Sunday, 28 September 2014

Coaching vs Training - A Perspective

I’m writing this as I prepare a presentation for a forthcoming LFX event.

Our first event focused on Recruitment, Selection and Development and our second (November 27th) is especially aimed at facility managers and duty managers. 
As part of the day I will be addressing the topic of ‘Managers as Coaches’.

During my preparation for the presentation I started to think about the benefits of coaching when compared to what I shall term ‘traditional training’.

Having both received and delivered traditional training during the early and mid-stages of my career I have become accustomed to people arriving at training events and saying "I'm not really sure why I'm here, my boss sent me" or “What’s this course about”?

Hardly a ringing endorsement of a well planned and communicated team development strategy!

So why do I believe that coaching offers a better return on investment?

Firstly let's consider the way in which a lot of training decisions are made.

The main factor often seems to be the cost of training programmes as the cheaper they are, the more people you can send! If they are free or 'funded' then that's even better as it helps us to tick the staff development box. Unfortunately this misses a hugely important point, the return on investment.

When I coach clients we work together and use a variety of tools and exercises to understand how things are and how things could be in the future. We spend quality time together and I provide homework and work-based exercises to help the individual or ‘coachee’ learn about themselves, their behaviours and strengths.
This is active learning rather than the more passive approach that occurs during traditional training sessions or with the recent ‘get qualified quickly’ online courses.

Coaching creates action and I can’t honestly think of a session I’ve done where a client has left with no action to take or work to do to develop their approach to work and life. Coaching is also about discovery. The discovery of natural strengths and talents is almost guaranteed to boost confidence and improve performance.

As a coach I also get to know the challenges that my clients face at work and occasionally at home. These aren’t usually the kind of things that are raised during a training course. By working together to solve problems we develop and strong, trusting bond.

As the trust grows my clients are able to scrutinize their own behaviours and abilities without fear of criticism or judgment. By asking appropriate questions I find that clients will evaluate their actions, tactics and attitude and will ultimately commit to making improvements, wherever such improvements might be required.

With regard to questions it sometimes amazes me when a simple question can stimulate so much thought and such a variety of responses.

A question as simple as “What would you need to happen for you to improve your performance at work”? can generate a huge amount of self-evaluation.

Another factor when comparing coaching to traditional training is that even the most quiet, timid person has a voice. During group training sessions the more vocal individuals can dominate a session. When individuals are coached on a one to one basis simply doesn’t happen and some incredibly intelligent thoughts and ideas arise.

So think about traditional training for a moment, is it always the solution?

If your favourite sports team decided not to have a coach and instead sent players on a series of training courses would it be a good move? Would the team improve?

Coaching is proven to be effective in improving performance, just ask some of the world’s most successful athletes.

Think about the training sessions you’ve attended during your career, there are bound to be a number of benefits that you have enjoyed and that is fantastic. But I bet you would take a lot more from a personal coaching programme.

Interestingly there are still a considerable number of senior executives who feel that they don’t need coaching as they are at a ‘higher level’ than their colleagues. This is a great shame in my opinion as no one is beyond being coached; in fact those that say they don’t need it are usually the ones who need it most.

Let me finish with some evidence as to the power of coaching…

“A study featured in Public Personnel Management Journal reports that managers (31) that underwent a managerial training programme showed an increased productivity of 22.4%. However, a second group was provided coaching following the training process and their productivity increased by 88%.
Research does demonstrate that one-on-one executive coaching is of significant value.”
F. Turner, Ph.D.

I rest my case.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Can't Wait to Return

During my recent coaching work I have been banging the 'extremes' drum because people always seem to remember extremes.

Think about this as you go about your business and as you lead your team.

Whatever you do people will remember you for being exceptionally good or just plain old bad.
I am sure you have had a fantastic service experience or seen an outstanding presentation that was memorable for all the right reasons.

We easily forget the stuff in the middle.

Think of Trip advisor for a moment, which reviews do you remember? I suspect it will be those with headings like 'Dream Holiday, Can't Wait to Return' or 'Holiday from Hell'.

It is important to remember that people are now making purchasing decisions based on the reviews and opinions of others. I quite often use my phone to check reviews on some items before I buy and I am immediately turned off by anything that is extremely negative.

Average really isn't good enough, we should all do our utmost to ensure that we've made someone's day by helping them beyond what was expected.

There is a member of my LFX network who regularly sends me wonderful emails, she thanks me for some of the little things we do for our members. She now stands out in my mind as someone who excels in communication and as a result I will one day recommend her when the appropriate role appears. She is at the top end of the extreme scale because her emails are a joy to receive.

So my advice to you is really simple, don't be caught in the middle and definitely don't be at the bottom of the pile when it comes to the way in which your customers feel about their experience with you.

Whether you are a personal trainer, hairdresser, landscape gardener or CEO you must stand out as being wonderful to deal with.

Strive to lead a 'can't wait to return' business, you'll enjoy the journey.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

My Defence of Spinning/Group Cycling

I couldn't help getting annoyed in early January after reading an article on a major UK newspaper website suggesting that Spinning/Group Cycling wasn't necessarily very good for people.

The article (and a number of subsequent articles) came from an interview with 'celebrity trainer' Tracey Anderson who had stated that spinning would give people "bulky thighs".

Image provided by

What annoyed me was the timing of the article, the poor content and the fact that it appeared in various media formats and publications during January. January is the time when people are making decisions regarding their personal fitness and the last thing the global fitness industry needs is a self-proclaimed expert making negative comments.

The media outlets that have published, manipulated and exaggerated her original comments haven't helped either, particularly as the articles that I have seen have been aimed at a female audience. So the combination of misleading sound-bites, timing and target readership have forced me to clarify a few things about an activity that I and many others really enjoy.

Indoor Cycling burns calories, is fantastic for the heart and lungs, builds leg strength, is low impact and can be great fun. Like most forms of exercise it also helps to combat stress and anxiety and has tremendous mental health benefits.

It is usually done in a separate studio and some clubs offer beginner sessions lasting just 30 minutes.

I've seen people of all ages, shapes and sizes in a group cycling class and members of the group often help each other with bike settings etc. All in all it's a really good experience.

With regard to bulking thighs and making women bigger I am sure this will happen if you do it every day for a few years and combine your Group Cycling programme with a course of anabolic steroids and/or testosterone injections.

Realistically the chances are that you'll squeeze a couple of Cycling classes into your busy week and if you're lucky you'll combine this with at least one other fitness activity.

In the olden days people used to say that women who lifted weights would end up "looking like men" and would develop big, masculine muscles. We now know that this just isn't the case, in fact the shape of the human body can be beautifully transformed with weight training and body-weight exercises.

So don't be put off group cycling and don't let anyone be mislead by the "bulky thighs" story.
Group Cycling is fun and when you find a great instructor you really do enjoy it.

It's just like riding a bike!

Image courtesy of

How to find a great Group Cycling Studio and Instructor


Ok, when shopping around for a club/studio to try Group Cycling you must look for the following:
  • Trial sessions - you want to give it a try first so see whether the club allows you to do this
  • Short beginner sessions - always good if you are new to cycling
  • Safety advice - a club that cares for your safety (knees, hips, hydration etc) is worth taking seriously
  • Clean studio - ask to have look and check the cleanliness of the bikes and the floor - attention to detail is very important and shows that the club takes Group Cycling seriously
  • Good sound system - does the music sound good, do the instructors wear head-mics to ensure you can hear their instructions? Sound can often make or break the experience in a studio
  • Changing rooms - if the studio offers changing rooms and showers and you think you will use them then have a good look - it's the attention to detail thing again!
  • Does the club follow a particular Group Cycling method or programme such as 'Group Ride'?


We all have different tastes when it comes to instructors so look out for the basics:
  • Does the instructor welcome you and ask your name?
  • Does the instructor offer to help you set up your bike?
  • Does the instructor interact well with others?
  • Is the instructor qualified and/or attached to a particular programme?
  • Is the music at the right level?
  • Does the instructor screech and shout - this isn't very nice!
  • Does the instructor look professional and dress appropriately for the club and role?
You may have other things to look out for but the points above come from my conversations and focus group sessions with fitness club members.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

7 Lessons for Your Fitness Business...

I am lucky enough to spend a fair bit of time listening to owners, managers and directors talking about their business and operational issues. I find some business thinking to be fascinating so I thought I would focus my first blog on a few simple tips to help you get it right first time. In doing so I may point at things that guarantee failure so that you can think and work in the opposite way.

For clarity I use the word 'business' whilst also referring to projects that might be going on within an existing organisation (such as the setting up of a coffee outlet within an existing health club) and on complete new business ventures.

Rather than single out any particular sector, person or brand I prefer to outline seven important elements so that you can decide whether you really are up for a business challenge or whether you've just had a good idea that you don't really have the drive to complete.

This list is by no means exhaustive...

Lesson 1 - Understand Your Customers

This one frustrates me as it often appears that people start new ventures and projects by assuming that their idea will work...that's it! 

Now I am all for a bit of old-fashioned 'gut instinct' but surely you need to ask people questions?

Furthermore I would argue that if you are starting something new within an existing business operation then you really do have an obligation to ask your customers questions so as to ensure you deliver something that will ultimately be profitable. 

For example, if you are starting a new group exercise class and have a time slot available in your studio/hall that doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to be popular.

So, save your self some money by putting a bit of effort in at the front end and ask people serious questions. Don't shape your questions to get the answers you want either...that's just silly.

Lesson 2 - Drive

Let's pretend that we've decided to put on a new programme of children's activities in a busy health club. We've asked all of the right questions and we know what is most likely to satisfy our existing members and (with the right marketing) attract new ones. We then purchase some equipment and come up with a few ideas for activities, we allocate time and space as per our research and off we go...

What then often happens is that managers and staff quickly turn to something else and lose focus. They also realise that children are quite demanding and need a lot of encouragement, creative thought and supervision.

This is where the more 'driven' business people stand head and shoulders above those that aren't genuinely serious about creating a long term business offering...the strong pursue and improve every element of their business.

The 'un-driven' simply give up or get excited about another idea they've had. Ring any bells?

So when you've done your research ask yourself whether you (or the person you're delegating responsibility to) will drive this new venture with every bit of energy available.

Lesson 3 - Detail

I once worked for one of the UK's wealthiest businessmen.

His motto was simple, "attention to detail"...that was all and that's why he was one of the UK's wealthiest businessmen.

Lesson 4 - Interaction

I have no doubt you keep hearing (often from sales people trying to sell you a product or system) that interaction with your customers/members is a vital component of retention. It certainly is and in the world of fitness those initial interactions are extremely important. Not only does a friendly conversation with a prospective or existing customer do wonders for that relationship, it also demonstrates to other team members that everyone should make an effort to engage with as many people as possible.

By being friendly and approachable you ALL contribute a huge amount of value to the customer experience.

Lesson 5 - Mirroring

A lot of money is invested in design, print and digital marketing and whilst that's no bad thing it is vital to make your marketing as cost effective as possible. The human brain encourages us to mirror or copy others so when we see testimonials or images that remind us of ourselves we are more likely to be attracted to the product they represent. Similarly we also copy trends and behaviours, so if you are launching a new activity make sure you are seen to be taking part in some way or other by your customers. 

For example, if you are launching a new coffee outlet within your club make sure you are carrying a takeaway cup around with you. Similarly if you are selling protein shakes etc, make sure your fittest looking PT's are carrying shaker bottles around where appropriate.

If it's a new class such as Group Power then your instructors should not only be wearing the T-shirts, they should be joining in and enjoying the class...with a few members of the management team.

Lesson 6 - Get Your Hands Dirty

Managers quite often get to a lofty position and convince themselves that they are too important to answer the telephone, pick up litter or clean a changing area. While I would never suggest that managers should be doing these things all day I do believe that by staying in touch with reality a manager and business will thrive.

Lesson 7 - Be the Best Boss

The best boss I ever had was a gentleman called Ian Phillip. Ian was always available if we ever needed an extra pair of hands. He knew how to talk to his employees, knew how to talk to customers and his door was always open to anyone who needed him.

Nothing was too much trouble for Ian and that's why I enjoyed being part of his successful team.

So if you're the manager/leader of this new business please be the very best you can. 

Take these tips on board, work hard and you will attract good luck.