Follow the Fitness Leaders: Carol Nalevanko, Village Health Clubs and Spas

Carol Nalevanko is the president of Village Health Clubs and Spas, a privately owned company in Scottsdale, Arizona. In this edition of Club Industry's Follow the Fitness Leaders series, Nalevanko shares her insights for creating a positive company culture with low turnover that promotes heavily from within.

Q. People talk about creating a culture that people want to work in, but what kind of culture do people want to work in?

Nalevanko: At the Village Health Club and Spas, we have been creating and living our culture for over 40 years. Many years ago, with the help of all levels of employees, we put together the Village Standards.  These standards reflect the way we want to treat each other and how we want to treat our members. People want to work in a culture where they are respected and appreciated.  They also want to work in a company where their ideas can be heard and where there is little hierarchy. Any employee can stop by my office to speak with me at any time. I love hearing their ideas and seeing how much they care about the Village.  People also want to know that if they do a good job with us, they will have the opportunity to move up at the Village.  We have promoted 60 percent of our department managers from within. Our Village Standards are reviewed and promoted each month and are incorporated in all of our annual employee training programs.

Q. How did you determine this is the culture people want to be a part of?

Nalevanko: I spend a lot of time talking one-on-one with all levels of employees from the housekeeping staff to the senior management team.  I am extremely visible to my people and often ask them how they like working at the Village. I get to hear it straight from them.  We also do employee engagement surveys and address any issues or suggestions that come from these surveys. This year, our HR Department created an Employee Innovation program. Every other month, our employees can submit suggestions on how to improve the Village.  The senior management team selects the top suggestions and rewards those employees.  Once again, people like to know that their ideas are heard and that they can make a difference in their company.

Q. How did that evolve over time and as different generations came into the workforce?

Nalevanko: Our culture statement was formulated out of a meeting of every level of employees, many years ago.  The senior managers hired a facilitator to help us determine our culture statement and we failed miserably.  Our culture statement was far too complex and something no employee would ever remember, let alone live it every day.  Out of our multi-level employee meeting, we created the following culture statement:  “As one we have fun and get it done.”  Simple and easy to remember but very much on point on what we value at the Village.  Working hard together while having fun doing so. The culture of the Village relates to all generations of employees.  It’s timeless. People from all ages want to work in a place where they can have fun, accomplish their goals and enjoy coming to work.

Q. How do you determine that someone is a fit in your club culture? What process do you go through in hiring to determine this?

Nalevanko: As I mentioned earlier, we use our Village Standards to guide us in all areas of operations.  New managers go through a 3-week program called Management Essentials. They are taught our culture and management and leadership skills. The Management Essentials training also teaches new managers how to interview and hire people who will thrive in the Village culture. We create annual employee training programs that support our Village Standards and brand.  This training is customized for front-line staff, commissioned staff and managers.

Q. How do you define and communicate your culture to new employees?

Nalevanko: All new employees are required to attend our New Hire Orientation program.  It is usually taught by the Assistant General Managers at each of our 4 clubs. During New Hire Orientation, there is a lot of focus on the Village brand and what the Village stands for within our community.  We show a video that we created, using our employees, that emphasizes how important each and every job is at the Village and how their individual contributions help make our clubs special to so many people. We also cover the history of our company and some of our goals for the future.

Q. How do you ensure that this culture attracts a diverse group of people?

Nalevanko: We don’t consciously worry too much about diversity in our company as it seems to happen naturally, given the different positions we hire for within the clubs.  The most important message we have is that all employees are important and equal.

Q. What happens if you discover the hire is not a good fit with culture?

Nalevanko: If we do a good job during the interview process, we can usually weed out any potential employees that we feel don’t fit the Village culture.  If someone slips through the cracks, we will follow our normal HR procedures and coach the employee, spend more time with them and see if we can get them to understand what we are trying to be here at the Village.  If that does not work, we will most likely manage them out.

Q. Do you have to have a champion in leadership to ensure the culture is created, maintained, communicated and followed? If so, who is that champion at your company, and who do you recommend others appoint as the champion at their companies?

Nalevanko: I would have to say I, as the president of the company, am the main champion in leadership to create the culture, communicate the culture to all employees and live it and set the example 24/7.  Next would be our senior management team, followed by the department managers.  In all honesty, if we are doing our job right with keeping our culture alive, all employees should be ambassadors of our culture every day.  It takes commitment from the top down and constant communication and reinforcing of that culture…how we want to be known and what we stand for.  We have an employee reinforce, recognize and reward program called Bonusly. It acknowledges and rewards employees for being good examples of the Village culture.  The nice thing about Bonusly, is that all employees have the ability to reward and recognize their fellow employees. This is an on-line program which also has an app. Employees can recognize and reward their co-workers on their mobile phones from anywhere.

Q. What sort of results have you had at your company in creating an attractive culture and in hiring for that?

Nalevanko: Probably the best result is that our turnover is relatively low.  The length of stay for our senior team and department managers is well over 5-8 years, longer in many cases. As I mentioned earlier, we are also proud to note that we have hired over 60 percent of our department manager positions from within. There is no better way to keep your company’s culture alive and growing then to promote your employees, who in turn, promote your culture.