesn’t really matter if they don’t match reality.


People come first always before programs, products or services. Having clear operating procedures and practices documented so team members can utilize their strengths is a necessity. In the book “First Break All the Rules” it’s stated the two most important questions all employees need to be able to strongly agree to are 1) I know what my job is and how I will be evaluated, and 2) I have the tools and resources to be able to do my job successfully. Onboarding, training, development evaluation, and exiting should have clear protocols for all employees.

It’s a common habit to only focus on an employee when they are starting, leaving or performing below expectations, but when doing so we can wreak havoc on our good employees. Gallup research indicates if your manager ignores you, there’s a 40 percent chance you will be actively disengaged or filled with job hostility. If your manager is at least paying attention to you, even if only to your weaknesses, your chances of being actively disengaged drops to 22 percent. If your manager is primarily focused on your strengths, then your chance of being actively disengaged is just 1 percent. Focusing on strengths simply means making sure everyone is in the correct seat on the bus.

Pro Tip: Invest in your team. Best practices are to spend 1 to 3 percent of your overall payroll budget on education and training.

Products & Profitability

What are you actually selling? Analyzing your products, programs and services can be  challenging. Although each program can be deemed “important,” it is necessary to be able to answer the following question in one sentence: How is it different and why should I buy it? The thought of selling in campus recreation can be taboo. The reality is we are selling quite a bit whether or not there are any additional revenues coming in on top of student fees; if people do not come into our doors or participate in our programs, then we need to evaluate our sales process because participation and engagement are types of sales KPIs. We need to become a member of our target market and audience; it can be challenging for an active person to get in the mindset of a sedentary person. Utilizing advisory boards and focus groups can be helpful in providing what our audience wants. When thinking about marketing and assessment, remember the whole service journey. We often spend a lot of effort on recruitment and post-service, but often neglect those who are currently engaged in our programs.

Pro Tip: Staff education is key. Our front desk members should be viewed as sales associates, meaning they should be the most informed on the department offerings. Having team members experience new programs and offerings during inservices is a great way to keep them knowledgeable to answer questions from a personal experience.

Project Management

Strategic planning is essential to running a smooth department. Document plans in detail and explain them to those involved. Having calendars with target dates and milestones can help everyone whether they work independently, in groups or remotely. In planning, we often strive to be efficient but not effective. The difference is that working effectively goes a step further to identify what is only essential to get a desired outcome. We often default to delegation; however, we shouldn’t delegate a task to someone when it could be eliminated. Elimination is the first step to clearing clutter. Automation is the second step. Look for programs to automate procedures that cannot be eliminated. This is a great strategy to limit unnecessary personnel time. Setting up a strong project management plan can be key to keeping your people first and allowing them to flourish.

Pro Tip: Explore free web-based programs to help with project management. Don’t be afraid to implement customer relationship management (CRM); we often think about only using a CRM in commercial settings but campus recreation can greatly benefit from this.

Closing Thoughts

Using the term “business” in campus recreation can be controversial but it shouldn’t be; at the end of the day we are a business regardless of if and when money is exchanged. Prioritize getting a solid practice in place; this can save you lots of time, effort, money and possibly even job searches in the long run.

Steven Trotter, MS, is a consultant, continuing education provider, adjunct faculty member in health and fitness science, and principal for Globetrotter Wellness Solutions. He also serves as the associate director for wellness and fitness at East Carolina University. His expertise is rooted in university rec programs with a repertoire in leadership and organizational development, fitness facility design and management, behavior change, and program management. Steven is a 2017 IDEA Program Director of the Year finalist and presents at numerous conferences across North America each year. He is a subject matter expert and blogger for the American Council on Exercise and previously served a 3.5-year term on the industry advisory panel. Steven has a master of science in health in physical education from Virginia Tech and bachelor of science in exercise science from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

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