Key-person risk is a concern for businesses that rely heavily on a few people to deliver their core services. This vulnerability is especially common for gyms that focus on personal and group fitness training because a trainer or instructor who is a beloved leader can be hard to replace. If this risk is not managed correctly, gym owners can find themselves with unhappy members, and ultimately, lost revenue through member churn. However, there are steps you can take to mitigate key-person risk, so let’s go through them now.

Assess Your Risk

Your business depends on your staff, and some of your people are critical to your success. For a myriad of reasons, including a long-term illness or injury, you might end up needing to cover for or replace any of your people at any time. So, the first step in managing key-person risk is identifying your “key person” or “key people.” You inherently know who they are, but you can move beyond assumptions by diving into your metrics and supplementing that with member interviews and surveys.

For instance, if your business model is built around personal or group fitness training, your key person or people will be your trainers or instructors who book the vast majority of sessions or consistently have the most popular and well-attended classes. Moreover, when it comes to group fitness instructors, the more of those popular classes a key person leads per week, the more risk you have.

One important thing to note is that key people can be found in any organization. Even if you don’t have personal trainers or group fitness instructors, you can still have a key person. They are usually the staff member with vast institutional knowledge who others rely on for information and leadership.

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Make Plans to Mitigate the Risk

At this stage, the goal is not to lessen the importance of your key person, but rather to ensure business stability if they can’t do their job. The following suggestions will help you prepare for this possibility.

  • Enhance Talent Throughout Your Business: To start, look for ways to empower all team members so they can eventually step up to cover for, or be, a key person. This usually means cross-training or facilitating additional skills and certifications, for instance, in the case of specializations like prenatal and senior clients. Beyond training and certifications, you can also direct junior staff to shadow your key person or have your key person mentor junior team members.
  • Systematize Procedures: Sometimes your key person’s critical competencies and skills can be systematized throughout your business. Meaning, there’s a reason a key person is a successful, well-loved leader in your community. If you can identify their best habits, routines, and procedures, you can direct other staff members to adopt them too. Then you would be building and nurturing a key team instead of relying on a key person.
  • Create a Succession Plan: Additionally, it’s helpful to have a plan in place for replacing a key person. Hopefully, you won’t need to use it, but if you don’t plan to succeed you’re planning to fail. Start this work by updating staff job descriptions. Usually, a key person takes on increased responsibility over a long period. Then when they leave or can no longer do their job, their vacancy is far greater than a job description can account for.

Additionally, identify staff members who could fill your key person role if needed, and as mentioned above, develop their skills and abilities through training and mentorship. You also need to establish a recruiting pipeline to help you connect with qualified candidates and a plan for onboarding new personal trainers and instructors.

  • Nurture and Support Your Key-Person: Finally, it should go without saying, but keep your key person happy and thriving in their role. Except for in the case of an illness or injury, staff churn is usually avoidable. Appreciation, good communication, appropriate compensation and opportunities for growth are the foundations for long-term employee satisfaction.

Assessing and managing key-person risk might not be something you look forward to doing, but your business will be stronger and better off once you’ve done it.


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