International Human Resource Strategy: Virgin Active
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In today’s world, as globalization and capitalism continue to drive the world economies forward in the pursuit of ever increasing growth and development, the leisure industry stands out as one of the most dynamic industries in recent years. People are trying to be more competitive; more and more time is spent on studying and work in order to secure higher wages and have more comfortable lives. Adults work tirelessly to provide for their families and themselves, and so they try to employ whatever free time they have left after they have finished with all of their chores and responsibilities to simply have fun and relax. This is exactly what the leisure industry offers, and it is exactly the reason why in recent years the industry has grown and developed so significantly. The leisure industry comprehends all businesses that offer goods and services that allow people to put their minds off work and their daily routines so that they can relax, rest, and enjoy.
This has been the tendency in the United Kingdom, not just in the past few years, but actually in the past few decades. Various factors have accounted for the significant growth of the UK’s leisure industry, “including the increased professionalization of governing bodies, the growth of commercial involvement within sport and the increased investment into the public sector”. Apart from such factors, it is important to note that there has also been a major growth in terms of physical and commercial investment of world-class sporting events, the best example being the London 2012 Summer Olympics. Given the growth of the industry, more and more people have obtained jobs within it. In 2009 the industry employed 621,000 people across a wide spectre of businesses, including “health and fitness, professional services and sport development, with an additional two million volunteers that are involved in the industry for at least one hour per week”. If these figures are added to the ones registered by the tourism industry, which in 2008 employed 1.45 million people, it becomes clear that the industry is growing at a sustained and unprecedented rate.
In terms of Human Resources (HR), it becomes clear that the biggest challenge is consolidating a team of committed, specialized, and knowledgeable individuals that remain motivated and provide the quality and comfort that Virgin Active’s members demand. Fortunately, the trend appears to be for teenagers and young adults to take a bigger interest in sports and other leisure activities, naturally including exercise.
The company that will be assessed is British multinational Virgin Active. Virgin Active is a multinational chain of health clubs throughout the United Kingdom. Apart from these health clubs, Virgin Active is also a strong presence in countries that include South Africa, Portugal, Spain, and Italy. At present, the company, which is part of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, has close to one million members, and given the dynamic of the leisure industry, that number is expected to increase sustainably in coming years. Virgin Active was founded just ten years ago, and despite of the ever increasing competition in the leisure industry, this health club chain has managed to remain at the top of the market. This has undoubtedly been due to the company’s continued commitment to excellence and quality. A health club should be a place where people can relax, forget about their problems, and just focus on themselves, on their mental and physical health. This is why every time a person walks into one of Virgin Active’s health clubs he or she will “discover a warm, friendly welcome, cutting-edge equipment, amazing classes, spacious studios, beautiful pools, relaxing spas, safe crèches and excellent customer service”.
Furthermore, the company has gained a reputation as an establishment that welcomes any person, no matter what age they are or how fit/unfit they may be. Everybody is welcome at Virgin Active because it is a place that offers healthy and enjoyable leisure whenever it may be wanted. This being said and considering that the leisure industry has grown and developed significantly in recent years (and in the particular case of the UK, for the past few decades), it is safe to say that Virgin Active stands to continue enjoying sustained growth as the demand for leisure continues to increase in the United Kingdom, throughout Europe and overseas.
Virgin Active has achieved sustained success throughout its short history largely thanks to the commitment and effort of its employees. It is no secret that a business’s employees are its most prized asset, and because of this Virgin Active is very careful when recruiting and selecting the people that will go on to become the face of the company in the eyes of its members. Therefore, the company strives to incorporate individuals that fully convey the image it is trying to sell. Specifically, the company welcomes people who are vigorous, fun, innovative, and above all, customer service inclined. The people who work for Virgin Active are people who love engaging other people, working out with them, and helping them have a good time while at the health club. Of course, anyone interested in applying for one of the many openings available in the company can apply online and send their resumes; the Human Resources department screens and selects those who fit the aforementioned profile (and also have sufficient experience in whatever area they are applying for).
It is important to point out that Virgin Active is not only looking for customer service oriented, fun people, but also for experienced individuals who can offer an excellent service. Therefore, once the resumes have been screened and candidates have been pre-selected, an interview process follows. During the interview the applicants are asked about their previous experience, about their character, and also about how they feel about interacting with other people and leisure exercise activities in general. Here again, the idea is for the recruiter to make a thorough assessment of all the qualities that each candidate has to offer the company (and whether or not they would fit in well).
Working with us is all about fun, innovation and excellent customer service applied to a revolutionary health and fitness concept. Our staff are expected to "get their hands dirty and not expect other people to do what they don't do themselves", we are flexible about working patterns, but no one should come to Virgin Active expecting an easy ride - we work hard and play hard.
In order to get a more complete understanding of how the overall recruitment and selection process at Virgin Active works, Rodger’s seven point plan will be presented as it was applied to the company itself. Physical: Anyone that aspires to join the Virgin Active team must be fit and healthy. It is not a prerequisite that an applicant be a young adult or have a given appearance, but the body, attitude, and overall image of the applicant must exemplify what Virgin Active is: health and leisure. Finally, applicants must be very people oriented and with a great disposition towards service.
Attainments: extensive experience is not mandatory for being considered for a position, but it is always a plus. However, it is important that all applicants have at least some basic level experience and educational background in the area that they are interested in working in. Given that Virgin Active is a health club, any applicant with experience and background in physical education and health care will be deemed valuable. It is equally important that applicants have excellent people skills; people oriented individuals (specifically those who are customer service oriented) will have preference over others.
General intelligence: As it was previously said, applicants with experience in health care and physical education, as well as customer service as good people skills are valued above all others. However, it would be a mistake for anyone to believe that exceptional intellectual capacity is demanded. As long as a person has experience, an enticing attitude towards fitness and leisure, and good people skills, he or she will have a good chance of becoming part of the Virgin Active team.
Special aptitudes: no special skill or ability is required from applicants. As long as they are able to understand how the equipment that the health club possesses and is able to quickly learn how to use it (and instruct others in using it) he or she should have no problem in being considered for a job. Furthermore, Virgin Active is always capacitating its employees so that they are always up to speed in whatever equipment is being used in the health club (be it exercise equipment, computer software, etc.).
Interests: Virgin Active is interested in individuals who are interested in being fit, in embracing a culture that revolves around health care and physical exercise and sports. At Virgin Active it is believed that sports and exercise do not only enhance people’s health, but also their lives in general, as they contribute to making them happier. Therefore, people working for the company must share this view and they must also engage the clubs’ members so that they too share in this view and can therefore make the most out of their leisure time.
Disposition: As it was already mentioned, anyone working for Virgin Active must be enthusiastic about healthcare and about physical exercise. Furthermore, they must be willing and able to go out of their ways to offer the best service to the health clubs’ members at all time. As well, each employee must realize that he or she is part of something bigger, of a family of people that strive to make the lives of hundreds of thousands of people better through exercise and healthcare. The company seeks individuals who understand this commitment and welcome the challenge.
At Virgin Active it is believed that employees need to be trained. Not only is decision founded on the belief that the company needs to constantly innovate and consolidate a team of the most specialized and qualified healthcare and exercise experts, but also by the belief that furthering an employee’s possibilities (in terms of a better job and increased salaries and benefits) will ultimately render theme more productive and more committed to the company. As competition is always increasing and as globalization continues to move forward, Virgin Active realizes that it must find new ways of distancing itself from other competitors in order to remain at the top of the market. Here again training is fundamental, since it guarantees that the company will always have the most qualified and experienced professionals giving instruction to the health clubs’ members.
“We offer a comprehensive in-house training programme for our employees allowing them to continue their own professional development. We have a strong philosophy on organic growth and many of our Fitness Consultants and Personal Trainers have gone on to be Managers within the Company”.
Naturally, in order to achieve this, the company needs to invest in Human Resource Development (HRD) and Human Resource Management (HRM). In analysing how it is that the Human Resources department works in terms of managing and developing its most prized asset (the company’s employees), the training and development cycle that Beardwell and Claydon discuss will be used.
- Identify training and development needs (Current and future)
- Identify training and development methods to meet needs
- Evaluate success of training and development activities
- Monitor performance
Virgin Active is interested in consolidating a strong team of qualified, committed, seasoned, and charismatic individuals that offers the best possible service to all of its health clubs’ members. Naturally, as the company continues to grow and develop, it will need more people to join the company and contribute in its continued success. The Human Resources department will identify in what areas the company needs new people to join the workforce, and those job openings will be made public so that anyone interested in applying for a job can do so. As well, as the company continues to develop it will modernize; more services, new equipment, and additional facilities will appear in time. This will require a continued effort to keep all personnel trained in the latest equipment so that the quality of service is not compromised. Of course, it will be necessary to correctly identify what the company needs so that the right method and the correct training are selected. Finally, it is quintessential to evaluate if the training methods were successful, and subsequently monitor the performance of the trained employees in order to determine if any shortcomings that called for training were resolved (or if on the other hand additional training is required).
Finally, and owing to the interest that the company has to potentiate its employees and make them happier while at the same time more productive, the company created what it calls its “5-step training & development programme”. Basically, this is a program that intends to guide any employee in any dependency up through the ranks until they can one day hold a managerial position within the company.
Virgin Active is interested in keeping its employees comfortable, committed, and enticed to give their absolute utmost in their work. In doing this, the company believes in giving various incentives to all of its employees. In analysing the system of rewards that management grants its employees it is important to fall back on the Total Reward Model, since the benefits that the company provides are individual/communal and tangible/intangible. For example, monetary rewards include pension plan contributions (after twelve months of employment) and childcare exemptions. Non-monetary rewards include a bonus day off for the employee to be able to celebrate his or her birthday with his or her family and friends, and free membership for the employee and a friend (meaning they can both spend their leisure time exercising at the Virgin Active health club free of charge).
As well, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that the company strives to create a culture of community. The company’s employees must see themselves as part of a whole, as members of one great family, and this is why much efforts are put by management in allowing employees to take a load off work and just indulge in leisure. Such is the intent of the birthday bonus (the day off), the free membership plan for the employee and a friend, and an additional day off bonus for employees to spend that day devoted to charity work. It is important for Virgin United to create awareness in the hearts and minds of its employees; the company wishes to contribute in making society a better place, not just for members, but also for employees and the community as a whole.
Last but certainly not least, it is important to recall that the company has its “5-step training & development programme”, which helps employees move up through the ranks and reach managerial positions. In other words, the company offers employees the opportunity to work on their leadership and managerial skills so that they can be better professionals and overall human beings too.
At Virgin Active all employees are perceived as parts of a whole; all employees are part of a team that works together to take the company forward. Therefore, if any employee lags in his or her work the entire team suffers. In order to avoid this from happening, each company division’s manager is accountable for monitoring and managing the performance of each team member (and of the entire team) to make sure that all objectives are met in full. In monitoring and managing performance there is a method that managers at Virgin Active might consider using. It is the Performance Appraisal 360 degrees method, and it entails giving each employee anonymous feedback from those that work around him. This is a method that in principle could help each employee not only identify his or her strengths and weaknesses, but also understand how it is that his or her co-workers perceive him (which would ultimately help the management ease out any tensions and maintain the utmost harmony in the work environment).
At present the company is not applying the Performance Appraisal 360 degree method, but it appears that the way in which management handles things (conducting personalized monitoring of each person’s performance and of the team’s performance as whole and preparing reports to be discussed individually and collectively) is working. The company is a leader in its market niche, and ever since its foundation back in 1999, it has managed to grow sustainably, registering increased profits from year to year.
It seems clear that the policies applied by Virgin Active management in matters involving employee mobility speak of increased employee participation. Given that there are low level employees, mid-level employees, and high level employees, there are also low level consultations, mid-level consultations, and high level consultations. All employees are important at Virgin Active, and because of this they all have a strong voice, one which they can use to speak their mind whenever they see fit. The company wishes to make employees feel that they are valuable and that they can mature through their years of continued employment, thus acquiring more qualifications and a better salary with increased employee benefits. Once again, it is important to mention the “5-step training & development programme” that Virgin Active has put in place for its employees. This training and development program clearly indicates that through continued employment, the company wishes to grant the best employees (those with the most ambition and potential) the opportunity to become more involved and one day even hold senior management positions. This entire process begins through a gradual training in management competencies and by giving those chosen more freedom and more managerial responsibilities inside of the company. Evidently, this has helped the company greatly move forward and continued to grow and develop since its foundation in 1999.
It is also important to note that at Virgin Active there is a clear commitment to keeping employees happy, to keep them motivated so that they always give their utmost while at work. The philosophy clearly establishes that managers believe that happier workers work harder (much the same philosophy that entrepreneurs such as Henry Ford implemented during their time), and so the company has no trade union (nor have employees found themselves in the need of getting together and forming one). Frankly, it is better that the company stays without a trade union, because even though trade unions look after the best interest of employees, they can also lead to inefficiency and increased labour costs for companies (especially in cases in which the union grows and becomes more bureaucratic). Virgin Active is clearly set on creating the best professional and personal environment for its employees (as well as its members), and so the recommendation is that the company stay the course and continue enticing employees by granting them incentives and offering them training and development opportunities that could lead to employment mobility towards the future.
Ever since its foundation in 1999, Virgin Active has managed to sustainably grow, thus consolidating itself as a key player in the leisure industry. Today, the company owns health clubs in the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Portugal, and South Africa, and as the leisure industry continues to move forward so does Virgin Active. Naturally, the company has pursued a unique model in terms of recruiting, training, and developing personnel in its health clubs. Always the same profile is sought, namely individuals who are fit, fun, innovative, who are knowledgeable in the areas of health care and physical exercise, and who are customer service oriented. In other words, the company looks for people that can deliver in terms of quality and service.
As well, it was possible to see that the company has succeeded in consolidating a qualified, experienced, and efficient work force by indulging in both monetary and non-monetary incentives. Clearly, the logic behind such a policy is that a happy worker works harder and better. It definitely seems that this has proven to be the case for Virgin Active, especially considering that the company has managed to register growth year after year (even without having a trade union looking out for the interests of employees). Human Resource Development and Human Resource Management has proven effective insomuch it has allowed not only for efficiency and quality of service to run high, but also to potentiate employees, increasing mobility within the organization and enhancing its integral growth. Today, any company employee has the potential to one day become a senior manager; this has contributed to making the company more efficient and profitable with the passing of time. Based on the results that the company’s HR policies have yielded so far, the only possible recommendation is for the company to stay the course. The industry grows in a healthy way, even though the overall economic climate is not the best, especially considering that the aftershocks of the latest world recession are still felt, especially in continental Europe. As long as the company can capitalize on the market’s potential (by keeping employees enticed and the health clubs’ members content), there is no foreseeable threat in the near future for Virgin Active.