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Hiring and Training New Employees for Success: The Medical Fitness Model

Clevenger, Troy

doi: 10.1249/01.FIT.0000244894.39995.a5

Learning Objective To provide a detailed outline for hiring and training new employees so that both the new employee and the organization obtain maximum benefit from their performance.

Discusses effective ways to hire new employees and then provide the appropriate training necessary to ensure that they will be successful within the organization.

Troy Clevenger is the operations manager at Akron General Lifestyles located in Akron, Ohio. He can be reached at

The success a hospital-based health and fitness center achieves largely depends on the service provided by its employees. Hiring the most qualified candidates available and training them thoroughly are critical for both the organization and employee. As positions become available within your organization, great care should be taken to ensure that your members will receive excellent customer service from a qualified individual.

The hiring process is a key factor in the long-term success of any organization. To prevent a lot of future frustration, avoid "crisis hires." A "crisis hire" is when the first available person that meets the criteria for a position is hired regardless of personality or work history. This process should not be rushed or performed carelessly. Take the time needed to identify individuals that can provide an immediate positive impact to the organization. Having a thorough interviewing process in place and performing reference and background checks will help ensure that the right person will be brought on board.

The interview process should consist of a minimum of two interviews regardless of the position being filled. One interview should be with the candidate's direct supervisor, whereas the other should be with a human resource specialist. If possible, try to include staff members in one of the interviews. Their participation is valuable because they can provide information to the new employee regarding atmosphere in which they will be working in and, at the same time, get a sense of whether the candidate will be a good fit for the specific department he/she will be working in.

When interviewing candidates, always have a series of scripted questions and behavioral-based questions. The scripted questions should be used to find out about past work experience and specific attributes needed to perform the job that they are applying for. Behavioral-based questions are open-ended questions used to determine which skills candidates have used successfully in the past. An example of a behavioral-based question is, "Tell me about a time when you received excellent customer service, and please be specific." After the candidate answers, ask them how that made them feel or if there was something that could have been performed better. There are many books that offer effective ways to conduct behavioral-based interviews.

Expectations by both parties also should be discussed during the interview. It is important that the candidate clearly understands all the expectations for the position. An example would be if fitness instructors are required to clean the exercise equipment. If the candidate does not know this before being hired, it could cause a problem in the future. Candidates also need to understand what is expected if they are hired. Most hospital-based health and fitness centers require physicals with tuberculosis tests, measles-mumps-rubella vaccines (or proof of), drug tests, and/or hepatitis B vaccine.



In addition to the candidate understanding the expectations of his/her position, the organization needs to understand the expectations and motivations of the person it is spending a lot of time and money on to employ. If the candidate's motives do not align with the organization, this also could cause problems in the future. Is the candidate trying to build a career with your organization, or is he/she just trying to get his/her college education paid for so he/she can pursue another career elsewhere? It should be a priority to hire candidates who are looking to provide a long-term commitment. This may not be necessary for all positions, but keep in mind that it will save you and the organization a lot of time and money the longer you have an employee.

One thought to keep in mind when interviewing is that skills can always be taught. Too many times employees are hired who can knock your socks off with their knowledge, but drive members away with their personalities. It is always best to hire for personality and work ethic as long as the minimum qualifications for the job description are met. The following qualification guidelines have been set by the Medical Fitness Association for hiring new employees into professional positions (1):

  • Fitness managers or supervisors should hold the following minimum qualifications:
    • College certificate/associate/bachelor degree in exercise science or related field, master's degree preferred
    • At least one current certification that is accredited by the NCCA
    • Current CPR/AED certificate
  • Personal training staff should hold the following minimum qualifications:
    • College certificate/associate/bachelor's degree in exercise science or related field preferred
    • At least one current certification that is accredited by the NCCA
    • Current CPR/AED certificate
  • Fitness staff who provide programming for special populations should hold the following additional qualifications:
    • Cardiopulmonary rehabilitation or postrehabilitation
      • Bachelor's degree in exercise science, master's degree in exercise physiology, or licensed RN or PT with exercise science background, preferred
      • Additional training and/or credential specific to the target population
    • Orthopedic rehabilitation/postrehabilitation
      • Bachelor's degree in exercise science or athletic training, master's degree preferred
      • Additional training and/or credential specific to the target population
    • Weight loss
      • Bachelor's degree in exercise science and a degree in nutrition preferred
      • Registered dietician credential
      • Maintain compliance with specific State Practice Act

Now that you have spent a significant amount of time, effort, and resources recruiting a qualified candidate, you have the opportunity to create an outstanding employee who will contribute to your overall organizational success. In addition to training new employees to perform their job responsibilities, you should be providing them with a variety of opportunities to develop the professional skills required to be successful. A new employee only can reach his/her full potential if he/she knows as much as possible about your organization, clearly understands workplace expectations, and has the ability to provide excellent customer service.

A common trait among successful hospital-based health and fitness centers is a consistent emphasis aimed at orienting and training employees to be "superstars." Most new employee training programs include four key components. These include the following:

  • Attending an overall organizational orientation to learn more about their new employer
  • Spending time in customer service training so that they learn how to exceed member expectations
  • Going through specific departmental orientation so that they can learn more about their department
  • Experiencing on-the-job training with another employee to learn, observe, and experience the specific details of their job responsibilities
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Organizational Orientation

An overall organizational orientation allows an employee to learn more about his/her employer and the organization so that he/she is positioned to make the greatest contribution. With this knowledge, if an employee is asked a question regarding another department, he/she will be able to either directly answer the question or he/she will know the proper person to contact to get the appropriate answer. Some of the key information that should be included in a new employee organizational orientation is as follows:

  • Mission and vision of the organization so that the employee knows what the organization is and what direction it is headed
  • An organizational breakdown that should include all of the entities within your facility and an explanation of what they have to offer
  • History of the organization so that the employee realizes how the organization began and why
  • Policies and procedures of the organization and explanations if needed
  • Goals and objectives so that the employee realizes what is expected of him/her and the organization
  • Explanation of employee benefits so that the employee appreciates and understands how to take full advantage of this important component of your organization's compensation package
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Customer Service Training

Another component needed to get a new employee started is customer service training. Not everyone you hire will have that natural ability to dazzle members with his/her outgoing and helpful personality. Creating a customer service-oriented culture should be the goal of every organization. There are many different ways an organization can implement customer service training for employees. Many organizations design in-house employee training programs that meet specific organizational goals. Other organizations choose to purchase service training packages that are developed by credible third-party companies that specialize in helping organizations meet their customer service-related objectives. Whether the decision is made to design this training program internally or outsource this initiative, it is important to research all available options in an effort to identify the one that will meet the unique requirements of your fitness center.

Retaining members is crucial to having a successful organization. Keep in mind the following when training employee's customer service:

  • It costs five to six times more to attract new customers than to keep old ones.
  • The lifetime value of a customer can be worth up to 10 times as much as the price of a single purchase.
  • Dissatisfied customers will tell (on average) 20 others about their problem.
  • Satisfied customers will tell between three and five people about their positive experience.
  • It takes 12 positive service incidents to amend one negative one.

Some simple things employees need to learn and understand to create loyal customers are as follows (2):

  • Exceed your customers' needs
  • Take care of the little things
  • Be innovative
  • Pay attention to detail
  • Know the customers' business
  • Be accessible
  • Reduce hassles for your customers
  • Be honest
  • Honor your commitments
  • Always follow through
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Departmental Orientation

Now that your new employee has learned everything that he/she needs to know about your organization and how to provide excellent customer service, it is time to have him/her go through a departmental orientation. During this orientation, it is very important to introduce all of the details specific to the department that he/she will be working in. Some topics that should be covered in the departmental orientation include the following:

  • The department's mission and vision so the employee understands the direction of the department
  • Departmental organization and an explanation of what each component has to offer
  • Values and beliefs of the department with an explanation
  • Staff expectations, manager expectations, and what the employees expect from each other
  • If you are within a large building, a facility tour should be given so that new employees feel comfortable and can provide assistance to members, patients, and guests as needed
  • A description of other departments within the organization so that they can refer members and guests to other services provided by the organization
  • Goals and objectives of the department so that they understand what is expected of them and their department
  • Policies and procedures to ensure that that they know and can enforce the rules of the department
  • Advancement opportunities so that they understand that they have room to grow within the department and organization
  • Emergency procedures to ensure that a member will get the best care possible if a situation arises
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Mentoring Program

After all of the orientations and customer service training, it is time for on-the-job training. New employees should spend four to five shifts working with a mentor. The mentor should be an employee with some experience and someone who can serve as an example of how excellent customer service is delivered. The mentor should have a checklist of items that need to be covered with the new employee. The checklist should cover the details of daily departmental activity and anything else that will be vital to the department's success. A checklist should include the following:

  • Items that the employee will have to perform on a regular basis
  • Proper administration procedures to tasks needed to perform the position
  • How to handle specific job-related situations that are critical to the success of the department but may not occur on a regular basis

In addition to time spent with a mentor, the department manager should make it a point to schedule some time with the department's new hire each day for the first couple of weeks. This time with the manager will ensure that the new employee is being trained appropriately, and it will give the manager time to answer any questions that the new employee may have. This contact is very important because it lets the new employee know that the manager cares about him/her and the department of which he/she is now a part. During these meetings, it is a great time to let the new employee know that you have noticed some of the good work that he/she has done. One of the most important things in training is to catch new employees doing something right (3).

After spending a notable amount of time and money hiring a new employee, a significant effort to get them started out on the right foot should be implemented immediately. This only can be done if the new employee feels comfortable with the organization and what he/she is being asked to do. Having been supplied with detailed information about the organization, each employee will feel more comfortable and confident when performing his/her daily responsibilities. In addition, having gone through a comprehensive customer service training program, he/she will acquire the tools needed to exceed member and guest expectations. The bottom line is that qualified, competent, and well-trained employees create positive member experiences, improved member retention, and, ultimately, a successful business.

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1. Medical Fitness Association. The Medical Fitness Model: Facility Standards and Guidelines. Richmond, VA: MFA, 2006.
2. Biech, E. Twenty-one Ways to Delight Your Customers. 2002 Annual. Vol. 2, Consulting. Indianapolis, IN: Pfeiffer John Wiley & Sons, 2002.
3. Blanchard, D., and S. Johnson. The One Minute Manager. New York, HarperCollins, 2003.

Interviewing; Expectations; Qualifications; Orientation; Mentoring

© 2006 American College of Sports Medicine