The culture advantage: The 5 P model for success

Your culture is your unique DNA and one of the best ways to differentiate your fitness business from your competitors, says fitness business management expert Kristen Green.

Have you ever walked into a business and thought that it just felt right? What felt right? Well, you probably couldn’t put your finger on it exactly, but everything felt in place – the service was good but not intrusive, the staff were welcoming and professional, the décor was clean and appropriate and the product was exactly what was advertised and what you expected.

It’s likely that you have experienced a business with a great culture. And when you do, it really stands out – because so many businesses don’t have one.

But what is culture – and why should you spend time and effort making sure you get it right?

Although there are many academic definitions of organisational culture, put simply, a business culture is described as ‘the way we do things around here’ (Deal and Kennedy, 1982). And although it is largely intangible and not always visible, all organisations have a culture – which can be either strong and cohesive or fragmented and potentially destructive to the organisation and its employees.

One of the best examples of the strategic use of culture in our industry is CrossFit. ‘When you buy into CrossFit, you buy into the culture. The CrossFit brand has built an exceptionally highly engaged, loyal and passionate community, with affiliates across the globe. A major contribution to the success of CrossFit can largely be attributed to its strongly guarded culture which has less to do physical transformation and more to do with encouraging participation, community, and personal growth’ (Rachel Service, 2014). The CrossFit culture is focused around a supportive and inclusive community – anyone can participate in CrossFit in their local area.

Culture is made up of shared beliefs and values, and is communicated through the language, rituals, stories and traditions which are used and passed on over years. Using the CrossFit example, we see the use of unique language to describe specific workouts, such as the WOD (Workout of the Day) and the common use of acronyms such as ‘AMRAPS’ (As Many Reps As Possible).

You may have heard the saying ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’, and it’s hard to disagree. Often the focus of business planning is centred around operational, marketing, strategic planning and budgets. But at the heart of all successful businesses is a positive, inclusive and cohesive culture. While arguably a business can be successful financially, it can rarely be sustained long term without a concerted effort to have culture as a cornerstone. At a business level, owners and managers have the ability to shape and influence culture to achieve the desired outcomes.

Your culture is your unique DNA and is one of the best ways to differentiate your business from your competitors. No other business can have exactly the same culture and values. Culture, managed successfully, will build brand equity, and create a loyal team of brand advocates in your team and customers.

Culture, managed successfully, will build brand equity, and create a loyal team of brand advocates in your team and customers

The 5 P’s of a successful business

The ‘5 P Culture Model’ of Purpose, Position, People, Participation and Professionalism can be used to drive your cultural advantage.

Purpose

First, you must be clear on your ‘why’ and what your key organisational values are. Your answers to these questions will help establish your mission statement, which serves as a compass for your purpose and for decision making. If culture is your DNA, then your mission statement is the backbone of your culture. Identifying your customer and your purpose and what you stand for will help create consistency with the delivery of your business/services.

Position

In keeping with your ‘why’ is your ‘where’. How do you want to position yourself within the market? The answer to this question will drive your business marketing and goals. As a fitness services provider, will you be at the premium, high quality/high service end of the spectrum? Or will you be a budget operation with minimal staff and service? While there is no right or wrong decision, it is important that your culture and brand are aligned with your position.

People

Arguably one of the most important drivers of culture is your people. Nothing is more motivating for your customers than staff who are loyal, engaged and inspiring. Culture fit starts at recruitment. A good approach is to ‘hire on attitude, train on skill’. Hire your team in alignment with your core values, which may include compassion, passion and respect. Ensure your team are appreciated and receive regular reward and recognition, and they will become your best brand culture ambassadors.

Participation

Building your community participation internally and externally is a great way to build a positive and inclusive culture. Look for innovative ways to engage and to become an integral part of your local community. Not only does this provide an opportunity to connect members and clients with each other and the community, but it also assists in retaining customers and building your brand awareness through supporting high profile community events.

Professionalism

The area of professionalism is broad, encompassing aspects as diverse as customer care, standards and safety, continuous improvement and innovation.

Irrespective of your business or model, a high level of customer care is an integral component of your business and culture. When members are working out, they need to not only feel safe and looked after, but also be safe and looked after – not least to avoid injuries and potentially damaging legal action against the facility or fitness professional. Ensuring they have access to safe, high quality facilities is one part of this equation – you don’t want an old or faulty piece of equipment to be the downfall of your club. Ensuring team members and contractors are registered and qualified professionals who continually invest in their professional development is also key to fostering this professional aspect of your club culture.

In addition to their technical skills and knowledge, however, team members should also work on developing their people skills. Providing an exceptional professional experience to delight your customers will build good will and ultimately loyalty to your brand. As the saying goes, ‘They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.’

In our industry, you need to encourage a culture of innovation and continual improvement. Regularly seek feedback from members, class participants and PT clients, and aim to never settle for the status quo of your business. The fitness industry is continually being disrupted with new and innovative business models, so plan to keep ahead of the curve – or risk being left behind.


Kristen Green, MBA, BSpSc (Ex.Science) is the Executive General Manager of the multi-award winning Aquafit facility in Campbelltown, NSW and a Board Member of Fitness Australia. She was recently recognised as IHRSA’s 2018 Woman Leader – the first Australian to receive this prestigious award. With over 25 years’ experience in the fitness industry, Kristen’s area of expertise is business management and leadership. Connect with her on LinkedIn.


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