Johnny Groff | Crain's Raleigh Durham

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Johnny Groff


Johnny Groff is the general manager at Life Time Athletic Charlotte, which is set to open in late 2017 and to join the 127 centers in the United States and Canada operated by Life Time, a privately held lifestyle company focused on long-term health and wellness.

The mistake:

I hired too quickly without a proven process. When I joined Life Time Athletic in October 2013, I had been in the upscale gym industry 10 years. I had a lot of previous management experience but not at this organization. My mistake was hiring too fast out of desperation to fill a role without a thoughtful and thorough interviewing and hiring process.

In our industry, we create annual budgets in October, and January is our busiest time. [When I joined,] I was doing training and had other things going on. I was a month or two into the job [when] I realized we weren’t going to meet or exceed budget in January if we were understaffed. I needed two more people, and I didn’t prioritize spending time with potential [job] candidates and recruiting the types of people we needed to fill these positions.

I was already late [to] the game and feeling pressure to get warm bodies in there. I had two interviews with two candidates who [I told myself] were fine. But I was kidding myself; they weren’t fine. They didn’t have the technical expertise, nor were they a great culture fit. I didn’t fully understand what Life Time was looking for, and I didn’t understand the hiring process or why certain questions were so important.

I rushed a few employees on board, and I knew it was a mistake as soon as they started working. Both left within a month, and I was back at square one.

Many costs associated with a bad hire can be avoided by spending time up front recruiting the right people.


The lesson:

Many costs associated with a bad hire can be avoided by spending time up front recruiting the right people.

A bad hire can be costly — and not just in terms of training and salaries. There are a lot of soft costs, too, including team morale issues. [A bad hire] can hurt your clientele. You can tarnish your brand [by earning an] external reputation for being a revolving door for employees and not a great place to grow and progress. Lou Holtz has a great quote: “I’ve had good players, and I’ve had players, and I’m a better coach with good players.”

In the short term, when both of those team members left [after] just one month, I realized I needed to do more work myself.

Longer term, I realized that hiring is not a quick fix. Very rarely does the perfect candidate come knocking at your door. I spent some time studying and learning the process. We had 118 clubs [then]. I asked [a question] around the company: Who was the best at hiring? I reached out to those people and asked them to take me through the process.

I read the book “The Talent Edge,” about how behavioral interviewing can gauge someone’s experience. I visited competitors and looked for talent there.

This was a much longer, more proactive process; I was investing 10 to 15 hours a week trying to find the right people. It took about three months to recruit really hard, network really well and go through a really thorough interviewing process.

In the end, I hired four strong candidates, three of whom are still great managers for us. If I hadn’t made those changes, I wouldn’t have been successful.

Follow Johnny on Twitter: @JohnnyGroff.

Photo of Johnny Groff courtesy of Life Time Athletic Charlotte


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