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Why investing in our Future Leaders puts us on the path to prosperity

Clear career progression, regular sharpening of skills and targeted talent development are the bedrock of many industries. Whereas in the physical activity sector, we often rely more on the natural drive and passion of our people to achieve success in our fast-paced workplaces. But is that enough?

Having experienced first-hand the ukactive Future Leaders learning programme at the world class IESE business school in Barcelona this summer, I can now clearly see that it is time for a new approach. The nature of our service driven environments make it a challenge to step back from the day-to-day business, but this is essential to assess where we are going. Only through regular reassessment can we identify the real change that will lead to business growth and development in our sector.

Picking up on the theme that former Fitness First CEO Andy Cosslett shared when he addressed the group one evening, in terms of our staff, we’ve won half the battle in attracting them, but there’s a long way to go before we win the war. People are the most important element of our sector and there was an overriding sense, even from our most gifted young leaders, that their skills are being undernourished.

“The winning mind-set of the people we attract is fantastic, but our development of them is key,” said Cosslett.

“Creating an environment where people feel respected and are given opportunities to learn will set our teams up for success and ultimately ensure our businesses will thrive.”

We should also consider the reasons why, as a sector, we generally fail to attract Oxbridge/Russell Group graduates. All too often they are tempted away from us by industries with more tangible career paths and professional reputations, including clear graduate-level entry routes. These are sectors where programmes such as Future Leaders are commonplace. That is not to say that we necessarily need top-flight graduates to transform our businesses, but we shouldn’t hide from the fact that the sector’s struggles to attract top talent reflect a need for stronger programmes for management, fast-tracking and leadership.

Investing in our teams is the best investment we can make. A recent ACAS report estimated that the cost of replacing a single employee was over £30,000 and there can be no doubt that retaining or retraining staff is often a much more cost-effective solution than replacing.

At IESE, a highlight for me was witnessing the huge thirst for knowledge and development shared by each individual present at this inaugural programme. We know that the best results for our sector will come from those with vision and clarity of thought, rather than those who simply follow what has gone before. We need a generation of leaders who are ready to break the mould and find new models of success. People who will question everything we know and interrogate the assumptions of the past. These leaders will be eager for innovation and genuinely excited by the chance to shape the future.

In times of certainty and prosperity, a winning mindset may well be enough. But as our sector matures to face volatile and complex challenges, do our teams possess the skills to tackle these problems and transform threat into opportunity?

I know that in aligning our sector towards the goal of More People, More Active, More Often, our people will make the difference. Whether these people are on the frontline helping a nervous client through the door of a centre for the first time; leading a team towards the launch of a game changing product; or grappling with the challenge of driving commercial growth while cutting costs, we all need the right training and knowledge to excel in our job. In just a few days at IESE I was able to acquire a wealth of skills and insight that I simply can’t imagine working without now. With the annual programme set to produce a steady stream of leaders, I cannot wait to see what the future has in store for our sector.