The most effective physical fitness workouts engage all muscle groups in the body and increase the heart rate to offer aerobic benefits to major organs such as the heart and lungs. Learning and development should have the same overall effects in an organization, and course offerings should meet the needs of varied audiences in a company’s body. In less than two years as the vice president of training and development at Gold’s Gym International, Karen Wischmann has done exactly that. Not only has Wischmann created Gold’s Gym University to bring franchise gym owners all the information needed to successfully run their businesses, she also created the Gold’s Gym Management Institute and Gold’s Gym regional training to bring localized attention where possible for the company’s 600 gyms worldwide.
Wischmann began her 13-year career in the fitness industry at the front desk of a small club called Spa Lady Fitness Center. From there she moved into sales and later became a personal trainer. After earning a degree in management and finance—which she credits for giving her a business-oriented ownership perspective of the clubs she now serves—she was promoted to management and went to work for a small private club owner in Washington state.
“I was invited to come and work at Gold’s Gym as the senior VP of sales and operations for the corporate-owned stores,” Wischmann said. “My position guided the growth from 11 stores when I started to about 32 corporate-owned stores before I transitioned into the role of vice president of training and development for the entire franchise organization. In my career I’ve managed over 60 gyms, both on a singular level, as well as overseeing multiple levels at a time. The combination that I think got me to the position I’m in right now is understanding the business and understanding the development of the employees and, more importantly, the ability to turn that understanding of development into curriculum as well as actual training applications that are going to help the employees.”
Wischmann’s transition from sales to learning coincided with the company’s decision to spread the impact of learning throughout the organization. The global scale of Gold’s Gym operations is one of her biggest challenges in creating learning impact. “We’re a franchise with over 600 locations, including 38 corporate-owned stores and 30,000 employees who are located not only in the United States but in 26 countries worldwide,” Wischmann said. “How do you educate all of these people in the most effective and efficient way possible? How do you get to them, and how do you provide not only the initial education that they need but the ongoing education that they need with the consistency that you need in training and development?”
To address the problem, Wischmann implemented a new Web-based training program. After partnering with LightSpeed VT, Gold’s Gym is now able to offer all of its franchises and corporate-owned stores Web-based, on-demand training, which provides everything that they need in order to educate their staff and management populations. “The only part to that that has not been finalized yet is really when we go to countries that have language barriers. Not a lot of our organizational components have language barriers, but we have a few that we’re working with right now. That is probably the most effective way that we have found to get a consistent training platform into all of our locations on demand, whenever they need it. It’s working fabulously for us,” Wischmann said.
Wischmann said there are two key things necessary for employee development, curriculum and training applications, and she has worked to create a few options for both at Gold’s Gym. “When I was put into the position about two-and-a-half years ago, our company was in need of a standard operating platform for consistency as well as growth,” Wischmann said. “One of the first things I did was start working on the development of that operating platform. It started in the form of written manuals, and the manuals were later translated into Web-based training platforms. It’s an ongoing process for us, but we’ve spent the last two years specifically working through that process so that we have the consistent delivery of information, the consistent operating platform and devices that our franchisees need worldwide in order for them to operate the way we need them to operate. The curriculum is important in terms of not only what you’re delivering, but how you’re delivering it. We have a couple of different platforms by which we deliver education. The manuals are one; the Web-based training is another. Then we have something called Gold’s Gym University where all of our franchisees are given an opportunity to spend a week with us so we can educate them on what they need to know to be successful in their environment. We have something called the Gold’s Gym Management Institute, a one-week fine-tuned curriculum for all managers within our organization who really want to take the development of their management-level skills to the next level. Then we have something called regional training where we actually send myself and a very small team of people into different regions of the country so that we can bring classroom training to them.”
At Gold’s Gym University, courses cover everything from how to select a site for a gym location, to architectural design, lease negotiations and how to set up your front desk, sales and personal training departments. The weeklong curriculum covers 26 different chapters or topics. Gold’s Gym Management Institute also is a weeklong program, and drills extensively into eight core development areas, including management and human resources training, how to run the personal training department, which is a core portion of Gold’s Gym business, as well as sales and customer service training. Gold’s Gym University, Gold’s Gym Management Institute and regional training curricula all are delivered via classroom training. Each attendee receives a manual, which Wischmann said is essential for knowledge retention. Regional training is made up of two-day structured classes with a changeable content menu that different regions put together based on their particular needs.
“We’re in the process of working through LightSpeed VT, which is the interactive virtual training program, to train everyone from the sales department all the way through to customer service and personal trainers,” said Terra Yeske, regional training and development manager, Gold’s Gym. “I have over 2,500 employees, and it’s a little bit difficult on a monthly basis to reach all of these individuals. This is going to give us an outlet that will allow for the initial training, and then I’ll go back and be able to do any follow-up training based on the scoring and the outcome of the different testing components through LightSpeed. We also have a few development programs in the works. Karen has great ideas. She can do 100 things at once and not stop. She brings a lot of light to the table and develops ideas that you don’t really think of in terms of training and development for salespeople. She’s putting platforms together that were purchased last July by TRT Holdings, which is the investment company for Omni Hotels. Their training platform is amazing, so we’re pulling some of their information and we’ll develop it into Gold’s Gym-specific. That’s really our focus through the end of the year. Obviously, it takes a little while to develop things like that, but it’s pretty exciting because no other health club is doing it right now.”
“Web-based training has given us the most effective testing component that we have seen,” Wischmann said. “It allows us to not only provide testing as part of the curriculum, but to review the testing component: Did they pass or fail? What exactly have they done? It also gives us the ability to determine how long they’ve been in each piece of the curriculum, how long they’ve studied it, how many times they’ve taken the test, how many times they passed it, etc.”
Gold’s Gym’s Web-based training program is for corporate-owned gyms and franchise owners who subscribe to the site, and it’s linked to Gold’s Gym University. Learners can pull up a menu of nearly 100 different Web-based training chapters and sub-chapters, including sales, customer service and front-desk training, each with an automatic testing component. If learners don’t pass the test, there is a second, slightly shorter version of the training to complete before taking a retest.
Wischmann said that Gold’s Gym has taken on a company-wide initiative to increase the number of corporate-owned store units. Gold’s Gym ownership and upper management groups are very insistent that the only way to successfully grow at the level they want is to have an employee training and development program that allows the company to prepare for growth by establishing protocol for training to develop the managers who will lead expansion. “If we can’t multiply our management, we can’t grow effectively, and that requires not only training platforms but also the discipline to implement that,” Wischmann said. “We know for a fact in our business, particularly in the sales portion of it, that the biggest reason that we lose employees is that they’re not succeeding, and they typically don’t succeed when they haven’t been properly trained. Since we’ve taken a hold of the training portion of this over the course of the last two-and-a-half years, we have employees who are staying longer and are more successful in their environment because of the fact that we’ve been so diligent at training them.”
Next, Gold’s Gym will work on a Leadership In Development (LID) program for employees who are interested in moving up in the organization. Gold’s Gym also will continue to build its Web-based training platform and add curriculum such as personal training and nutrition.
—Kellye Whitney, firstname.lastname@example.org
Name: Karen Wischmann Title: Vice President, Training & Development
Company: Gold’s Gym International
- Developed and implemented a comprehensive Web-based, virtual training learning system for franchisee training and development.
- Established and launched the company-run Gold’s Gym University, the Gold’s Gym Management Institute and the Gold’s Gym Regional Training curriculum for franchise development.
- Established the Gold’s Gym Franchisee Intranet Library to provide learning materials and system tools.
- Established new curriculum for the annual convention and increased educational seminar participation by 240 percent.
- Developed and implemented the Gold’s Gym operating, training and product manuals.
Learning Philosophy: “We believe that the success of our, or any, organization lies in the company’s ability to train and develop its people. Our employees are the ones who provide our product to our customers through sales, customer service and programming every day, year in and year out. If our employees are not properly trained, they cannot service our customers the way they need, and deserve, to be serviced. With the competitive environment that exists within our industry, continual learning is critical to our business’s continued success.”