Absentee Ownership: How Do You Manage?

Even if you don't want to personally manage the business you bought as an investment, you may still have to step in when things go awry.

Q: I own a fitness center. I bought it as an investment. I am not a fitness trainer. My problem is that I have heard through the grapevine that the center manager is creating poor morale among the trainers and having run-ins with customers, causing some of them to drop their memberships. I have not witnessed any problems directly. I don't want to manage the center and I can't think of anyone to replace her. Do you have any suggestions?

A: I have some suggestions, but I'm not sure you want to hear them. The reason is that they all involve more direct involvement and personal time than you want to spend to solve your problem. First, let me say that it sounds like your manager is using fear and intimidation as a primary management tool. I say that because your employees apparently don't feel they can approach you even indirectly about the problem. If this is the case, you have a serious problem.

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My first recommendation is that you find out for yourself whether the reports you have heard are from one employee or whether they are shared by other trainers. I suggest that you set up one-on-one meetings to talk with your employees. This will open the door to more direct communication and make it much easier for them to tell you how they feel about working for the manager. Next, you should call customers who have left the center and conduct a post-exit interview. These discussions should also provide you with valuable information about the state of affairs at your fitness center. It may also be a wise idea to contact current customers to gauge their satisfaction with their current memberships. Taking these steps--communicating directly with employees and past and current customers--should help you pinpoint the cause of the problem. If you find it is merely one disgruntled employee, you have a fairly simple problem. However, because the report came to you in such a roundabout way, I suspect it is more widespread.

If it does turn out that the problems at your fitness center can be traced to the manager, you must deal with the situation quickly. Be aware that since you don't relish the involvement, your tendency will be to give it a superficial investigation, giving more weight to the manager's explanation of the facts than the other sources. This could be a costly mistake. If she is the problem, she is already costing you money. If you wait to solve the problem, she will also cost you a lot of time.

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Assuming that she is the problem, it will be very difficult for you to correct her management style by absentee management. You must be present several days per week for several months and devote yourself to rebuilding her management methods through a systematic system of positive reinforcement.

If you cannot, or do not want to, spend that amount of time on the problem, you need to replace her as soon as possible. If that is the direction you decide to take (which, in your situation, may in fact be a more practical solution), my advice would be to choose wisely. You may even want to hire a professional consultant to help you identify and hire the right person. Throughout the process, keep in mind that an experienced manager who understands the power of positive reinforcement will turn complaints into compliments and workplace woes into satisfied customers and employees--all factors that will keep your investment successful.

Aubrey C. Daniels, Ph.D., founder and CEO of management consulting firm Aubrey Daniels & Associates (ADA), is an internationally recognized author, speaker and expert on management and human performance issues. For more about ADA's seminars and consulting services or to order Aubrey's bookBringing Out the Best in People: How To Apply The Astonishing Power of Positive Reinforcement, visit www.aubreydaniels.com, or contact Laura Lee Glass at (800) 223-6191 or lglass@aubreydaniels.com.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.

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