Balance beam Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2009

If you’re used to doing things a certain way at your business, Cory Bertisch has been there, too.

The co-founder, president and CEO of My Gym Enterprises has helped to grow the franchisor of children’s fitness centers from a start-up franchising concept to a company that generated more than $10 million in 2008 corporate revenue.

Along the way, My Gym has gained a number of corporate employees and franchisees. All of them need the freedom to do their jobs with minimal interference from management, but they also still need to embody the My Gym values each day.

Employees need structure, but they also need to be empowered to take their own sense of ownership in the company. It’s a balancing act that requires top management to control without being controlling.

“The biggest thing about creating an emotional sense of ownership within an organization is giving people the power, responsibility and the recognition in big doses,” Bertisch says.

Smart Business spoke with Bertisch about how you can find the right balance when relating to your employees.

Put a structure in place. There is a balance between space and accountability, so we run a very structured review system. Our lines of communication are three- or fourfold. We have what we call goal-review conferences on a semimonthly basis. A subordinate will meet with a division leader to discuss if the work is purposeful and how they feel about what they’re doing, with a little coaching.

How do you build that fine line? You have to stick to your reviews and conferences so that you can give feedback. But as a leader, you also have to resist doing the work for them. You have to acknowledge that there is more than one right way to do something. As a leader and possibly an expert in what the subordinate is doing, you have to balance the having them do it quickly and right, how you would do it, with allowing them to figure things out for themselves and taking that sense of pride and ownership in the project.

So there is a balance between checking in and having a structured system where you can coach effectively and assigning responsibility.

I’m a very controlling person, and I think that when you’re building a good-sized company, you have to have a vision and be in control. The only way I feel comfortable letting others have control is by having great people. Identify, hire and train great people to manage great people.

So the first answer is you have to surround yourself with the right people. Then you need to have the structured system in place in the company for communication. I am directly responsible to maintain a certain atmosphere, a certain parity and fairness with people working in our company. That is something that provides me with great comfort. There is a multipronged system of communication within the company that keeps people on task and on goal.

Build a communication system. Our communication system involves intra-company communication, communication between our entire staff and communication between our franchisees. My goal is to have clear communication to our franchisees and to our staff.

What you do have to do is get through the hard points of building a system like this. It is very meeting intensive, very communication intensive. Most importantly, you can’t hide, which is the thing that I love. You can’t hide on our staff with this kind of system in place.

The second thing I would say is that if you don’t have a system like this and want to grow beyond a small company in terms of number of employees and footprint, you have to build a system like this. Even though I didn’t use any one system outright, this is a system most companies have in place. You need a multifaceted communication system.

Then, you have to be diligent in running it and you have to be diligent in designing goals. You have to have goals that are measurable, that they’re not so high they demotivate but not so low that they’re too easy to achieve. It can be something as simply stated as putting your endgame in a time frame and defining steps to get there and reach it. You then have to get great people to buy in to the system.

I’ve coached many small business owners who want to grow into the franchise world, designing and helping them initiate their systems. That’s really not the hard part. The hard part is that it has to be a part of any growing company today.

Set goals and standards. One of the things I always say to my staff when we meet as a group is that all the work you do has to be purposeful in reaching the goals we designed as a company. If it’s not, it’s just working hard for no reason.

It’s hard to tell the difference if you don’t have designed goals and constant checking of the information flow. You cannot do without it as far as company morale goes. Half of our purpose with regard to big group functions is for the purpose of morale and recognition. You want each employee to be as effective as possible, so without a system in which everyone knows what is going on and everyone has a hand in designing goals, they can’t be as effective as possible.

Another big thing is that issues don’t brew. You get them out in the open. We have an open philosophy in this company that we like conflict, as long as everyone is open to the same result. It’s like a family — you can fight, but you know you’re not going anywhere. That’s why we ask everyone if they have brewing concerns. We ask them in a confidential environment. It’s constantly giving the opportunity and demonstrating the accountability to speak up, because it’s much easier to run a company when everyone cares as much as you do.

How to reach: My Gym Enterprises, (800) 469-4967 or www.my-gym.com