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Oh Canada: My Experience at the First CWA Meeting in Calgary

Posted By Chris Stevenson, Wednesday, September 4, 2019
Updated: Thursday, August 29, 2019
Chris Stevenson Speaking at CWA Meetings Calgary

Photo by Matthew Huitma, commissioned by Calgary Climbing Centre

I have always believed that the most successful people in any industry are the ones that focus on consistent professional development. In fact, “grow through constant learning” is one of my company’s core values.

 

I learn in many different ways. I read daily. I listen to podcasts while I’m driving or working out. I follow thought leaders on social media. I use apps like Blinkist and Ted Talks. I subscribe to relevant blogs and newsletters. All of these diverse methods of self-improvement allow me to learn different things, in different ways, at different times.

 

While all of these modalities are fantastic, I have found that live events are the most effective method of learning. Live events provide a level of energy and engagement that cannot be found anywhere else. They allow you to build relationships with other industry professionals. You simply can’t beat a well-executed live event.

 

I have been a part of the climbing industry for several years now, including workshops and keynotes at the annual CWA Summit for the last three years. If you haven’t attended this event, make it a priority. I present at events all over the world and the Summit is truly one of my favorites.

 

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of presenting at the CWA’s first-ever regional event in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. This event was special. There were three things that stood out; the intimate workshop, the brewery (yes, the brewery) and the keynote with a roundtable.

 

Intimate & Focused Workshop

On the first day of the event, I ran a full-day workshop at the Calgary Climbing Centre Rocky Mountain, which is an absolutely beautiful state-of-the-art facility. When I arrived at the gym for the workshop, the energy was off-the-charts. I mean, just feast your eyes for a moment on this striking outdoor wall!

 

Gloves for Hand Protection

Photo courtesy of Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership, Architect Renante Solivar

 

The workshop was one of the best I have ever facilitated; and it wasn’t because of me. It was because of the smaller setting and focused group of attendees. In this context, everyone participated, which created a platform for diverse perspectives and in-depth discussions.

 

I know that I have some good things to teach, but the amount of sharing and discussion that occurred was just as valuable, if not more. There were healthy debates and discussions. The information-sharing was uniquely fantastic. I was the facilitator and I learned a ton. It was amazing.

 

CWA Meetings Management and Operations Track

Photo by Matthew Huitma, commissioned by Calgary Climbing Centre

 

Time to Unwind at the Brewery

Another thing that made this event exceptional was, well, beer. Yes, you read that correctly, beer.

 

After the full day of workshops, there was a reception at a brewery called Last Best Brewing & Distilling. The reception set the perfect scene for everyone to unwind after a long day of learning.

 

Guests were able to get to know each other better and build new relationships. Discussion and information sharing continued. People exchanged cards and connected on social media. They laughed and had a good time. The food was delicious, and the beer was refreshing and tasty.

 

I often joke that some of the best parts of events happen afterwards at the hotel bar. This time, it wasn’t a hotel bar, it was a brewery and it was a really strong part of the event. A good social experience at an event is crucial. The CWA team nailed it.

 

Informative Conference Sessions & Roundtables

The next morning, I had the honor of presenting the opening keynote to kick off the conference day. The gist of the keynote was about being the highest performer you can be while being a great team player at the same time.

 

Chris Stevenson CWA Meetings Keynote

Photo by Matthew Huitma, commissioned by Calgary Climbing Centre

 

The keynote seemed to go over well, and I think the attendees learned a lot. The kicker, however, was the roundtable discussion afterwards.

 

Whenever I present a keynote, my goal is to accomplish two things: to give very tangible information that people can use, and for them to actually take action. Let’s face it, all of the knowledge in the world is useless if you don’t take action on it.

 

The roundtable afterwards allowed me to drive those two points home. We took the five key teaching points in the keynote and spent 15 minutes discussing each of them in-depth. This gave everyone a chance to dig in deeper, share their thoughts, and teach each other.

 

I love roundtables. They are so beneficial, and I get to take a back seat and let the audience do the talking. 😜

 

The keynote, followed by a roundtable, was an absolute homerun. Wait, this was in Canada. The keynote followed by a roundtable was a hat trick.

 

A Great Event with a Healthy Dose of My Cheesy Canadian Jokes

Intimacy. Interaction. Information sharing. Learning. Networking. Fun. This event had it all. It was truly something special. If I had to grade the event, I would have to give it an… EH!

 

CWA Meetings Roundtable Discussion

Photo by Matthew Huitma, commissioned by Calgary Climbing Centre

 

I started this post by talking about the importance of learning. Learning keeps us relevant. It motivates us. It makes us better at our craft.

 

I encourage you to find ways to do diverse methods of constant learning. Get a new book. Download a podcast. Subscribe to a blog. Plan to attend live events like the CWA Summit and/or CWA Meetings like the one in Calgary. Schedule time for learning. Put it in your calendar. What gets scheduled gets accomplished.

 

When it comes to live events, lock it in your calendar. Set aside funds in your budget. Plan to attend at least one or two a year. While all methods are good and should be done, you just can’t beat the all of the amazing benefits of live events.

 

I’m very excited to head to Hoboken in a few days for the second CWA Meeting. If you’re in the New York/New Jersey area, I hope to see you there! Or join us next month in San Francisco. I have no doubt they're both going to be great events.

 

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Chris Stevenson Head Shot About Chris Stevenson

Chris Stevenson is the owner of Stevenson Fitness, a full-service health club in Oak Park, California. The club’s success is based on providing an unparalleled member experience, which centers on proper staffing, systematic operations, and world-class leadership. This success is reflected in the club’s Net Promoter Score, which is consistently in the high 80s (industry average is in the 40s). Chris is an international speaker who presents viable, applicable lectures that resonate with every audience.

 

Tags:  company culture  customer experience  customer satisfaction  customer service  CWA Meetings  employee engagement  leadership  management  operations  programming  risk management  staff retention  staff training  standards 

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Diversity = Variety: What Does It Mean for Commercial Routesetting?

Posted By Willis Kuelthau, Wednesday, August 28, 2019
Diversity in Routesetting

Routesetting is a central part of the experience for every climbing gym’s end users: its members. Routes that are challenging but varied are one reason why climbers keep coming back. In order to provide the best experience for your customer base, it’s crucial to keep diversity in mind as you build your routesetting team and develop your setting program.

 

For an inside look at building a strong routesetting crew and what makes diversity so critical, I got in touch with Sean Nanos, Touchstone Climbing’s Head Routesetter for all of Southern California.

 

Sean discovered climbing at boarding school in New Hampshire, but it wasn’t until he moved to Oakland that he started setting. He rose to foreman at San Francisco’s Dogpatch Boulders before moving to Los Angeles for his current position.

 

WK: What are some of the meanings of “diversity” in routesetting?

 

SN: The most tangible meanings of diversity in routesetting are size (including weight, height, and ape index), age, gender, race/ethnicity, climbing ability, experience, and style.

 

WK: Why is diversity in routesetting important?

 

SN: By definition, diversity means variety. For a commercial gym, supporting climbers in densely populated urban areas means you’re going to be setting for nearly every body…I have yet to come across a single gym in any part of the country that is 100% all one “type” of person.

 

What diverse routesetting brings to the table is promoting inclusivity in our community and providing an experience that challenges every climber while at the same time validating their experience. It also opens the door to those who are interested in routesetting but didn’t think it was for them.

 

WK: What parts of the climbing population are underserved by a homogenous routesetting staff?

 

SN: The first groups that come to mind are women and short people (5’4” and under). As a 5’2” climber I can personally attest to feeling like I am not represented when I go climbing at a lot of other gyms. It’s very discouraging and annoying when you know it can be done differently. From a membership perspective, unknowingly setting for one specific body type can ruin a person’s first impression of what climbing is or how it can be enjoyed.

 

WK: When building a team, what are you looking for a setter to bring to the crew?

 

SN: I tell this to my new routesetters all the time: “You’re here to share your climbing experience, and whatever that means to you is what I want to climb.” Obviously we’re still a commercial gym, so during forerunning we’ll smooth out the climb as a group and make sure it’s comfy, safe, and consistent. But the core—the “soul,” if you will—of the climb won’t change.

 

That’s the goal, anyway. Every time we set a climb it’s a manifestation of how we think climbing is experienced, and when I’m building a team, I need a lot of different setters’ perspectives in order to come close to representing the variety of climbers that come to our gyms.

 

WK: What makes building a diverse team difficult?

 

SN: A lot of people still think that to be a routesetter you have to climb V10+. This archaic way of thinking is still prevalent when I ask someone if they are interested in routesetting. Also, most setting crews in the U.S. are still just a bunch of “tall” white dudes, which is a huge deterrent for talented potential setters that aren’t tall white dudes.

 

The desire and passion to learn routesetting is more important than how hard you climb. With the right training, talent, and experience, setters are able to set great commercial routes for any level.

 

WK: What can gyms do to find and maintain a diverse group of setters?

 

SN: You have to keep your ear to the ground. You have to put in a little more effort to reach out to those people that show potential. Don’t assume “if they’re interested, they’ll apply,” because if your team is a homogenous group of dudes, there’s a very high chance you’ll keep getting resumes and interest from more of the same dudes.

 

I wholeheartedly believe that having setters that are all at different ability levels makes for more successful commercial routesetting. If your entire team climbs V10+, they can become very disconnected to the way moderate grades should feel and climb. They may know objectively what makes a climb “easier,” but it’s easy to set inappropriately for lower grades when everything feels the same.

 

I make it clear to my crew that everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. Knowing how to use those to efficiently and effectively set, forerun, and grade is a lot of work, but the work shows when members climb our routes.

 

WK: As routesetting develops as a profession and craft, how do you think diversity will influence gyms in the future?

 

SN: As indoor climbing becomes more popular and all kinds of people are introduced to the sport, the need for standardized commercial routesetting training will become paramount in creating an inclusive community.

 

Even if you know a diverse team is good for your gym professionally and socially, you can’t lead with diversity—diversity is what you get to after you do the hard work of making your crew more inclusive.

 

You can’t hire someone just to make you look more diverse, you need to take a chance on people and figure out the best way to support them. Having a standardized training entry point can teach potential setters the basics and level the playing field so you can hire based on what an individual has to offer as a setter rather than as a token minority.

 

Elite routesetting teams will be composed of individuals capable of fielding climbs that can be enjoyed by all.

 

Willis Kuelthau Head ShotAbout the Author

Willis is the rare local who was actually born in Boulder, Colorado. He attended Williams College and works as a freelance writer out of Providence, Rhode Island. When he's not writing, you'll find him rock climbing, playing with his cats, and drinking too much green tea.

 

Tags:  climbing culture  community development  company culture  customer experience  customer satisfaction  employee engagement  leadership  member retention  routesetting  routesetting management  staff training  workplace diversity 

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Shifting the Indoor Climbing Industry from Dirtbag to Professional

Posted By Nicole Brandt, Monday, June 24, 2019
Dirtbag to Professional

Climbers fall into a unique lifestyle sport category where the identity is connected to the need to climb, often. Urban Dictionary defines dirtbag as “a person who is committed to a given (usually extreme) lifestyle to the point of abandoning employment and other societal norms in order to pursue said lifestyle; dirtbags seek to spend all of their moments pursuing climbing.”

 

The most famous dirtbags, the Stonemasters, have been captured in the movie Valley Uprising. One of the most famous examples of the shift from dirtbag to professional is Yvon Chouinard, who started Patagonia. Patagonia split to become Black Diamond and Patagonia, two pinnacle examples of mature professional organizations in the climbing industry. Patagonia has gone on to become #100 on the fortune 100 list.

 

A “dirtbag” entrepreneurial company is one that’s in the process of learning what problems the industry needs to solve, while an established professional company is consistently executing the business of solving that problem and building a foundation into the future. In the past, many climbing gym startups were providing a solution to outdoor climbers who needed an indoor space to train when time or weather did not allow them to go outside, yet had not thought far enough into the future to consider the needs of its future clientele. The industry and clientele have shifted vastly, and it’s up to each company to learn and adapt to those changes.

 

Original gym customer:

  • Lower expectations about facility cleanliness and aesthetics
  • Outdoor climbers first and foremost
  • Concerned about training tools and climbing-specific apparatus
  • Enthusiastic about the genesis and novelty of indoor climbing gyms

 

Today, those original training facilities have developed into an entire industry. Indoor climbing gyms have evolved along with their customers, and their current challenges involve operational efficiency, business profitability, accessibility to all levels of climbers, programming, crowd control, community, and facility/space optimization.

 

Today’s climbing gym customer:

  • Varies by region and demographics
  • Learning to climb inside the gym’s four walls
  • Most have never been climbing outside and might never go outside
  • Expectations of facility cleanliness and aesthetics are high
  • Customer service and process expectations are set from other experiential-based activities such as fitness gyms, gymnastic facilities, martial arts, crossfit, and yoga studios

 

Once a gym gains traction, startups must transition into more established professional companies. They must move into a more formal organization that adopts new functions and a strategic approach such as project management methodologies (and project managers), policies such as employee handbooks and gym rules, organizational charts with job descriptions and clear wages, new functions such as targeted programming, customer service priorities and a more structured approach to budgeting and financial management. For the company to be defined as professional, it must expertly understand and consistently produce products and services.

 

Wondering where your company falls? Here are four areas to check in with your level of professionalism: culture, process, branding, and practice.

 

Four Areas to Evaluate Your Company’s Level of Professionalism

1. Culture

  • Clearly state your mission or problem you are trying to solve. Identify your company’s “Why” and communicate it both internally and externally. This minimizes confusion and attracts customers/employees that have similar expectations and goals to what you are trying to accomplish.
  • People first. Humor and fun need to be a part of every day. Adapt your communication style based on the individual or situation.
  • Be accessible in person. Serve your employees, they are your customer. At least once a week, recognize and praise those that work hard. In turn, your employees are able to learn customer service and embody it to customers.
  • Create a culture where people trust one another. Do what you say you are going to do.

 

2. Process

  • Create formal and transparent organizational structure (who is responsible for what, with clear job descriptions) and employee management structure.
  • Empower employees to get work done through onboarding, training, defined development processes, and performance feedback.
  • Make sure customers understand what to do when they come in, what the gym offers/costs, and how to progress in their personal pursuits.
  • Make a strategic plan where you calendar your year and plan top priorities. Communicate these to all staff. This becomes even more important if you have multiple locations.
  • Timely responses to emails and phone calls is a professional given in this area.

 

3. Branding

  • Create a recognizable brand story that includes logo, recognizable colors, shapes, and program sub brands. Have this useable for employees creating outward facing content in print, social, web, and outside marketing to give them clear direction and support. Consistency helps avoid customer confusion.
  • Dress to impress when at work with your brand clearly represented. Customers and newcomers make first impressions based on staff appearance and a dress code ensures everyone has a consistent appearance. Other advantages include promoting a team atmosphere and quick identification when guests need help.
  • Maintain media outlets with consistent content, especially staying on top of channels customers are interacting with. People watch how your company engages with customers online; your communications share what the company cares about in real time and allow for customers to be directly involved with the conversation.

 

4. Practice/Continually Learning

  • Determine the minimum level of entry skills in order to create consistency with onboarding new staff. Give ongoing training support to employees, encouraging them to be at the top of their game.
  • Be sharp with your skills, know how the industry is trending, what’s happening outside your gym, new technology, and be open to learning. If you think you know it all, I question how much you know.
  • Provide mentorship and professional development opportunities for staff—often in the form of formal training programs, workshops, and conferences.

 

Rome wasn't built in a day, and Patagonia started in a garage. Becoming a more professionalized organization takes time, but getting clear on the points above will begin to morph entrepreneurial startups into more mature and formalized organizations.

 

Nicole Brandt Head ShotAbout the Author

Nicole Brandt runs Cypress Roots Consulting, a consulting company for climbing gyms helping them deep-dive into their company organization, programming, and culture. Nicole earned her degree in Outdoor Recreation with an emphasis in Tourism and has worked as the Program Director of Momentum and as a facilitator and guide across the Southeast and West. Currently based out of Salt Lake City, she spends her free time learning about yoga and herbalism.

 

Tags:  company culture  employee engagement  leadership  management  staff training 

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An Opportunity to Lead in Indoor Climbing Sustainability: B Corp Certification

Posted By Lindsey Wilson, Monday, May 6, 2019
B Lab Business as a Force for Good

B Corps and the New Responsible Business Story

The story of business is changing. And that story is being reframed to value people and planet as much as profit. People across the world are demanding business be more responsible and make a positive impact on the world.

 

I work for B Lab, the nonprofit behind B Corporation Certification. Certified B Corps are a new kind of business that balances purpose and profit. They meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability.

 

There are now over 2,700 B Corps in 60 countries and 150 industries - including leaders like Patagonia, New Belgium Brewing, Ben & Jerry’s, Kickstarter, & Athleta - driving a global movement of people using business as a force for good. B Corps are accelerating a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy. Society’s most challenging problems cannot be solved by government and nonprofits alone. The B Corp community works toward reduced inequality, lower levels of poverty, a healthier environment, stronger communities, and the creation of more high-quality jobs with dignity and purpose. By harnessing the power of business, B Corps use profits and growth as a means to a greater end: positive impact for their employees, communities, and the environment.

 

Why & How to Become a B Corp

Becoming a Certified B Corp is not just about achieving a certification or seal of approval; it’s about joining a community of other likeminded businesses dedicated to the same vision and goal. Companies pursue certification for a range of reasons including benchmarking and improving performance, building credibility and amplifying voice, protecting mission, and attracting talent.

 

To become a Certified B Corp, a company must complete and submit the B Impact Assessment - an independent assessment of a company’s social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. A company must get a minimum verified score of 80 points in order to earn B Corp Certification. There is also a legal requirement for Certification that a company must incorporate its social and environmental commitment into its governance articles. Read more about Certification requirements.

 

How B Corp Applies to the Indoor Climbing Industry and Where to Start

As a climber myself, I know that the sport of indoor climbing is growing rapidly and moving into the mainstream. Most major cities - and many smaller cities - now have at least one climbing gym and the sport will officially be added to the 2020 Olympic Games. Of course, more interest in climbing means more demand for indoor climbing facilities which means more opportunity for the indoor climbing industry - which is great! But on the flip side, more indoor climbing means more facilities, more energy to run those facilities, and more materials used to build indoor walls. As the indoor climbing industry scales rapidly, it has a responsibility to grow ethically and an opportunity to lead on sustainability.

 

It can be intimidating to approach sustainability as a climbing gym operator without a roadmap. The B Impact Assessment is a free, open-source tool B Lab has created to allow companies to benchmark and measure their performance so that they can see where they are doing well and what might need improvement. It provides a framework for companies to assess their impact. In climbing terms, it is much easier to complete a route when you have beta, which B Lab and the existing B Corp community have already developed. The best place to start measuring your impact is to log into the B Impact Assessment and see how you stack up. It takes only 30 minutes to get a quick snapshot.

 

Of course, measuring your impact and working to improve business operations and efficiency is important from both an ecological and economic perspective, but there’s another big reason B Corp Certification is important for the indoor climbing industry. That reason is Millennials. According to a recent article about Millennials and purpose-driven business from Inc., “Millennials as a generation are motivated by more than profit when it comes to the opportunities they seek to pursue. They're seeking purpose, both in their personal lives and the types of businesses they're starting. This is a crucial understanding both in regards to Millennials and entrepreneurship, and the companies that seek to earn their business.”

 

Want to find a room full of Millennials? Hop into your local climbing gym. Millennials are a large source of growth for climbing, and it’s important to take note of their tendency to reject business as usual. They want to know the companies they support are ethical. They are demanding more information, more transparency, and more accountability. Becoming a B Corp is just another way to build trust, build community, and create a lasting positive impact in the indoor climbing industry.

 

For those looking to start their journey or those curious about B Corp Certification in general, join me for a Lunch and Learn session at the 2019 CWA Summit on Thursday May 16th at 12:45.

 

Lindsey Wilson Head ShotAbout the Author

Lindsey Wilson is passionate about using business as a force for good. Growing up backpacking and skiing in the mountains of Colorado and northwoods forests of Minnesota, Lindsey has always had an immense passion for protecting the places she plays which led her to initially pursue a career in conservation policy. Realizing many of the ecological challenges the world faces inherently live in social and economic systems, Lindsey went back to school to pursue an MBA in Global, Social & Sustainable Enterprise at Colorado State University and shortly after began working in Business Development for B Lab supporting companies in becoming Certified B Corporations. Lindsey believes in the power of B Corps to create a new economic paradigm where planet and people are monitored as rigorously as profits and all businesses work collectively to solve social and environmental problems. Lindsey is an avid skier and hiker and dabbles in climbing.

 

Tags:  certifications  community development  company culture  leadership  management  operations 

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6 Ways to Retain Your Members

Posted By Emma Walker, Monday, May 6, 2019
Climbing Gym Member Retention

You’ve gotten new members in the door, and now there’s a new challenge: keeping them engaged so they become loyal, long-term members. Conventional fitness clubs track their membership trends closely – it’s well-established that membership spikes significantly right after the holidays, then drops off a few months into the new year. With a niche climbing audience, though, retention is more nuanced.

 

We chatted with a few managers at gyms who are successfully retaining members, even when the slower months hit. Here are their secrets.

 

1. Build a community

There isn’t just one magic incentive or trick you can use to retain membership. “It has be a core value that is applied across all aspects of the gym’s facilities, operations, services, etc.” says Rich Breuner, Director of Operations at Bend Rock Gym. The gym’s #1 goal, he says, is to support and facilitate an amazing community experience. “That translates to people wanting to become and stay members,” he explains. It’s working. BRG has seen member attrition rates drop significantly since 2016, when they began examining programs gym-wide and implementing adjustments with member retention in mind.

 

2. Quality walls, quality routes

Members want to climb at gyms with excellent routes. Bend Rock Gym’s commitment to quality begins with the most basic element: its walls. “They’re built well, they’re maintained well, the routes and volumes are always changing,” says Breuner, who compares setters to the cooks in a kitchen. The ingredients, or holds, might be similar to what you’d find anywhere, but a chef at a Michelin-starred restaurant can really make you want to come back. Their routesetting, he says, is a key differentiator and major factor in keeping members coming back for more.

 

3. Education isn’t just for kids

Anchorage’s Alaska Rock Gym offers adult programming free with monthly membership, says Operations Manager Eric Wickenheiser. At some point, Wickenheiser says, “new climbers hit a plateau. After a few months, people think, ‘Hey, how can I climb 5.12?’” ARG’s Climbing 101, 201, and 301 classes, plus lead clinics and women’s-specific programming, keeps members engaged when they might otherwise burn out and let their memberships lapse.

 

4. Invest in customer service

This begins at the front door, but it’s key for staff to get out on the floor and get to know members, too, says Breuner. BRG expects all-star customer service from its staff. “We’re flexible and adapt our customer service experience with the needs of our membership,” he explains. “People come in and they don’t feel like they’re going to war with the staff—they see friendly faces and people who are getting to know them on a personal level.” BRG makes a concerted effort to get desk staff onto the floor to help with waivers and answer questions, which creates a fun, accessible culture for climbing.

 

5. Find the right instructors

When it comes to programming, “the instructor makes or breaks a class,” says Wickenheiser. One of ARG’s most popular yoga classes is at 4:30 p.m., when members are ostensibly at work or in traffic. “The teacher is incredible, so people come anyway. The class is always full.” Wickenhesier adds that when local celebrities (guidebook authors, pro climbers) teach a fitness class or give a talk, it tends to be full.

 

6. Keep track of the trends

“We’re a little isolated here in Alaska,” Wickenheiser laughs, “But we try to keep a finger on the pulse of the industry.” Lots of ARG’s members have climbed at big-name Seattle gyms (most flights in and out of Anchorage go through Seattle), where they see the most cutting-edge gym developments. Members want those amenities at their home gym, too. Heading to the CWA Summit each year, he says, is the best way to keep an eye on industry trends and make sure ARG is up to speed.

 

“The bottom line in member retention is not treating members like a number,” Wickenheiser says. ARG has recently moved to a brand-new facility, but it’s been open for 25 years – Wickenheiser attributes that success to little things like taking the time to remember members’ stories and treating them like the important part of the climbing community they are.

 

Emma Walker Head ShotAbout Emma Walker

Emma Walker is a freelance writer, editor, and an account manager with Golden, Colorado-based Bonfire Collective. Emma earned her M.S. in Outdoor and Environmental Education from Alaska Pacific University and has worked as an educator and guide at gyms, crags, and peaks around the American West.

 

Tags:  climbing culture  community development  company culture  customer experience  customer satisfaction  customer service  leadership  management  marketing  member retention  operations  staff training 

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The Keys to Cultural Leadership

Posted By Chris Stevenson, Monday, April 8, 2019
Climbing Gym Customer Experience

While there are many definitions of leadership, I recently came across one that I thought stood out from the rest. Leadership expert, Warren Bennis, explains, "Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality." Accordingly, a company has a vision that it wants to execute; the leader is the one who does that. So, how does a leader turn a vision into reality?

 

Successful leaders use various methods to ingrain the company vision with every member of the team: leading by example, effective communication skills, and tangible tactics and strategies.

 

Leading by example is the most important piece. There is no quicker way to destroy a culture than by saying it is one thing but then doing something different. As a leader, you are always on “stage.” Team members are always watching. If they are told something is important, and a leader behaves in a way that shows it isn’t, not only will team members not buy in, there will be trust issues, and possibly a loss of respect. There is no more important role for a leader than leading by example.

 

Communication skills are also extremely critical to successful leadership. Ironically, great communication skills start with being a great listener. Active listening involves truly hearing other people’s thoughts and opinions, asking clarifying questions, and sometimes rephrasing things to develop a better understanding. Successful leaders also communicate openly, honestly, and with compassion. Be concise and direct when delivering feedback, but be kind. Team members will appreciate that. Another thing imperative to effective communication is an awareness of your body language. The way you carry yourself conveys strong conscious and subconscious messages. Try to stay relaxed, open, and maintain eye contact. This creates a comfortable environment for everyone involved in the conversation. Finally, it is essential to stay open-minded and be willing to accept feedback from others. The willingness to ask for and accept feedback is a great way to develop trust, strengthen relationships, and nurture an environment where team members are more willing to share and communicate openly. Leaders that foster environments that promote safe, open, and honest communication are the most successful.

 

Beyond leading by example and excellent communication skills, successful leaders use tangible strategies to turn vision into reality. One way to do this is to market the vision internally to the team. Post your vision, core purpose, mission statement, and core values on the wall in your office or employee break room. Incorporate them into every team meeting. Create “core cards” that your team members carry in their pockets while they are on shift. Hire, fire, express gratitude, and evaluate based on the vision. Keep cheat sheets behind the front desk. Do everything possible to keep the vision at the forefront of every team member’s mind. As a side note, I believe you should also share your vision and values with your members. It is a great way to let them know what you stand for and helps bond them to your brand. Once the vision is ingrained in every team member’s brain, great leaders define specific roles and responsibilities for team members to execute in order to carry out the vision. Successful leaders then provide all of the training, tools, coaching, and support needed for team members to carry out those roles and responsibilities.

 

Simply summarized, successful leaders bring a vision to reality. This is done through leading by example, communicating effectively, and by giving the team the inspiration, as well as the tools and support, they need to execute. I call this cultural leadership.

 

Are you interested in becoming the most effective leader you can be? If so, attend my conference session at the CWA Summit! For an even more in-depth exploration of leadership strategies, please attend my workshop “Cultural Leadership: The Key to Employee Engagement and Motivation”. I would love to see you there!

 

Here are the details for the workshop:

 

Date: Wednesday, May 15, 2019
Time: 1:30 pm - 4:30 pm
Cost: $150 for conference attendees
Location: Big Thompson Room, Embassy Suites Conference Center

Description: Excellence comes from an engaged and motivated team. One way to accomplish that is through cultural leadership. In this interactive session, learn how to lead by infusing a culture that inspires and motivates your team to be the best they can be! Explore strategies that dramatically increase your level of team member engagement. Attendees will leave with tangible tips and tools that will make an immediate impact and are easy to implement.

 

LEARN MORE

 

Chris Stevenson Head Shot About Chris Stevenson

Chris Stevenson is the owner of Stevenson Fitness, a full-service health club in Oak Park, California. The club’s success is based on providing an unparalleled member experience, which centers on proper staffing, systematic operations, and world-class leadership. This success is reflected in the club’s Net Promoter Score, which is consistently in the high 80s (industry average is in the 40s). Chris is an international speaker who presents viable, applicable lectures that resonate with every audience.

 

Tags:  company culture  customer experience  customer service  employee engagement  employee turnover  human resources  leadership  management  staff retention  staff training 

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Let's Get Engaged!

Posted By Chris Stevenson, Monday, March 11, 2019
Climbing Gym Customer Experience

Employee engagement is a hot topic, and rightfully so. Companies that have a high level of success also have a high level of engaged employees. And no, I don’t mean vows and bridal bouquets. I mean “engaged” in the company’s mission statement and core values. Most companies don’t put a strong focus on creating a culture that engages employees. This is often because they don’t know how to do it. Before we get into the how, let’s look a little more at employee engagement as a whole.

 

There are three types of employees: engaged, disengaged, and actively disengaged. Engaged employees are the ones you want. Engaged employees work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. They drive innovation and move the organization forward. Disengaged employees are essentially “checked out.” They’re sleepwalking through their workday, putting time – but not energy or passion – into their work. And actively disengaged employees aren’t just unhappy at work; they act out their unhappiness. Actively disengaged workers undermine what engaged coworkers accomplish. While engaged employees are the sought-after group in our facilities, research shows that they constitute only a small percentage of our work force, with the majority of employees falling into the other two categories.

 

So, what are the factors that lead to employee engagement? How can you engage your employees (without getting down on one knee)? Here are five keys to dramatically improve your employee engagement.

 

1. Fair compensation – All team members have to feel like they are being fairly compensated for their work. Make sure you do your research, and know what the going pay rates are for different positions. What a team member feels is “fair” may not be what the market dictates. That is important to know if you find them questioning their compensation. Even when explained and supported, the member may still feel under-compensated. Offer small incentives, raffles and contests to help combat these feelings, and couple these with the four other components provided herein.

 

2. Meaningful work – This starts with company vision, mission and core values. Your team members need to know these things and believe in them. It is important to constantly infuse those items into your team and into their work. That is global. Team members have to know that what they do as individuals matters, and has an impact on the bigger picture vision, mission and values. Even the most seemingly mundane tasks often have a deeper meaning. It's your job to make sure that everyone on your team understands the impact and importance of their respective roles and every task for which they are responsible.

 

3. Appreciation and gratitude – You can never show too much appreciation to your employees. While you infuse your company vision, mission and values, and stress the meaningfulness of their individual roles, cement it with appreciation and gratitude. Gallup research shows that, at a minimum, an employee should receive praise at least once every seven days. I recommend even more. If you have someone on your team that you can't praise at least once a week, it may be time to get him/her off your team. I also strongly recommend creating a “gratitude” system. Daily business routines can sometimes neglect opportunities for employee recognition. Create a checklist, reminders, excel spreadsheet where you plan and track the gratitude you express. When people hear me give this advice, they often ask if that minimizes or trivializes the concept of gratitude. It absolutely does not, as long as you are authentic. It simply reminds us to do something that may have slipped our mind when things get crazy.

 

4. Personal growth – Employees have an innate desire to be better. Learning and self-improvement drive engagement. Disengagement can begin the minute a team member feels as though growth has stopped. Find ways to make sure that your employees are always growing in their work environment. That can come from reading, webinars, podcasts, conferences and more. Empower them to take part in some decision-making, and to handle certain things on their own. Even taking the time to coach them up on a regular basis lets them know that you care about their improvement. When team members know that they are improving and growing the will stay actively engaged.

 

5. Winning – There is nothing more motivating and engaging than achieving a win. Find ways to put your employees in a position to achieve daily victories. Set them up for little wins and celebrate them. A team member should never leave a shift without having at least one win. In practice, this could be setting up KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that can be reached on a daily basis. It could be as simple as empowering them to do a little extra for your members without having to ask permission. Find ways to make them the hero. If there is good news to deliver, a resolution to a problem that a member is having, or even some swag to give away, let your team member handle it. Hand them that win. Finally, in team meetings, start with asking them what their wins were for the week. Not only does that allow employees to celebrate achievements, it trains them to look for new and/or opportunities to accomplish!

 

Engaged employees “make” you. Disengaged employees, and, even worse, actively disengaged employees, “break” you. Try implementing some of the strategies above to make sure your facility is being made and not broken. None of the strategies above require much of a financial commitment. It just takes a little focus, attention, and time. It is well worth it. An engaged team leads to engaged members and that is the formula for success!

 


Employee Engagement Pre-conference at the CWA Summit

Want more employee engagement tips, tricks, and strategies? Don't miss Chris Stevenson's pre-conference workshop at this year's CWA Summit, Cultural Leadership: The Key to Employee Engagement and Motivation. For assistance adding a pre–conference to your registration, reach out to us at 720-838-8284 or events@climbingwallindustry.org.


 

Chris Stevenson Head Shot About Chris Stevenson

Chris Stevenson is the owner of Stevenson Fitness, a full-service health club in Oak Park, California. The club’s success is based on providing an unparalleled member experience, which centers on proper staffing, systematic operations, and world-class leadership. This success is reflected in the club’s Net Promoter Score, which is consistently in the high 80s (industry average is in the 40s). Chris is an international speaker who presents viable, applicable lectures that resonate with every audience.

 

Tags:  company culture  employee engagement  employee turnover  human resources  leadership  management  staff retention  staff training 

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Balancing the Business, Creativity, and Labor of Routesetting

Posted By Amanda Ashley, Monday, January 21, 2019
Climbing Gym Birthday Parties

As businesses, climbing gyms use business strategies, protocols, and methods to establish and operate the gym, but that approach doesn’t entirely work for routesetting. Unlike fitness gyms that use standardized equipment, climbing gyms are engaged in selling the climbing experience to members, which means routes and boulders set in the gym must emulate the very elusive concept of natural rock. Managing routesetting means balancing the business aspect, the creativity, and the manual labor. These are 3 distinct and very different skill sets, and it’s nearly impossible for anyone to be engaged fully in all 3 at the same time. The goal of managing a routesetting program is to engage the right staff, at the right time, in the right task, to the right degree.

 

Understanding Creativity, Business, and Labor

Creativity can be defined simply as creating something that didn’t exist before, ie: a new route or boulder in the gym. Inherently, creativity and productivity don’t mix and can be challenging in business. When you see a routesetter staring at a wall, many managers will think, “that person needs to do something.” But approaching routesetters and routesetting this way will only lead to frustration and conflicts. It’s important to know that it’s nearly impossible to see the creative process. People generate ideas in different ways, but research shows that ideas typically come when the mind is free and random thoughts can occur.

 

Business tasks on the other hand, unlike the creative process, are observable. It’s easy to tell when admin tasks are not completed. The business side of a routesetting program includes measurable tasks like placing orders, writing schedules and signing off on payroll – meaning you can determine the average amount of time it takes to accomplish these tasks. Of the three key elements to managing a routesetting program, the business side is the clearest cut, but due to the nature of the other aspects of the job, can present challenges.

 

The manual labor of routesetting cannot be measured in terms of productivity in the same way that other positions can be. This is due to the variable sizes and complexities of routes, and while the routesetter will have a plan of how they want to set the holds, there will be changes as the route takes shape on the wall. Furthermore, unexpected problems can arise that slow down the process, like a broken drill or a spinning t-nut. Additionally, routesetters often work outside of gym hours to set routes.

 

Creating a routesetting team that meets business goals, creates dynamic and fun routes that your members enjoy, and operates productively and efficiently can be a challenge to manage due to the unique skill set required for the position. Luckily, there are some approaches that can help.

 

Apply Strategic Thinking

Labor productivity research shows that the main characteristics influencing staff productivity fall into two categories: 1. age, skill, and experience, and 2. leadership and motivation. How you engage and interact with your team plays a significant role in determining the outcome. Identify the strategic requirements of the job – how does this job contribute to the overall mission and goal of the business? Then identify and prioritize the activities that would reach that outcome. Unfortunately for management and staff, the connection between their role and the strategic contribution they should be making is not always obvious, and losing track of this very important ideation can lead to poor productivity and skewed expectations. Simply put, your staff should be able to say the goal and objectives of their role as routesetters within the larger framework of the gym and know how their work directly affects the business.

 

Schedule Team Meetings Appropriately

While most of your staff probably keeps a regular schedule, routesetters may be setting after hours to avoid business interruption, which can lead to late nights. This may sound obvious, but expecting routesetters to attend early meetings after a late night or a re-set after a comp isn’t setting them up for success, pun intended. While team meetings are important and often need to occur right after events to recap, schedule them when they make sense and with consideration of when your routesetters usually pull shifts.

 

Cross Train on Varied Tasks

As an employer, don’t fall into the trap of a one-stop shop employee; sure, the idea of a creative routesetter/business wunderkind/workhorse sounds good, but as your gym grows, this approach limits what your staff can do and can lead to burnout. Be creative and do what works for your team; if you’re unsure of what your team needs, ask them for input. Cross-training the routesetting team on all the tasks that need to be accomplished for the business, while allowing them to develop skills and take on new responsibilities, will in turn support the strategic plan and growth of the gym.

 

Build Creativity Into the Schedule

We’ve already covered that creativity happens when the mind is free, so build in time for routesetters to be creative as a part of their job. Simply because you can’t see it doesn’t mean your business won’t benefit from the process that routesetters undertake to create routes; and they need to be compensated for their creativity. What does that look like at your gym? Ask your routesetters when and how they get their best ideas for routes, then include time for them on their schedule to foster and develop creativity. You’ll know it’s working when your gym members are happy with the routes and providing positive feedback.

 

Putting It All Together (PIAT)

Balancing creativity, labor, and business doesn’t have to be challenging once you know what you need to accomplish. Managing your team well means that you know the strategic objective of the job and the strengths and weaknesses of your team.

  • Define Routesetting Strategically
  • Identify and Prioritize Routesetting Tasks
  • Schedule Meetings so Routesetters Can Participate
  • Cross Train on Varied Tasks
  • Schedule Time for Routesetters to Be Creative

 

Amanda Ashley Head ShotAbout Amanda Ashley

Amanda Ashley is a writer, climber, and a climbing mom. From her early days spent training on the musty community woody in The School at the New River Gorge to training in modern mega climbing gyms all over the West, she's seen the rise of climbing gyms and the evolution of routesetting up close and personal for the past 20 years. Amanda writes about climbers, routesetting, changes in climbing movement and performance, and the climbing industry. Amanda's work has appeared in Climbing Magazine, Climbing Business Journal, and the Utah Adventure Journal.

 

Tags:  company culture  employee engagement  human resources  leadership  management  operations  routesetting  routesetting management  staff retention  staff training 

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The Two Keys to a Great Customer Experience

Posted By Chris Stevenson, Monday, January 14, 2019
Climbing Gym Customer Experience

A few months ago, I was in Lisbon, Portugal, presenting to more than 1,000 club owners on membership sales. The presentation was about experiential sales and the concept of serving instead of selling. (This great concept will be a future blog topic.)

 

The event was held at the Epic Sana Hotel Lisboa. The hotel completely lived up to its name, delivering an absolutely unparalleled customer experience. I travel a ton, both personally and professionally, and this was by far one of the best hotel experiences I have ever had. The Epic Sana Hotel Lisboa nailed the two fundamental components to a great customer experience: A product or service that efficiently and effectively meets all of your needs, and a product or service that finds opportunities to surprise and delight.

 

Key #1: All of my needs were met efficiently and effectively. I arrived in the morning and my room was ready. Having flown on a redeye for over 14 hours, this was important to me. The reception staff was proactive about informing me of all of the amenities and things to do in the area. The few questions that I did have were answered by the first person with whom I interacted. There was no escalation, the person I spoke to was well-equipped and well-informed. (As a side note, one of the most common complaints from consumers is escalation – wherein a staffer needs the assistance of someone else in order to respond to an inquiry – so make sure you minimize that at your facility through your training program.) My room was cleaned every day as soon as I left it. There were complimentary waters in my room every day. The entire staff was bilingual, so I never had any issues communicating with anyone. Everything that one would expect from a hotel was in order, efficiently and effectively meeting all of my needs.

 

Key #2: The Epic Sana Hotel Lisboa also excelled at finding ways to surprise and delight me. There was literally a surprise and delight around every corner. The TV in my room said, “Welcome Mr. Stevenson,” when I arrived. The room was automated based on my behavior, so when I returned, the room automatically went back to the way I left it. The lights I wanted on, came on; the curtains I wanted open, opened; and the TV turned back on to the station that I left it on, at the volume I had set. The bartender comped me a few drinks over the course of my stay. The housekeeping staff turned down sheets every night and placed a piece of chocolate on the nightstand. To top it off, when I forgot my outlet converter, the hotel staff went and purchased it for me at no charge and delivered it to my room.

 

With all of the traveling that I do, this was one of the best experiences I have ever had at a hotel. All of my basic needs were not only met, they were exceeded, and I was consistently surprised and delighted. I had a great customer experience.

 

Take a few minutes right now and think about your facility. Are you hitting the two fundamental components of a great customer experience? Is it easy and welcoming for your customers to park, enter your facility, buy a membership, climb the way they want to, etc.? Are you doing things like recognizing birthdays and membership anniversaries, memorizing names, anticipating needs, and finding other creative ways to surprise and delight your customers on a regular basis? If not, start brainstorming how you can. If you believe you’re already nailing both of those fundamental keys, brainstorm how you can be even better. As the climbing industry continues to become even more competitive, a great customer experience becomes even more essential.

 

Chris Stevenson Head Shot About Chris Stevenson

Chris Stevenson is the owner of Stevenson Fitness, a full-service health club in Oak Park, California. The club’s success is based on providing an unparalleled member experience, which centers on proper staffing, systematic operations, and world-class leadership. This success is reflected in the club’s Net Promoter Score, which is consistently in the high 80s (industry average is in the 40s). Chris is an international speaker who presents viable, applicable lectures that resonate with every audience.

 

Tags:  company culture  customer experience  customer satisfaction  customer service  employee engagement  human resources  leadership  management  staff training 

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Where to Begin with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives

Posted By Emma Walker, Friday, January 4, 2019
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Puzzle

There’s a lot of talk in the climbing industry lately about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI): What will it take to get more people tied in? How can we make climbing more accessible to a larger, more diverse audience? If you know where to begin, incorporating DEI initiatives into your gym’s practices is more approachable than you might think.

 

Offer basic instruction

“When I first walked into a gym,” says Kriste Peoples, “it looked like everybody else automatically knew what they were doing. I never saw any kind of promotion that said, ‘If you’re new to climbing, we’ll show you the ropes!’ That feeds this notion that climbing is really exclusive.” Peoples instructs Women’s Wilderness’ Girls Lead for Life program, a weekly after-school climbing and leadership program for girls. When Peoples started climbing, she didn’t know much about what gear she needed or to how to tie a figure-eight, and she felt intimidated by the lack of information available for newbies. Offering a short class—even a free community night—on how to tie in would have gone a long way. “In my opinion, this is just good business,” Peoples laughs.

 

Partner with Local Organizations

Representation matters. That’s why climbing organizations like Brown Girls Climb (BGC) and Brothers of Climbing were created: so climbers of color would have opportunities to climb in safe spaces. Monserrat Matehuala, a member of the BGC national leadership team (and co-founder of the group’s Colorado chapter), recently helped run a DEI training for Earth Treks in Golden. “Gyms are gatekeepers for the rock climbing community,” she says, lauding Earth Treks for its commitment to DEI. “They’re often the first contact new climbers have with the community, so it matters that they feel welcome there.” Facilities who reach out to the local chapters of these organizations and create space for them—hosting nights when members of those groups have free or reduced-cost gym entry, for example—tells climbers of color they’re welcome all the time.

 

Watch Your Language

Using inclusive language, says Matehuala, is one easy way to make all your members feel welcome. “There’s a difference between being welcoming and being inclusive,” she explains, using greeting language as an example. Matehuala suggests using a non-gendered greeting—“Hello! How’s your day going?”—rather than one that assumes a member’s gender, like “Hey man!” or “Thanks, sir!” She cites the often-used shortening for the word carabiner (many climbers say “biner”) as an example: it may sound innocuous, but that shortening sounds exactly like an ethnic slur. “It’s hard to break a habit, but as educators, it’s really important,” Matehuala explains. Many gyms are choosing to incorporate that change into their learn-to-climb curricula, she says, which has the added benefit of minimizing the jargon new climbers must learn. Another quick step: Take a look at the imagery around your gym, including ads for upcoming clinics and posters of climbers on picturesque routes. If all the photos you see are of white climbers, it’s time for an overhaul.

 

Train Yourself and Your Staff

Ready to take the plunge? Consider hosting a DEI training for your staff facilitated by someone like BGC or the Avarna Group. If it’s not feasible to bring a facilitator to you, the Avarna Group and others are offering some excellent DEI workshops and conference sessions at the 2019 CWA Summit!

 

It's also important to make professional development resources available to your staff, model inclusivity, and have regular conversations about the importance of DEI. BGC has a number of resources available on their website, and James Edward Mills’ The Adventure Gap and Carolyn Finney’s Black Faces, White Spaces are excellent primers on the importance and value of DEI in the outdoors.

 

Emma Walker Head ShotAbout Emma Walker

Emma Walker is a freelance writer, editor, and an account manager with Golden, Colorado-based Bonfire Collective. Emma earned her M.S. in Outdoor and Environmental Education from Alaska Pacific University and has worked as an educator and guide at gyms, crags, and peaks around the American West.

 

Tags:  climbing culture  community development  company culture  diversity  leadership  management  staff training  workplace diversity 

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