Rethink Culture

"I always think of culture like a garden. […] We're always in the middle of the journey. There's no real finish line to culture. It's always like that garden. You're always replanting it. You're always finding new crops. You're finding a new kind of seed to plant. And sometimes it doesn't work out and it's a failure. That's OK, too. There's learning in that as well."

S02E01 of the Rethink Culture podcast shines the spotlight on Erik Lilla, the Founder and CEO of Metro Star Gymnastics, a large gymnastics company that celebrated its sweet 16th anniversary in January 2023 and teaches over 3,000 people per week. Erik’s “why” statement is “to coach and inspire others so we can celebrate their success,” and he has built such a strong culture that members of his staff are getting Metro Star Gymnastics logo tattoos.

Listen to this episode to find out:
·       How consolidating, launching, highlighting core values, and using customer-focused welcome boxes helped Metro Star Gymnastics attract a good culture fit in team members as well as customers. 
·       How EO's Entrepreneurial Master's Program shifted Erik's mindset from contrarian counterculture to culture enthusiast.
·       How Erik applies the “learn and grow” value to his company by providing monthly hands-on training and an annual learning-day Summit to his staff. 
·       What the High Five board is, how it represents the Metro Star Gymnastics core values and how it is used in a card-giving program to show staff appreciation.
·       What makes Erik’s staff members want to get a tattoo of the Metro Star Gymnastics logo.
·       How Erik practices the “confidence with humility” core value by taking a facility-by-facility monthly net promoter score.
·       Why culture, your “why” statement, and your authentic self must be central to everything you do. 
·       How Erik's team makes decisions collectively and each member is responsible for culture.

Further resources:
 The Song of Significance: A New Manifesto for Teams, by Seth Godin 

Creators & Guests

Erik Lilla
Erik began his gymnastics career shortly after completing a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Nebraska. Invited by Elizabeth to do running drills with some compulsory gymnasts, he quickly fell in love with the sport of gymnastics. Shortly after that, Erik served as the Nebraska State TOPs Manager and had the opportunity to take his athletes to the national TOPs test at the Olympic Training Center in Houston, TX. Armed with a passion for sharing the sport of gymnastics with as many children as possible, Erik founded Metro Stars Gymnastics in late January 2006 with five students. In 2015 Erik was selected by the Midlands Business Journal as one of their 40 Under 40 entrepreneurs, executives, and professionals for his role in the growth and development of Metro Stars Gymnastics. Erik holds the prestigious Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (C.S.C.S.) credential offered by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (N.S.C.A.). In his free time, Erik enjoys spending time with his wife and four children, Katie, Juliette, Samantha, and Charlie.

What is Rethink Culture?

Rethink Culture is the podcast that shines the spotlight on the leaders who are rethinking workplace culture. Virtually all of the business leaders who make headlines today do so because of their company performance. Yet, the people and the culture of a company is at least as important as its performance. It's time that we shine the spotlight on the leaders who are rethinking workplace culture and are putting people and culture at the forefront.

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening.

Welcome to Rethink Culture, the podcast that shines the spotlight on business leaders

who are rethinking workplace culture and putting people first.

My name is Andreas Konstantinou and I'm your host
and I'm also Chairman and Founder at SlashData.

I'm an accidental micromanager who turned servant leader over the years.

And developed a personal passion for workplace culture.

If you have any thoughts that you'd like to share about the podcast,

please let me know by emailing

Today, I have the pleasure of hosting Erik Lilla.

He's the founder and CEO of Metro Stars Gymnastics.

They celebrated their sweet 16th anniversary in January.

He's going to tell us more about that.

He is not a gymnast.

However, he runs a large gymnastics company where they teach over 3000 people every week.

And he tells me he has a few hobbies that he likes to change from time to time.

His current hobby is climbing to the highest point of all 50 states in the US.

What an amazing feat that will be.

And his passion is also to coach and inspire others so that we can all together celebrate their success.

What a humble and pivotal passion that is.

Erik, very much welcome to the Rethink Culture podcast.

Hey, thank you for having me today.

So tell us a bit more.

I mean, there's so many questions I want to start with.

Tell us a bit more what drew you to start a gymnastics company given you're not a gymnast.

Okay, so what's funny is actually my business partner who is also my wife

was my girlfriend at the time and she tricked me basically is what happened.

One day she came to me with a VHS cassette tape

and she said, will you please take a look at this for me because I just need your help.

And of course I said yes.

So she popped this VHS cassette tape into the VCR and she hit play.

And what I saw was is a bunch of little people running towards a vault table trying to do a gymnastics vault.

And she said, if you watch this, Erik, they're just they're not doing very well and I'm not exactly sure what's going on.

And I said immediately, I can tell you what they need to do.

And she said, what? Please.

And I'm like, they need to do some running drills.

I go, they are not very fast and they just don't have enough energy.

And she said, OK.

And so I had actually been a pole vaulter in high school.

And so a lot of the mechanics were similar, right?

You're running as fast as you can towards an immovable object.

And then you've got to figure out your steps and there's just a whole bunch of things you have to do.

So she invited me into the gym to come and do running drills with these students.

And so I went and I did that.

And I'll be honest with you.

It was a little awkward.

It was a bunch of little girls.

They were between probably eight and 13 years old.

I'd never worked with any children before.

And so I finished and I was like, okay, I, I endured that, lovely.

And as I'm making my way out

the head coach said, Erik, that was incredible.

Will you please come back again and do that with us on Monday?

And at the time, if I had said no, I would have been lying.

I didn't have anything else going on.

So I ended up coming back on Monday and working with the kids again.

And this went on for a few weeks.

Well, after a few weeks time, I showed up and they didn't need to do vault that day.

They were supposed to tumble.

And so she said, OK, take him to tumbling.

And I'm like, OK, why don't I know nothing about that?

She said, no problems.

If it looks bad, tell me and I'll tell you what's wrong with it and then we'll go from there.

So, OK.

So the first student does a skill and like bounces off of her head kind of.

And I'm like, that's obviously not right.

Like, hey, a little help there.

What's going on with this?

And she said, well, she needs to keep her arms straight. And I said, okay.

So, I said, please keep your arms straight.

And, and at that moment I really became an apprentice, you know, like, like a plumber or an electrician.

And I just started asking questions and I started getting really curious.

And before long I had fallen in love with, with working with these kids.

I just had such a great time building relationships with them, getting to know their parents.

And it was very clear to me that this is what I wanted to do.

In the meantime, I was also applying to go to graduate school.

So I have a mechanical engineering degree.

And I was looking at getting a master's degree in engineering.

And I received my acceptance letter from the University of Michigan and it said, um, Hey, welcome to the program.

I soon after got a second letter that said this is going to cost $80,000.

And as I was reading this, I remember very vividly, I'm sitting in my mother's basement.

I'm looking at this letter.

I'm like, I'm, I'm feeling something and I'm like,
I don't want to, I just don't want to do this.

I think if I do this, I'm going to be miserable.

And so I called Liz and I said, Liz, I'm not going to
go to school anymore.

And she's real quiet.

And she says, well, what, what do you think you're
going to do instead?

And I said, I just want to coach gymnastics.

And then she got real quiet and we waited a while and
she said to me, um, okay, well, I kind of just want to
coach gymnastics too.

And then she got real quiet and we waited a while and
she said to me, um, okay, well, I kind of just want to
coach gymnastics too.

And that sort of launched this, this whole path of,
of coaching gymnastics together.

And at the time there weren't any full-time jobs
for a guy with six months experience coaching gymnastics.

Like that wasn't a thing.

And I think as entrepreneurs, we know if there's
not an opportunity, we have to make one.

And so that's, yeah, we had to go out and create this

So for ourselves at the time, and since I think you
mentioned my why statement, which is to coach and
inspire others so we can celebrate their success.

At some point, this pivoted to where we realized
that we could provide this opportunity for others
to have a career in this field.

And that really just, it just blew our minds that
this was even possible.

And so really what drives us today is how can we do
more of that?

How can we create opportunities?

for members of our team to do this thing that they love and are passionate about? How can we create

opportunities in our community for kids to have a chance to do this sport that we all love and has

given us so much? Um, and, and that's,

that's the driving force today.

Culture is important to you and we discussed about

Before hitting the record button.

And I want to start with what's behind your back.

So for those listening on audio, it's like a star.

Can you tell us more about it?


So what's over my shoulder is what's called our
high five board.

And so what we've done is one of the really the core
driver for us.

I mean, they're called core values for a reason.

And we have put them at front and center.

In everything that we do.

So there, we, we are not shy about it.

We broadcast it everywhere.

So this is one spot.

So on this high five board, we have a, um, it's a
star, which is, which is also incorporated into
our logo and it's a five point star.

And each point of that has one of our core values.

So, um, we've got contagious enthusiasm, learn
and grow, trust and respect, confidence with
humility and...

and own it.

And so what we do is we have actually a program at the
gyms and all of our staff are constantly looking
for other staff members that are exuding our core

And for those of you that are looking at this we've
got these little cards and so the cards are shaped
in the shape of a hand and it's called a high five.

And what we do is we'll, one coach or one team member
will notice someone doing something where
they're exemplifying our core values.

They'll put their name on it.

They'll write their compliment on there.

And then each month we pin these up onto our

onto our high five board. And then we kind of count them up and we're able to track,

you know, how many learning grows do we see this month? How many opportunities for contagious

enthusiasm? How many people owned it? And it's just a great way for us to constantly be looking

around and finding those core values and our team members living those on a day-to-day basis.

It reminds me of another culture technique or hack that Arnie Malham used,

which is these thank you cards, which he has staff write one thank you card to another card. And

in his book, he shows a desk of one of his six-month-in employees that's covered with

thank you cards from other employees as a way of really not just rewarding and recognizing

people, but creating purpose. Like we all like to help each other. And if you can make that

immediate and visual and recognize the effort, it just hits so many spots.

Yeah. And I think what's important for us is always we want to make sure that we're building

connection all the time, because at the end of the day, life is short, right? And life is too

short to be miserable. But we are going to spend a lot of our time in the workplace. So how can we

make the workplace a joyful place for us? And part of that is having really great relationships

with our co-workers and working with people who believe what we believe. And so by really

shining a spotlight on these core values, what it does is the people who really, really buy into

our mission vision values, they're all in and we have a lot of fun together. And for the people

that aren't, they tend to self-select out, which is which is OK, because while while in many

cases, in all cases, they're wonderful people, but they may have more success and they may thrive

in a different environment. And so let's let's get the folks that really rally behind what we're

doing here. Let's get them together. And for the people that are not, let's help them find

the thing that really gets them excited as well.

How did you land with this passion for culture

and values? Was it always on the back of your mind? I want to build a culture of significance

or was it like, you woke up one night and said culture is important?

I think it was it was a culture of

necessity. So I think I so I previously I was employed places where I was a terrible culture

fit. I didn't know that at the time. I mean, I could probably feel that like something was off

or I was always like a like the counterculture person. And I just contrary all the time. Right.

Just not very not buying into the mission and vision values. And so I kind of had that in the back of my

mind of places I didn't fit. What really, really hit at home for me was so I was a student at the

EO's Entrepreneurial Master's Program, which is touted as the most transformational program

in the EO ecosystem. And I wholeheartedly believe that. And as part of that, we began with we had

Vern Harnish came and gave us an opening. And and he said something along the lines of like,

you own the culture at your company. If it's bad,

it's your fault. And I was like, oh, and it was such a kick in the gut at that moment, because

I knew when he's saying that, I'm like, you know what? It's not what it should be. It's not as good

as it could be. We have folks that maybe aren't good fits. And that is my fault. And so now I'm

feeling bad. And I'm like, OK, well, that stinks. Well, then the next speaker was a Simon Sinek

facilitator who started talking about your why. And I was like, this is really interesting to me.

I love this content. And so out of that work came the why,

for myself and the company, which is to coach and inspire others so we can celebrate their success.

So I'm like, OK, well, that is a good kernel. Well, then Artie came on and started talking

about culture with all of these little tips and tricks. And all of a sudden I realized,

like the culmination of those three speakers made me go home and say, I have some work to do and I'm

really excited about this. So at that time, we we as I came back to my leadership team and they all,

of course, thought I was nuts. Right.

Because I went away to this training. I'm gone for a week or two and I come back and I I have so

much energy and enthusiasm around this that they're like, OK, I think we're going to have to at

least entertain him a little bit. But very quickly, they also saw the value of where I was going with

this. And so at that time, we consolidated our core values. We wrote descriptions of them.

we actually did a whole launch. This was in 2018. I did a whole company meeting where we

launched the core values officially. We launched all the descriptions and you could feel things

start to shift already. We started making them very customer focused. So we give out these

welcome boxes when we start. And so we started putting in this rack card inside that talked

about our core values and shared them with our customers. And we just started integrating them

into everything that we did. And what that did is one, for some people, they're like, oh, I knew

this. I knew this was my place. For some people that weren't weren't necessarily bought into what

we were doing, they started to feel really uncomfortable. And it wasn't it wasn't on

purpose. It was it was with a purpose, actually. But those folks, they weren't good fits and they

didn't necessarily believe what we believe philosophically as we were

as as teachers, as gymnastics coaches, as business owners. And so it took a probably

12 to 24 months from that launch to where some of those folks self-selected out and decided to

make a switch. But it also started attracting all of the right people to us and more importantly,

the right customer, because now the customers know exactly where we stand, what we're trying

to do. And the people that wanted that sort of the the positive,

um, learning environment for their children. Um, that's what we started getting those. And some

people, they want their kids to be coached really hard. They want like really tough, um, coaching on

their kids and they want like, um, and they want that for their children and that that's not who we

are. And so they said, OK, well, this isn't for me. We're going to go somewhere else. And what it did

is it also made it really easy to make recommendations because we also know the cultures of, um, of our

neighbors. And so we were able to say, hey, listen, I think maybe this would be a better fit for you.

And what's nice is everybody sort of parts ways as friends, um, by really having the focus on the

culture that we that we have.

Yeah, it's not a criticism. It's it's either a fit or it isn't, right?

Correct. Exactly. Yes.

And so, Eric, before we dive deeper into your culture, I know you have

lots of stories to tell. Let's play this game of two truths and one lie. So what are two truths

and one lie for you in no particular order? In no particular order. Excellent. All right. So, um,

we'll start with the first one is, um, I once won an engineering contest by building an incredible

balsa wood structure. Okay. And that's the first one. All right. The next one is, um, I got a

pilot's license to fly airplanes in only three months time. Okay. Okay. And then the third is,

is, um, I once won an all expenses paid trip from a cup at the McDonald's.

They all seem equally unlikely. So.

Let you chew on that for a while.

Let’s chew on that and we’ll get to it at the end of the episode.

So back onto values and culture and, um, Steven, who introduced us,

our common friend, he told me about,

one or two people from your staff that have tatooed your company on their body.

That is correct. So how long, I don't remember when it was I wanted, there's a company here in,

um, in the US it's called Anytime Fitness. And I was, I saw this either online or one of their

posters or something that they had like a tattoo program. Okay. And I thought who would get an

Anytime Fitness tattoo? That seems very unlikely.

However, I was also intrigued because I know that, you know,

the brand that we're building is it's a feeling right of what we're providing for folks.

And also we're a place in some people's journey and sometimes a big place of where this may be their first job.

It may be it may be an important milestone for them.

They may get some leadership training that propels them forward.

We've got kids that have started gymnastics with us at five years old,

and then they start working for us when they're 16 and we're their first job.

So I realized, like, this brand actually has different meaning to different people.

And I thought, how cool would it be if somebody wanted to get the logo as a tattoo to sort of mark that journey?

And so I launched a program. I said, you know what, if someone wants to do that, I think that's so cool.

I will gladly write the check to do that. I will go with you as well, because I think it's so cool.

And of course, they'll be I'll buy lunch, too, of course.

So so up to now, we have had we've had two of our team members that have gone and got the got the tattoo.

And what was really cool was it's not small either. One of our team members, it was her whole foot.

She actually got the whole top of her foot tattooed with the Metro Stars logo.

And then we've got another team member that it's on his it's on his calf on his leg.

And it's it's it's large. I mean, it's a it's a large tattoo on his leg.

We actually just got done with an event over the weekend.

And I've got four other four other people that have told me, like,

probably this maybe before the end of the year or next year, they're ready to take me up on it.

So we may up the tattoo count. We could go from four to six here in the next, you know, 12 months.

Maybe there's a Guinness record of, you know, tattooing your company name on.


I think. Yeah, it's just what a testament to, you know, the impact that we're able to have on our team members.

And I just I think I think it's so cool.

So you told me earlier about your learn and grow value, which is right behind you on the video.

And there's a few things you do about it.

But I like that you really live that value. So tell us more.

I think you are running an annual summit.

We do. So so the the learn and grow has always been a really important thing for me personally.

And I think I think that stems from just a natural curiosity about the world.

I also think that in business, you know, we always say if we're doing the same thing we were doing a year or two ago,

we're probably doing something wrong.

And and the way forward through that is to

is to learn and grow as a team.

So we run an annual it's called Summit.

And what we do is we actually close the facilities for an entire an entire work day.

We bring in our entire staff and we just plan a whole learning day together.

So that day starts off with, you know, we have a registration.

We do some cool swag for everybody.

And then we come together and we do some connection games.

So we'll do some things where we get to know each other.

One of the challenges that we have is that our our team is spread across three different facilities.

So it's important for us, again, to to make that connection

and to get people to learn from each other and to get to know people across facilities.

So we start with some connection things.

I love to do a year in review.

And so I'll do a kind of a kickoff.

And one of the things I talk about every year is

just to give everybody kind of our story a little bit a different

spin on what I told you at the beginning of the podcast today.

I've just. How did we get from where we are or where we started to where we are?

Because this company started with five students in a little itty bitty space.

And how do we get from that place to where we are today?

And what did that journey look like?

Just so that they can understand what they're part of a much bigger thing than they may realize.

So that's always a wonderful time for us.

We bring in an outside speaker so that they can learn some things.

So we had a speaker.

Her name was Lisa Evans, who came and visited with us.

And Lisa talked about our ripple effect,

which is very important as coaches that to understand the impact that we're having on

other students and parents and in our community.

And then we give our our team an opportunity to be the experts.

And so we do a whole afternoon of of learning events.

And so we'll have four learning events going on at a time.

They could be things of maybe dealing with behavioral issues in class.

We may have event specific things like coaching bars.

We may have some customer service tips and tricks.

And so we'll actually have four sessions going on at a time and then the groups will split up.

And so we'll do a bunch of sessions in the afternoon.

And then we bring it all together in the in the at the end of the day just to send people off.

And so this year we had a really cool video where we actually collected a bunch of interviews with students

talking about their favorite part of the gym.

And and what was really cool was, is that the message was

the coaches, they just talked to so much about how much the coaches made an impact on them.

And and again, it's just a great opportunity.

So that's something we do annually with our team.

In addition to that, we also offer hands on training that is done every other month.

And so we'll have an internal expert.

We'll run a hands on training.

And again, maybe it's on balance beam

and they may run a 90 minute session on coaching opportunities for people on balance beam.

And and what's cool is, is then at the as we review folks and we do one on ones and things.

We're actually looking for examples of this learn and grow core value

and as part of our compensation rubric, that's a that's a piece that goes into it.

So if you are actually actively participating in learn and grow throughout the year,

you're going to actually be compensated for that more highly

than someone who hasn't done any of those things, because

it's that's how important it is to us and our and our team.

You have even more, let's say, culture initiatives that you haven't talked about yet.

But how do you coordinate and run all these?

Do you have like a people and culture person?

Do you do them yourself?

Do you delegate them to members of the team like Arnie Malham does?

How do you like ideate and execute on all of those initiatives?

So we have yeah, we have a bunch of it's interesting.

So we don't have a one.

It's no one person does one thing.

So as an example, so our summit, we actually have a summit committee that's put together.

And the summit committee.

Actually ran the whole thing.

My partner, who's also my happens to be my wife as well.

So Liz actually sort of chairs the committee.

But she'll tell you this year, the committee really did did almost all of the work.

So they they set up, you know, there's a lot of logistics that goes into planning an event for 100 people from

gathering lunches to setting the schedule, to putting the speakers together, to making sure the A.V. is all set up.

And that team again. Shout out to them.

They did an amazing job this year putting that all together and it ran very smoothly.

We have some other pieces like our book club and so our book club actually.

So the managers will review the book.

So we have a facility manager in each facility.

They'll actually go over and do we have a review sheet that the team member fills out.

They'll go over with the review sheet with the team member

or they'll actually do it at the we actually have an all facility meeting at each each week.

So they may go over it there, and then that gets submitted to payroll department.

We've got our anniversary program.

So actually, Liz, Liz actually is in charge of the anniversary program, but then again, pulls in other people.

And I’m trying to think what other pieces we have. The hands on training.

Actually, we've got we have we actually have trainers that at each of our facility.

And so the trainers are actually actually run the hands-on training portion of our program.

And so they'll alternate which facility it's run at.

They coordinate who the speaker is going to be.

So I think it's one of those everyone's responsible for culture and they all take it very seriously because they understood,

they've seen what happens when it's not good or when we have someone that

that just, you know, it isn't a good fit and it just makes life hard for everybody.

And I also am always a big preacher of like, don't

don't keep around someone that isn't a good culture fit

because you end up losing people who are good culture fits because of it.


What you what you permit, you promote.

And so if we permit bad culture fits to stay here, we promote bad culture.

And so and I think everybody really subscribes to that and can

feel when that's not the case and is willing to make a move when we need to.

And when did you start taking culture seriously?

Like how many years ago?

It was it was 2018.

I was actually just going through my present.

And so 2018 is the year where we basically we launched Core values.

We started discussing what they looked what they looked like and how people would live them.

And then and then it's just after that, it's a continuous improvement.

You know, we're always looking like, what can we do better?

So so this board that that we have that that we have behind me

actually started out as thumbtacks and yarn at one of the facilities.

So they actually stuck thumbtacks in the wall in the shape of a star.

They wrap yarn around it.

And then they were using just post-it notes.

And again, that was just an experiment that one of our team members started doing and it just took off.

And so then we started putting some resources behind it.

And and so we're all about continuous improvement.

And again, I think that's that learn and grow core value of like, what can we be doing better tomorrow that we're not doing today?

And those ideas can come from anywhere.

And we really try to, one of our core values is confidence with humility.

And so I think part of that is like great ideas can come from anywhere.

And we have the humility to accept that and try to build up that confidence in others so that they're willing to bring those ideas to us.

Do you have any way of bubbling up those ideas from anyone in the organization.

We do, so actually in our, we actually do a monthly net promoter score with our team.

And so essentially, very simple survey, we do it monthly, and it says, how likely are you to recommend Metro Stars Gymnastics as a workplace, you know?

And if it's a 10, tell us why.

And that's great fishing for compliments.

But we also then have a follow up question.

Is there anything that we could be doing better?

And then if it's a seven or eight, we start asking questions around like, hey, what do you see that we could be doing better?

Our leadership team reviews that on a monthly basis and we go and we look at, you know, what kind of feedback and opportunities there are.

And and in some cases, you know, I'm sure anybody out there

who has done a net promoter score before and look for that feedback.

Sometimes this stuff is not possible, right?

Like people, they want, you know, we I don't know, let's I'm trying to think of something nutty like we'd like live entertainment every day.

And you're like, OK, that's something.

Could we do that? I suppose we could.

I don't think we're going to be incorporating that into our culture, but, you know, that thank you for the idea.

And sometimes it's real simple.

Like, I think at one point people, they wanted some.

They wanted some snacks and water because they're coaches, so they're very active and doing stuff.

And we're like, we can fix that immediately.

So the next day we went and bought cases and cases of water, got them in a refrigerator and had them available for coaches in between.

So what we also do is we address those things in written form.

And we also have, we actually have an all staff meeting at each facility.

And so the managers will actually talk through, hey, listen, this is what we heard this month.

Here's how we're addressing it, where this is something that, you know, we're not able to.

We can't do this or we're not able to do this at this time.

So we're very forthright with all of that as well.

And we do a net promoter score.

We do that survey on a facility by facility basis, too.

So we end up with three, one for each facility.

That way we get specific feedback from each one.

And that's employees, not customers, right?

That's employees. Correct. Yes.

That's all internal. We actually we don't do it with customers.

We just it's just with employees.

And if you started five years ago working on culture, where are you on this journey?

Are you like starting?

Are you halfway? Are you almost there?

Where do you see yourself?

I, I always think of culture like a garden.

So I would say in 2018, we probably had a weed patch, OK?

And so the first step was, OK, we got to get this patch ready to even grow a healthy culture.

And after that, you know, you start planting some easy crops.

And so we kind of picked the low hanging fruit and we did that.

And so I'd say we're midway through the journey.

You know, we've got,

we've got a nice garden growing, but it could be it could always be better.

And so like and part of it is always thinking about like, you know, maybe there's a kind of soup that we want to make and we haven't planted that vegetable yet.

Right. And so we need to keep looking.

And so we're always on the lookout for what's new.

What are some companies doing?

What are some new ideas like and how will this evolve tomorrow?

And so actually, that was one of the things we did this year very recently was with our compensation package,

is we actually just started really, again, having more of an open book and showing people exactly.

Hey, listen, if you want to be here, here's the things you need to do and actually laying it out.

And it's less feelings and more facts now of how much experience do you have?

How much, how are you,

how are you living the core values and putting some objective metrics behind all of that?

And so that's relatively new, but it's been well received because then

there's no guessing about like, OK, well, why am I making what I'm making?

It's very clear what it is.

It's also been helpful with recruiting because some people maybe thought, like, could I have a career here?

Well, I don't know what the compensation is.

And now, hey, there's a chart and you're like, hey, if I've worked here five years, I've got this much gymnastics experience.

I have this level of responsibility.

I'm showing these, I've demonstrated these leadership characteristics.

I'm doing this Learn and grow.

I have this education.

It all filters into that chart.

And again, did we get it right the first time? Probably not.

And I'll be the first to admit that.

But it was a huge step forward.

So and what's the next step forward?

The exciting part is I don't know.

I don't necessarily know. Right.

It's going to it'll unveil itself to us as we kind of continue forward.

But so I would say we're always in the middle of the journey.

There's no real finish line to culture.

It's always like that garden.

You're always replanting it.

You're always finding new crops.

You're finding a new kind of seed to plant.

And sometimes it doesn't work out.

And it's a failure. That's OK, too.

There's learning in that as well.

Are you the gardener or are you the just the person that enjoys living there?

So, like, do you make the decisions on culture or are these collective decisions?

At this point, at this point, it's a collective decision.

And if anything we do, we work with the leadership team.

The advantage, I may be the idea person.

I may be an idea driver a lot of times.

And part of that is, is like, I really love to learn.

So I have the, I'm blessed to have the opportunity to interact with entrepreneurs, you know, again, all over the globe through my involvement with Entrepreneurs' Organization.

And so I get, I'm privy to seeing kind of, I guess what people are doing.

And so a lot of times I'll bring those in.

And again, if a giant Fortune 500 company is doing something, sometimes it's not right for us, you know, for a variety of reasons.

But I try to just bring the ideas.

And then as a leadership team, we got to decide together if that is a thing that fits or not.

Another thing I've learned over time is that if I may have the best idea, but if everybody isn't bought into it, it doesn't matter.

Actually, a worse idea that everyone's bought into is going to actually be executed in a better way than the best idea that nobody likes.


Is there something that you would feel proud?

Is there an idea, a culture


you'd be proud if someone stole from you?

And the second part of that question, is there another culture initiative you've seen elsewhere that you'd like to steal?


I think if people steal our high five board, that's one that I would love to see.

Just because, again, this is for those on audio.

This our high five board is out.

It's in the gym.

Everybody can see it.

It's front and center.

And, you know, we also do some open playtime things in here.

I would love to see that.

Another one to steal, and we haven't chatted about yet.

But one of our pieces, this is from the last year we started doing a community piece.

And so we have these open play times at the gym that are open to anybody to come.

And each month we've actually selected a charity partner and then we donate 20 percent of the proceeds off the top.

And so we've been able to this last year work with

some very local charities that are very small where we can make an impact on their budget with our donation.

And I would love people to steal that of just like finding those organizations locally that they that are making an impact in a different way perhaps than we do.

And so we just we just posted this at the summit.

I think we ended up donating over thirteen thousand dollars last year to these local charities.

And we look forward to growing that number this year as well.

As far as stealing things.

Gosh, I think everything we've got is stolen.

I mean, you know, the the old replicate and duplicate.

I'm convinced like that we probably don't have an original idea.

I'm sure somebody could come in here.

All of this is so I think the thing I look forward to stealing is the next thing.

So I don't know what that is quite yet, but I look forward to stealing the next thing.

And if you were to...

This is a question I’ve started pondering recently.

If you were to start a new business and you had big plans about the culture like this is the business where it's going to be at least one person's best ever job.

How would you start thinking about the culture?

What would be the foundational principles?

I think I'm a big believer in start with why and having that,

I think that purpose driven piece is the is the largest piece because again, once people, you know, we think about like the Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

And once people's basic needs are met, right, we start looking at this self actualization phase of life.

And in order for us to really fill that need in ourselves and in others, they have to have a purpose.

And so starting with why we're doing this in the first place and keeping that as the North Star is foremost.

And so from that and that’s kind of how we drove

this is that to coach, inspire others so we can celebrate their success.

Just captures for me.

And what's nice is like it sort of transcends just the business as well.

And then from their values.

And I guess just based on my experience, having those two pieces in place.

And getting crystal clear on what that means, what actions, what that means from an action perspective.

And having that clarity has made all the difference.

Everything else follows.

When we set those things up, life became easy, right?

Whenever we had a difficult decision, we just hold it up to those those tenants.

And if it's a yes, it's a yes.

If it's a no, it's a no.

And very, very rarely is there a gray area for us.

And it allows us to have a laser focus on where we're going and what we're trying to achieve at all times.

I was also thinking about this topic when I just read Seth Godin's latest book called The Song of Significance.

And he talks about the need to move away from treating people as resources to giving them work and jobs that add meaning and significance.

To them and to the world.

And so I thought about if I start a new business, then the first thing I need to do is, of course, make sure that that business adds value to the world and then hire the people for whom that has very intense and tangible meaning.

And that's probably a very small subset of the people.

So now my next business is on culture.

So I have to find that

you know, the relatively small subpopulation that cares a lot about workplace culture.

And like Robert Glazer said in an earlier episode, they attract about one or two percent of the people that apply to them.

Or that's the number of people they employ because they have a very specific culture.

But that's fine.

You know, every company is a little bit weird.

Like Verne Harnish likes to say, it's a little bit special.

And so I think it's fine to have a very clear purpose and then find this niche.

Of people that really resonate with that purpose and whose day to day job will be so much easier because they’re contributing to something they care about.

And that was actually.

And what's fun is that was the theme of our summit really is

shining a spotlight on the impact that our coaches have on the students that they interact.

And what was really fun at the end of the day was we said, hey, how many of you were actually students here and enjoyed it so much that you've come back?

And we had, you know, 20 percent of our staff had part of their childhood in the facility.


And so. And I think for everybody that's also sitting there.

It's like, oh, we're having an impact on these kids and teaching them again about our core values and learning and having confidence and being positive.

And they're going to carry that with them throughout the rest of their life.

And so, again, I 100 percent agree.

It's that how can we have a bigger impact on the world around us?

And we're very blessed that we get to do that.

Blessed and grateful.



Eric, before we wrap, which of the three facts is a lie and which is a truth from what you shared earlier?

And I would dare place a bet that the lie was the McDonald's Cup.

OK, excellent.

All right.

So unfortunately, you're going to lose.

I was sitting in a McDonald's with my children.

They were eating very slowly.

And they have you know, they have a little contest that you pull the tab off the cup.

So I pulled the tab off.

I entered the little code in their little app.

And about three months later, I actually got a, it looked like a phishing email, if I'm honest, but I got an email and it was called the Prize Redemption Center.

So if anybody out there ever gets an email from the Prize Redemption Center with a Chicago address and phone number, it's legit.

And he said, Eric, you've won.

You've won a trip to a U.S. men's national team soccer game.

And so Liz and I went, we traveled after, this was in the Brazil World Cup.

That was the grand prize. I didn't win the grand prize.

So we got to fly to Hartford, Connecticut.

We had locker room passes for the U.S. men's national team.

And if there's any football fans out there.

So Landon Donovan from the U.S., it was his last national team game.

So we saw his retirement game.

And then we had field passes.

So after the game, Liz and I went on the field and we were actually on ESPN.

We talked to Landon Donovan.

And the funniest part was, is all the press was located in this itty bitty tiny space.

But with our field pass, we were just out on the field, like walking around and had the whole place to ourselves.

So that one was true.

All right. So then we're down to two.

The I did, I do have a pilot's license and I did get it in only three months.

So, again, I love to learn.

And so that was a thing where

I just went all in and basically did all of my education and all my flying.

And 90 days later, I was an airplane pilot.

I did. I never did win a engineering competition with a balsa wood structure.

I did have a competition once.

Not the winner. So.

OK, you fooled me.

And so, Erik, wrapping up, what do we as leaders need to rethink about culture?

What do you think?

I think the most important thing that we have done is to really put it front and center in everything we do.

In my experience, I see people they'll have done some of the work and then it just sort of slides away and they don't actually use it.

And this is I had a, I got some advice from a mentor very early on before we started the gyms.

And he said, Erik, he goes, whatever reason that you're starting this company.

He goes and he goes, I don't care what it is.

He goes, but write that down on a piece of paper.

And whenever you have any sort of decision that you need to make any critical decision, pull out that piece of paper and look at it.

And and so and he said, hey, maybe it's to make millions of dollars.

That's fine. I mean, we can imagine a scenario where if that was our our guidepost, we'd have to look at it.

And and so we had that knowledge, but we weren't very forthright with it as a company.

We didn't broadcast it to our team.

It was something we really held on to personally.

And and as soon as we started focusing that outward, that's where everything changed.

Well, we actually started being our authentic selves and really sharing who we were as people, who we were as a company.

And at that point, the culture shifted and it really it really took on a life of its own, one that I'm very proud to be a part of.