The Constant Pursuit of Excellence

“I can tell you what it is that makes you successful in business, more specifically as a CrossFit affiliate,” CrossFit founder and CEO Greg Glassman says. “It’s the blind and relentless constant pursuit of excellence.”
– Greg Glassman, Pursuit of Excellence with Greg Glassman

Greg Glassman has spoken quite a bit about what it takes to build a thriving affiliate, and while I agree with most everything he says, I think there’s some unstated assumptions that affiliate owners just aren’t grasping.

In the same article as the quote above (From a CrossFit Journal entry in January 2010), Greg talks about building quality first, and worrying about financial gain later.

“Financial success comes later of its own accord if you’ve focused first on quality.”
– Greg GlassmanPursuit of Excellence with Greg Glassman

A few years earlier (January 2006) Greg sets the stage for this by explaining a little bit about what he feels like business should be founded on.

“I have a real problem with any business activity that isn’t about value creation,” he explains. “Money is essential to run a business, but it’s not why you run a business. It is not what makes business grow. Businesses grow on dreams. Trying to make money is no way to run a business.”
– Greg Glassman, Pursuing Excellence and Creating Value

These are the sentiments that have powered near explosive growth in the creation of new CrossFit affiliates all over the globe over the past 10 years. These are the founding ethos of many affiliates out there, yet I still see an overwhelming lack of quality across the board.

How can this be?! Have we as an industry forgotten what it means to pursue excellence, or is it that we have a close-minded approach to where “excellence” should be pursued?  I think the latter may be the offending party here, because of the thousand affiliates I’ve spoken with over the years – there are very few that don’t want to be “the best”.

Having a close-minded approach to excellence is only applying it to the product (or service) itself, and is generally done without any objective metrics. So how do you pursue excellence with broad strokes in your affiliate? Where do you even start?

Coaching & Movements

  • Are your coaches coaching the same thing?  I’m not talking about one coaches strengths vs. another coaches weaknesses, I’m talking about YOUR vision and how your coaches adhere to it.  If one coach has no regard for scaling, and another coach never corrects a movement during a WOD, and your vision to create athletes with virtuosity, are these coaches supporting your goal?
  • Are your classes being run consistently? Does one coach say “warm up on your own”, while another one says “do the warmup on the board”, and yet another says to do this, then do that.  Does every class receive the same amount of instruction/preparation/involvement?  Essentially, how scripted is the itinerary for a class? If you haven’t set this up, chances are that no one else has.
  • Do you have consistent movement standards? I’ve been to gyms that allow burpees without hands above the head and pushups that look more like they incorporated a cobra yoga pose. On the flip side, I’ve been to gyms that won’t let you kip until you can do 5 strict pullups in 1 minute (approved by a coach).
  • Do you incentivize your trainers to get more certifications? If you’re pursuing excellence, but your trainers aren’t… then it’s your vision that will suffer.

If you answered no to any of these things, your business has no real ideology and members will see this and they’ll either form cliques around certain coaches (or class times), or they’ll see the inconsistencies and consider you a less professional gym.

Programming

  • Do you know what you’re actually programming? I’ve posed this question many times, and generally get a very hesitated pause… because a lot of affiliates just don’t know, yet this could be the most foundational aspect of your gym.  Are you programming to build athletes?  Are you programming for GPP (general physical preparedness)?  Are you programming for barbell/gymnastic virtuosity? Do you include strength cycles?  Are your WOD’s multi-part? Do you believe in RX weights? Do you believe in tiered programming? Do you believe in periodized programming? What are the range of movements that you feel are acceptable to include on a daily basis to achieve these goals?

I’m mentioning this because this is what you’re going to base the rest of your business on.  Without even knowing what your focus is, it makes it really hard to improve the quality and really pursue excellence in that area.

Marketing

  • Do you know who your target demographic is?  99% of the time I ask this question I get the same answer – “males and females from 20-65…” or as I tend to translate this…“I have no idea”.  I hate to say it, but although the needs may not differ, the way that you approach someone in their 20’s is nowhere close to the way you’d approach someone in their 50’s or 60’s. Just because your business has someone from each of the demographics doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re targeting the entire demographic.
  • Do you know what sets you apart from the competition? This is another question I frequently ask, and the answer I most commonly receive is “Our Coaching and Our Community”. That’s about as useful as saying “Our Name and Our Address”… of course they’re different.  It’s a different business.  But what is it about your coaches and your community that is different that would help uniquely describe you? If you don’t know this, then the only real competitive advantage you have (with new prospects) is location.

Without knowing what you’re selling, or who you’re trying to sell to – it makes it really easy to chase your tail, but very hard to pursue excellence.

Systems

This may be the glue that holds your business together as a single unit. This is what will help keep your business running the same regardless of whether your most valued coach leaves, or if you decide step out of the day-to-day operations.

  • What is the process a prospect goes through to become a member?  This should be something you could quickly and easily jot down as an itemized and actionable list, and all your coaches should be able to give the exact same answer.  Each time you say “or” is liking having a hole in your process. The lack of clarity here is a huge source of consumer confusion (something that should be avoided).
  • If you have a free intro, is it consistent enough to be scripted?  If everyone has a completely different experience, it’s really hard to see what’s working and what’s not working.  Sometimes the basis of quality control is to have a scripted itinerary.
  • How do you communicate with your members? I could probably write an entire blog post about this. I’m going to skip straight to the point here… I’ve seen most everything work… at least a little bit. If you tell me that “members don’t…”, then that generally tells me that you haven’t trained them to.  Your members are vested (financially) in your business, and they look to you for direction.  If you only post event info on signs in the gym, then you may have a hard time reminding people of what’s going on when they aren’t there.  If you post news/announcement to Facebook, then you have to realize that not everyone is on Facebook all day, and even someone that may check your page daily could still miss information because it gets buried.  Ultimately, there are good ways to do things, and there are better ways. Pursue the better ways.  Seek outside advice.  Realize that ANY change will require training your members, and stick to it.

Running an great gym takes more than nice equipment

If you’re pursuing excellence across the board, then you’ll understand how valuable it is to create consistency within your business. You’ll understand that a top-notch gym has nothing to do with the size of your rig, what kind of barbells you have, or whether you use kilos instead of pounds.  You’ll start investing and building a business that leverages marketing, finance, programming, coaching, community development with the goal of creating something truly unique and excellent.

Creating quality is a fundamental piece of EVERY part of your business. If you’re satisfied with filling the basic requirements of running a business, yet you want success – you’re gambling with your livelihood, and you’re doing your members a huge disservice.

How Can I Do This Better?

Ask yourself this every day.  Ask this about everything in your business. And then act on it.  Make things better everyday, and don’t settle.