// The art of coordinating - Successful instructor management

by Marietta Mehanni and Ange LaScala

OK, you have been asked to manage the group exercise program at your facility. You are rapt with the promotion, responsibility and probably, secretly, the power! Then you begin your first day – whoa! Being confronted with a pigeonhole bulging with complaints, a communication book full of issues and an e-mail inbox brimming with problems makes you realise the scale of the challenge that you have taken on. Welcome to the world of coordinating!

The task of coordinating instructors has many unique challenges. Managing individuals who may only work in the club for one hour a week can make it difficult to create a healthy team environment. So, what are the secrets of successful coordinators?
To be an effective program coordinator, you need to be:

• a leader with direction and goals
• a team builder
• organised and have the ability to organise others
• a good communicator with instructors, other staff and management
• an excellent listener
• able to think quickly and rationally when under pressure
• a teacher, motivator and role model.
 
It may seem like quite a list, but these are the expectations of every instructor and staff member.

LEADERSHIP
 
The old phrase ‘lead by example’ is certainly applicable to coordinating, and is an aspect often overlooked by team leaders. Instructors use their team leader to set their standards of professionalism. If the coordinator regularly has to get their classes covered, does not attend workshops or upskill themselves and has poor physical fitness, the perception is that they do not care. Instructors will mirror the qualities they see in their team leader, so a coordinator who acts like a true professional will find that their instructors embrace their values, and that the sort of instructors they want are attracted to their team.

Are you a motivator? If you answer yes, then how do you know this? If you really want to assess how effective you are as a motivator, then assess how motivated your instructors appear to you. Instructors often enter this industry because of their passion for fitness and then leave due to other, more practical reasons brought about by a loss of motivation. A coordinator should motivate instructors by providing tools and skills that they want and need to become outstanding in their roles. A coordinator is not only a role model and a motivator, but a teacher as well.

Are you accessible and approachable? A coordinator must ‘be there’ for their instructors, and needs to be seen, and seen often, making an open door policy essential. Coordinators also need to be aware that it is often the ‘low maintenance’ instructors who are below their radar that need as much attention as the more demanding individuals – possibly moreso in fact, to ensure that their loyalty is maintained.

Coordinators who manage their team remotely via mobile phone and e-mail will have limited success. Admittedly, most coordinators are part time, and being at the club at all hours is not feasible, but they can still develop and maintain a strong team environment. Possible solutions are:

• Organising opportunities to meet instructors during their working hours
• Alternating shifts to increase the the art of coordInatIng: successful Instructor management opportunity to catch up with different instructors
• Organising team workshops or informal social events such as drinks or dinners that allow coordinators to engage with team members
• Mailing or e-mailing instructors just to say ‘hi’ and not for anything else.

It should be noted that, although useful for certain purposes, staff meetings may not be the best way to build a healthy team environment. Staff meetings may be viewed as ‘work’ and are not always the most effective way to catch up with instructors on a one-to-one basis.

ORGANISATION
 
Are you organised? A coordinator who is not should either change quickly or get out while they can as it is the most essential skill! Consider what could go wrong with 60 plus classes, 30 instructors, a potential 1,500 members, reception and other parties on a weekly basis. Lots! If a coordinator appears to have lost control of a situation, then they are also opening themself up to being taken advantage of by less scrupulous instructors who are more likely to make those dreaded last minute phone calls saying ‘I can’t come in’. So, any coordinator who thinks ‘oh my goodness, that’s me’ should have a really good look at how they are perceived – organised and under control – or not? The organisational skill of making monthly and yearly plans which instructors are aware of will help with focus and build confidence in the ability to lead.

Administration can be a frustrating and time-consuming facet of coordinating. Payroll, reporting, budgets, maintenance issues and effective communication with staff other than your instructors, are crucial to the smooth running of a program. To avoid falling behind with reports and keeping other people in management waiting for figures, it is important to implement a personalised system for each procedure. It can be useful to talk with other successful coordinators who are happy to share their strategies. It will also make for a much quicker and easier life if you are computer literate – so many processes can be much simpler and easier to do if they are not done manually.

When it comes to organisation, every coordinator, or potential coordinator, should ask themselves if they are consistent, reliable and follow through with information and processes. Good organisation requires that you:

• follow up member feedback and validate within 24 to 48 hours, whether it be by phone, e-mail or use of a public board
• follow up e-mails and respond to instructor phone calls in a timely manner, not three days later
• arrive on time at the locations that you organise
• are honest and transparent (if you withhold information from instructors you will inevitably be found out later on)
• follow through with suggestions that you have accepted, and give valid reasons if you do not do so
• are not forgetful!

COMMUNICATION

 
The biggest hurdle every coordinator must overcome in everyday program coordinating is communicating with staff and instructors. Ideally, more than one form of communication should be in place, but this will be dependent on space and accessibility.

Communication is different for members of management in that they will require reports on attendance, budgets and key performance indicators to keep them informed of how the business is performing. Regardless of what strategies you use, you need to be accessible and easily contactable; an unreachable coordinator will soon be faced with chaos.

WHAT SORT OF PERSON ARE YOU?

Are you passionate? Are you prepared to work unusual hours? Are you prepared to answer your phone late in the evening even if you know it is going to be a work related call? Are you prepared to deal with problematic instructors, staff and members with dignity and professionalism regardless of your personal opinion or agenda?

Yes, the role of a coordinator is a challenging one, but it is often very rewarding. When you have a team that creates magic in every class and works really well together, you can definitely take the credit. The coordinator role is a truly unique position within a facility – the glue that keeps the instructor team working towards a unified goal of providing premium workout experiences that keep participants active and coming back.

 

Marietta Mehanni & Ange LaScala
Marietta and Ange have 40 years of combined experience in the fitness industry. Both have taught freestyle and pre-choreographed programs ranging from mainstream classes to specialty programs. Together they have coordinated programs at 11 clubs around Melbourne including YMCA’s, council and private facilities. They are passionate about instructor mentoring, training and developing overall professionalism in the fitness world.

NETWORK MAGAZINE • AUTUMN 2008 • PP35-37