How this manager helped turn around the fortunes of a Virgin Active club

Virgin Active UK’s General Manager of the Year for 2017, Lyndsey Green, explains how honest, hard graft was the secret to turning around the fortunes of Virgin Active’s Hammersmith club.

In the beginning

I’ve always known I wanted to get into something health or sports related, as I’ve been sporty since a young age. After graduating with a degree in sport and exercise science, I worked for another health club as a Senior Activity Adviser (a posh way of saying Senior Fitness Instructor) for four and half years, before joining Virgin Active as a Service Manager in our West London club. This will be my 10th year working for Virgin Active. How time flies!

I think it’s great that Virgin Active nurtures staff and supports their careers the way they’ve supported mine. My first General Manager (GM) role was at our Hammersmith Club; I took it on in December 2016. It was here that I really learned my trade as a GM.

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Mucking in

When I first arrived at Hammersmith, the team told me that we needed a million-pound refurbishment to make the club look great again. Staff engagement scores were low, and I think that was a lot to do with the lack of investment. I knew that the reality was that we were not getting an expensive refurbishment. But I also knew that there were ways we could raise the club standards  and better reflect the Virgin Active brand.

And after I’d looked round I thought, “To start with, a good scrub is what this club needs.”

After that, I got on my hands and knees daily, scrubbed the floors clean and showed the team what could be achieved with some hard graft. I regularly attended overnight club cleans, where we did all the messy things we could only do when members weren’t around.

I showed the team that I didn’t mind mucking in with anything. This is how I work – I lead by example. I don’t just help out with cleaning. I won’t hesitate to jump in and do any role, if we’re short on staff. I even get involved with helping the maintenance team. I remember fitting showers and bending pipes at one point in my Virgin Active career. My view is, the more I learn about all aspects of running a club, the more I can help out. It makes the overall operations of the club a lot easier.

Back to basics

With Hammersmith, it was all about getting our Virgin Active basics right again. Our basics are safety, service and standards – and we aim to do them brilliantly, in all clubs, to delight our members.

I wholeheartedly believe that if you get these three things right, the rest will follow. You can’t get much more basic than scrubbing the gym floor and the showers. I didn’t ask the team to help, but when they started to see the results, day by day, different members of the team would jump in to help me. They all wanted to be part of the transformation. Soon I even had the personal trainers and sales team scrubbing!

The sales team’s attitude completely changed – they no longer needed a refurbishment to ‘sell’ the club. And all of the team began to be proud of the club again.

I truly believe that leading by example is key to building a successful team. I will always get stuck in, whether it’s cleaning, painting or fixing things – it’s how I roll. The team saw me getting stuck in, and they did it too.

My other main focus was on staff reward and recognition. Hammersmith club had really poor engagement scores when I joined, and I badly needed to turn this around. I needed the right team behind me, because, as much as I love to graft, I couldn’t do it alone. 

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We started awarding employee and PT of the month, and had monthly nights out where all club staff were invited. We started in January with only two people on the night out, and by December the whole team were coming! It was about building inter-departmental relationships and not being ‘each to their own’.

By June, we had Virgin Active UK’s most improved people engagement score. It wasn’t perfect, but I knew we were getting somewhere.

Magic makeover

I’m really proud that, once we had shown the Virgin Active senior managers the changes we had achieved and how we could improve the club, we got our reward.

Last September, we got authorisation for a mini refurbishment: a beautiful new reception area to welcome our members and prospective members, and two refurbished studios. And when I walked in the door and saw how everything turned out on the last day of the refurb, I had a tear in my eye. I was so proud of what we had achieved in a short space of time. I feel extremely proud to have taken the club from being at the bottom of most leader boards to finishing 2017 right at the very top, and with minimal investment.

You need to have the right people alongside you to be successful

Perhaps best of all is how thrilled the team was. It’s thanks to their hard work that the club raised its game and secured the refurb, to the benefit of staff and members. We ended the year with five trophies in the office. What an achievement from when we started. I was so proud to win Virgin Active UK General Manager of the Year 2017 at last December’s Star Awards. The GMs nominated alongside me are amazing and, to be honest, I was honoured just to be nominated. But when my name was announced as the winner… well, nothing can take that feeling away. But without the Hammersmith team, none of this success would have been possible.

I believe that you need to have the right people alongside you to be successful. Hammersmith now has people with Virgin Active DNA and they’re full of energy, passion and drive. You can teach the rest, but you can’t train someone to have these.

It was a very sad day when I left Hammersmith to join my new club. It’s a very different challenge here at Chiswick Park, which is already one of Virgin Active’s most successful clubs, so I’m focused on getting it bigger and better. But I still miss Hammersmith and building from brilliant basics to award winners.

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