3 July 2021, by Matthias Herzog

Generating the necessary enthusiasm: how to motivate your staff

As the sports business gets ready to resume business in person, motivation expert Matthias Herzog has ten practical tips on how the in-person sports business can effectively motivate their teams – and ensure that they stay motivated over the long term.

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Stamina is going to be essential for fitness professionals this summer – both literally and metaphorically. Constantly worrying about when – or whether – members will return is physically and mentally draining. It is also financially draining. Whereas it was possible – in spite of short-time work and painful falls in membership – to keep people motivated during the lockdown by looking forward to the ‘time after the coronavirus’, a certain sense of disillusionment is beginning to make itself felt as the numbers of returning members remain moderate. In our interview, the expert Matthias Herzog explains how operators can motivate themselves and their teams. 

“Being the best” is his speciality. Not only does Matthias Herzog (45) write best-sellers and deliver inspiring presentations on this theme, but he also advises DAX corporations and coaches elite athletes from the Germany’s top-flight handball, hockey and football leagues in ‘sustainable motivation’ and ‘improving performance’. To do so, Matthias Herzog relies not just on his studies in sports science and engineering management, but also draws on his personal experience in pushing his physical limits gained from successfully competing in marathons, triathlons, cycling and stair-climbing competitions. 


Effectively combating poor motivation when the crisis has passed 

As the sports business gets ready to resume business in person, Matthias Herzog has ten practical tips on how the in-person sports business can effectively motivate their teams – and ensure that they stay motivated over the long term. Because even when the recovery finally begins and a new industry boom can be seen on the horizon, there is no denying the mental impact of the past 15 months. And this is something that needs to be confronted directly, as Matthias Herzog succinctly puts it, “by cultivating relationships and recognising needs.” Right at the start of his presentation, he makes it clear that: “When it comes to employee motivation, money plays a subordinate role. The rise of ever more differentiated life models has led to an increasing readiness to earn less when other factors – particularly social or psychodynamic factors – are right.” 

@ Matthias Herzog

1.   Show a genuine interest in employees

“Let's be honest – last year was shit. And no matter how justified, statements such as ‘they should be happy that they still have a job’ are absolutely poisonous to employee motivation. That is because it is not only the operators of sports facilities who have been fearing for their existence on account of officially mandated closures and painful falls in membership numbers. Their employees have also been pushed to their limits by the lockdown, short-time work and/or working from home, often with the additional burdens of having to take over a teacher's and childminder’s role while still trying to work. And that has to be recognised. Showing genuine concern and asking your employees ‘How are you?’ can provide the opportunity you need to have a meaningful conversation and show them that ‘You are important to me’. 


2.   Show appreciation to employees

“There is nothing more important to any of us than recognition. As a result, there are few things more counter-productive or demotivating then the attitude indicated under the number one. It is a far better idea to maintain regular contact and offer feedback. Justified and specific praise is particularly motivational. This shows that the boss recognises what an employee is doing and values their contribution – instead of waiting for mistakes or simply assuming that good performance, reliability and dedication should be a matter of course. And if something should go wrong: talk to them! There’s no need to keep your criticism to yourself. But it should still be delivered constructively, so that it helps employees to develop.”


3.   Get employees involved

Another good way to get employees motivated is to ask them for advice. This is not a sign of weakness. On the contrary, it shows that you trust their expertise and value their opinion. And that, in turn, strengthens their self-efficacy – a real win-win situation for the relationship between a boss and their staff. Of course, this assumes that employees are given the feeling that they are being taken seriously and involved in what happens. This does not mean that an operator has to celebrate every idea or put every suggestion into practice. It does, however, mean that they have to respond to each idea, in concrete terms, tell them whether or not they are going to implement the employee's suggestion, and back up their decision with facts. If honest feedback is withheld, people will get frustrated – and then you can wave goodbye to motivation!”


4.   Show your appreciation with surprises

Magical moments are excellent motivators! This is something that the operator should keep in mind when they think about how to motivate their staff. Something that is particularly effective: suitable surprises that employees will be happy about – things that they had not been expecting, but which they have earned. These might be small gifts or other nice gestures.” 


5.   Work together to set goals

“The question as to where an employee sees themselves in the long term should not only be asked during the job interview. It is much better to regularly assess each working relationship to see if the operator’s and employee's goals are (still) aligned, and to join forces to set new goals if necessary. This make employees feel like an effective and vital part of the company, affording them a certain freedom of action and allowing them to discover appealing opportunities for self-realisation – for example by supporting their pursuit of a work-study programme.” 


6.   Support for training and professional development

“One thing that is closely related to personal goals and opportunities for self-realisation is the training and professional development of employees. Employees are motivated by the feeling that a company is investing in them and giving them opportunities for personal growth. To achieve the positive effect they are looking for, operators should not simply mandate specific training, additional qualifications or other professional development measures. If employees are allowed to play a role in the choices made, and are given not just general training, but support for their own personal advancement, this does more than simply foster loyalty to the company. In fact, the entire team is able to benefit from the (specialised) expertise of each individual, and it drives everyone to do better.”


7.   Delegate responsibility

“Those owners who like to take care of everything themselves should not be surprised if their employees only do the bare minimum and leave all responsibility in the hands of their boss. While an operator naturally bears ultimate responsibility for everything, they should always place some trust in their staff – that really motivates people. Because only those who are encouraged to learn and to take responsibility – to think and not simply do – will give their all.


8.   Let employees be flexible with their working times

“Today people have very different ideas of what they want to do with their lives, and these have to be aligned with their work. And that includes the fitness industry. For employees today, an inflexible employer can lead to far greater frustration than in the past. That is because while modern working-time models have long-since established themselves in many areas, there is still room for improvement in the fitness studio sector. If an employer allows their employees a say – within reasonable limits – in their work schedules, this gives them the feeling that their individual needs are recognised and respected. And that, in turn, is a great source of motivation.”


9.   Promote creativity

“Once the coronavirus crisis recedes, there is going to be a shake-out in the marketplace. After all, many trainees were forced to rethink the ways in which they exercise and keep fit during the lockdown, and they have got used to a lack of fitness centres as they switched to trampolines, pools or their own fitness equipment at home. That is why it is even more important to create your own USPs, and the best way to do that is with the help of staff. What could be a better source of motivation than being able to make a decisive contribution to the company surviving the crisis? Operators must have the courage to take risks and give their staff the freedom to pursue their own creative and unconventional ideas. This might well be as part of project teams. It is often the case that employees are closer to the target group – they speak their language and know their platforms.” 


10.   Create a team feeling

Instead of ‘Great, someone else is doing it’, operators should offer encouragement: ‘Let's do something great together.’ Conventional team-building measures such as get-togethers to celebrate the end of the week, barbecues or excursions are all good ways to do this. Anything that strengthens team spirit and the feeling of community is allowed. Particularly in the time after the coronavirus, as people move away from long periods of isolation and restricted social lives, collegial togetherness in a feel-good atmosphere can be unbelievably valuable and motivational.”

Matthias Herzog will be sharing more of his thoughts and expertise on motivation at FIBO in Cologne on 7 November at 1:30 p.m. At the Health and Wellness Meeting Point in Hall 4.2 he will be exploring different types of people, telling trainers how they can motivate their customers to achieve their top performance according to their personality type and help them reach their individual goals.

Tickets are available at www.fibo.com.