Undercover Analysis is a 10-part part series offering insight on the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities of Canada’s Undercover Bosses. Tune in to the W Network each Thursday at 9 p.m ET to catch Canada’s CEOs as they go incognito within their own organizations to discover the truth from the bottom-up.
COO of GoodLife Fitness Jane Riddell enjoys making a difference in people’s lives through fitness. From coast to coast, one in every 45 Canadians is a GoodLife member. Creativity and new programs for member and employee retention are necessary to be competitive in the gym crowd. Without this, profitability could flounder. Jane immerses herself in the gym scene to gain new insight. As an undercover boss, she works as a Zumba instructor trainee, a maintenance worker and salesperson, whose competitive skills may not be up to snuff. Later, when she witnesses employee dedication wavering, she must exercise her covert operation skills.
Analysis – By Marty Parker
As Chief Operating Officer for GoodLife Fitness Centres, Jane Riddell leads a fast-growing, multi-site retail juggernaut with a lot of moving parts. With 10,000 employees and a growth of rate of more than 70 per cent over the last two years, Riddell and her team, which includes company founder and CEO David Patchell Evans (aka Patch), have not had time to exercise many of their own plans for refining operations.
Riddell is an operator’s operator and you can clearly see why Patch has had her running the operations by his side for the last twenty-five years. She understands that the fundamental difference between GoodLife and its competition lies not in retail locations, design or even aggressive sales programs—the difference is the people and the culture.
Going into the field as “Donna,” Riddell has one objective: to find out how to recruit and retain the best people in the market. Clearly, Riddell gets it: she knows that the battle in any business is won and lost with highly talented people. People create culture and culture drives results. As she puts it, “Great people are everything.” Riddell sees GoodLife not as a bunch of locations and equipment, but as a bunch of people making a difference in the lives of their members.
Riddell sees the potential for greatness in membership consultant Brian, who works in one of the Ottawa clubs. She recognizes Brian’s drive, high energy and work ethic – but also knows that he needs support and a club that delivers on the promise it delivers and not one that lacks hot water for its members. Riddell describes Brian as “too eager,” and in this she may have misread a key determinant of sales success. All sales professional need drive, and Brian has that in spades. His eagerness and determination are the reasons why he outsells his peers. Instead of changing him and potentially others like him, perhaps Riddell ought to consider pairing the Brians of GoodLife with a more consultative membership integration associate who can conduct new-member tours and integrate new members into the club. In addition, sales roles like Brian’s are highly commissioned and perhaps some of this commission should be held back or paid on the retention of members; this could be shared between membership consultants and more consultative new member integration specialists. This strategy could help retain the best salespeople as they will stay for the deferred income. Just a thought!
It is not hard to appreciate how difficult Riddell finds working in the Calgary Jump Room, GoodLife’s in-house daycare. Working with the calm and poised Kaili, left-brained and detail-oriented Riddell finds solace in the rocking chair, reading to one of the 30+ kids in the room. With the growth of split families and the need for daycare in fitness clubs, perhaps the value proposition for this service needs to change and GoodLife needs to charge more for premium daycare and provide better service. Kaili is the archetypal early childhood caregiver and more like her in clubs across the country, along with more innovative Jump Rooms with technology, interactivity and more quiet activities could provide more value. To parents paying more for this service. Note to Riddell and Patch—there are thousands of high school kids across the country who have mandatory community service hours to log. For those with a passion for children, herein lies an opportunity to recruit outstanding, energetic volunteers!
In fitness instructor Assata and personal trainer Nicky, Riddell finds exactly what she is seeking: passionate, engaging, hard-working, spirited employees who make a considerable difference with GoodLife members. Both Assata and Nicky are former members who not only like what they do, but are inspired by what they do – and this is infectious. Both have personal stories and dreams about how they can change people’s lives, and in listening to them we know in an instant that these are the people behind the growth and infectious culture of GoodLife. Jane can also see that her future talented employees are those who are current members, and although she does not articulate this on the show, the viewer can sense it. With this in mind, Riddell should co-opt Alana Free, Good Life’s VP of People and John Muszack, VP of Marketing, to build an in-club recruitment program to find the best and most dedicated members and convert those who fit the GoodLife culture into employees. This is lightening in a bottle, as the future teammates of GoodLife are currently some of their best customers.
Riddell knows that passionate employees are great teammates and once you have identified who they are, you can model them and then find more. She also knows that once you have identified great people, you gain as you train, and she rewards Assata with world-class fitness training from Maureen Hagan, a world leader in the field. Riddell reminds us all that if you want to keep the best, you need to train them with the best.
GoodLife is a winner because of people like Jane Riddell. So, Patch, how are you planning to keep her for another twenty-five years?
Marty Parker is chairman and CEO of national search firm, Waterstone Human Capital, and author of Culture Connection: How developing a winning culture will give your organization a competitive advantage.