Secrets To An Amazing Work Culture From The CEO Of Anytime Fitness

Chuck Runyon CEO of Anytime Fitness
Photo courtesy of Chuck Runyon

[The following is the full raw transcript for a LEADx Podcast interview, which has been lightly edited for clarity.]

Kevin Kruse: Does your team have too much under-time? Hello everyone, Kevin Kruse here. Welcome to the LEADx Show. Helping you to stand out and to get ahead, helping you to get 1% better a little bit every single day. I'm on a mission to spark intentional leadership in a hundred million people over the next 10 years and one of the ways we're going to do that is by providing free leadership training and free management training for anyone anywhere at anytime. If you just go to, you can see the free course of the day. Every day it's a new course. Anybody can get this free world-class training around the world at anytime. Why wouldn't you want to spread the word? Do me a favor, and when you get into work today, put up a status post on LinkedIn, or Facebook, or your favorite social media platform and just say, “Hey, very cool. Free training course of the day over at”

Today, on the show a successful, very successful entrepreneurial CEO talks about values, talks about the purple ticket in his new book. Is he the new Willy Wonka? Our challenge of the day based on his advice is to create a visual scoreboard for your team. Doesn't have to be fancy. Maybe you print it out on your color printer and just tape it up on your door, pin it up on the wall where everybody … Maybe by the coffee pot, something like that. What are your team's goals for the year, the quarter, or the month? They do have goals, right? Post up your progress against these goals so that everyone can stay focused and on track. Our quote of the day from Estée Lauder, “I didn't get there by wishing for it, or hoping for it, but by working for it.” Estée Lauder giving us an original message of hustle.

Our guest today is the co-founder and CEO of Self-Esteem Brands, which is the parent company of Anytime Fitness. You probably know of them, because they have 3,500 locations around the world. He was recently honored by Chief Executive Magazine with its inaugural Leadership Award and other awards include the Fastest Growing Fitness Club in the World, and The Best Place to Work in Minnesota. He is the author of the book, Love Work: Inspire a High-Performing Work Culture at the Center of People, Purpose, Profits, and Play. Our guest is Chuck Runyon. Chuck, welcome to the show.

Chuck Runyon: Thank you, Kevin. Looking forward to our time today.

Kruse: Chuck, I've got a weird tradition. Every guest gets the same first question.

Runyon: All right.

Kruse: I love failure stories, because I think failures are just stepping stones to something bigger. I'm hoping we can start and maybe you can share just one of your failures and what did you learn from it?

Runyon: We could turn this into a five hour podcast with a list of failures. Look, for us, probably the big ones have just come down to ignoring our values and choosing people because we were aggressively trying to grow a market, and we knew it wasn't the right person, and so we wanted to get to a region or a specific country. Therefore, we were so aggressive in wanting to do that, that we ignored the fact that it just wasn't the right person. We knew it deep down in our gut and because we did that, we also ended up regretting it. It really pulled the business back and I would say that we do not make that mistake any longer. We take our time, make sure it's the right person and then we decide to grow.

Kruse: You mentioned ignoring values. I mean, practically speaking, if I'm interviewing someone, naturally I'm going to want to know can they do the job? Do they have the skillset?

Runyon: Yes, yes.

Kruse: How might I understand if they're the right fit culturally?

Runyon: Yeah, I mean, we have the values of people, purpose, profits, play. Those are our four core values, but we also look for things, because franchising is a relationship-based business that you have with a franchise owner or a franchisee. You have to have great communication skills. You have to have a listen-first mindset. You have to be kind of self-aware of your strengths and weaknesses as a leader and you have to be very collaborative and thoughtful to make sure that you put other stakeholders first and that you enrich them.

Quite honestly, when we picked the wrong person, they didn't have the listen-first mindset, right? It was more focused on them than it was on rewarding other stakeholders. Quite frankly, they weren't as collaborative as we would like to be. We just didn't stop when we should've, right? Instead, we sold those territories. We regretted it later. We've got to make sure we've got those values. How we work is every bit as important as what we do and we’ve got to make sure that we're aligned with how we work.

Kruse: Perfect. In the intro I talked a little bit about your background, but give us some context, tell us a little bit about Anytime Fitness and also how's it different from other health clubs or gyms that we might be familiar with.

Runyon: We started Anytime Fitness 16 years ago and I'd like to remind people that the iPod, the first generation, had not come out yet. There was no Apple smartphone. There was no Facebook, right? This was a different time. This key fob approach, where we give a person a key fob that opens every single gym door in the world. There's a surveillance system, a software or program, and so you can enter our clubs that are not always staffed, and it provides great independence and empowerment to our members. They can use the club anytime they want and use any club in the world, which is incredibly convenient. At the time, that was new. We created this category. That type of technology was revolutionary.

Now, fast forward to today and it just seems pretty obvious, right? With that type of technology. What you find with Anytime Fitness, first of all, we're the most convenient fitness option in the world because your membership is going to get you into 4,000 clubs globally, 33 countries. Number two, you will find all the big club equipment and programming in a smaller environment. What that allows us to do is connect with our members deeper to help them make a behavior change.

Exercising, living a healthier life is tough for most people and they need our empathy, they need our coaching, they need our education and motivation to kind of make a difference. That smaller club environment is warmer, less intimidating, and because of the intimacy of it, we get to know you better. Therefore, we can help you make that change. It's really… The critical element there is the passion of our local franchise owners who care about their members and care about their community more than say, just what a corporate club would be, like a non-franchise business.

Kruse: I'm taking notes because fitness is one of my weakest areas. I'm the classic-

Runyon: You and many people.

Kruse: Workout for 90 days and then I fall off for a couple months and then 90 days. I'm always trying to do it in the home gym and I just wrote down, “Empathy, motivating,” and perhaps when I look up and connect with one of your local fitness centers, maybe that's what I need to help keep me on track.

Runyon: Well, everyone does better with a coach. Even the greatest athletes in the world need a coach, right? To help raise the bar a little bit more, right? Help them with some accountability. That's actually where Anytime Fitness is going. We're going to be less about bricks and mortar, and we're extending our services well beyond the gym walls to help people live a healthier lifestyle. As you mentioned, I think it's great that you workout at home. When you're home, when you're at work, when you're not inside the gym, we think we can help you live a healthier life, get more steps in, eat a little bit healthier, get your sleep in, and live a more holistic wellness approach, versus just making gym visits. That's where Anytime Fitness is going today is to train … Get beyond just a bricks and mortar gym experience.

Kruse: That's great. I'm going to follow-up on that idea in a couple minutes. That's a new blue ocean strategy for you there. I want to dive first though into, you've won leadership awards, you're known for great company culture, so what would be your leadership advice for younger newer managers, like a first-time manager? Because you've been doing this for a while, you mentioned-

Runyon: Yes.

Kruse: -Built this great organization, so what would you tell someone who's just becoming a manager?

Runyon: If I were to… Just try to be—a very simple definition—of course, they're going to want to get in and understand the business. I think every manager does that, but I don't think they take enough time to understand the people. What is going on, right? What's the perspective of the people on that team? Then my biggest advice is leaders create significance, right? Everyone wants to know that the work they're doing is making a difference in the company, or making a difference with people, or the plant, or whatever the company stands for.

I think a leader has to say, “Look, what you do is important because it shows up in the world,” and the leader has to fill in the blank there, right? They've got to create significance, because significance creates engagement with your employees. When they feel like they're not making a difference, when they feel insignificant, it creates disengagement. Leaders are in the engagement business and all the Gallup® work studies will tell you that seven out of 10 people drive to work disengaged. It's our job to create engagement and create significance.

Kruse: Yeah, I talk about that as being an engagement crisis, when only three out of 10 are truly engaged, we are truly emotionally committed to where we work, because that spills over into other areas of our life. If I come home and I'm disengaged, or even worse, actively disengaged, I'm not such a great spouse, I'm not such a great parent. I feel like this is really big work to be doing to get more people engaged at work so they can have a more fulfilling life outside of work as well.

Runyon: Oh boy, we believe in your philosophy wholeheartedly. There's a term we use called, “under-time”, and that may be a new term to you, but every business has under-time. What that is, is you're paying for your employees to be at work, but they're not engaged so they're not really doing the work. Look, our company has it. We just believe we have less than most. When people are disengaged, they're not actively thinking about the business. If we really had to report that, it would be one of our biggest expenses on the business is under-time. A leader has to engage their team to work on the business, right?

Because they love to do it, and they take pride in it, and as you mentioned, I mean, because we carry mobile phones now, we're carrying work with us constantly. It's more about we want to make sure that it's part of our identity and we want to make a person proud of what they do, engaged in what they do, and you're right, if we can … We believe we can make their whole life better and not just the time at work. Look, we spend half our week in hours at work and it's pretty sad if you think about it that only three out of 10 people are really engaged in that process.

Kruse: We've already strayed into this, but I mention in your bio, your book is Love Work: Inspire a High-Performing Work Culture at the Center of People, Purpose, Profits, and Play, the four values. Tell me more about some of the big ideas in your book.

Runyon: Well, under the people side we talk about the difference between being an employer, versus being a leader, because we're not just in a war to attract consumers, we're in a war to attract and retain talent and get them highly engaged. There's a difference there. We also do invest in whole-self development, something you just mentioned a bit ago. We don't just invest money to make our employees better at their job, we try to invest money to make them better humans, right? Inside or outside of work. We have to give people a collective purpose. They want to be a part of something bigger than themselves and get them emotionally involved in the work.

We believe, of course, profits are both a combination of monetary and benefits, as well as lifestyle and we believe we can give our employees a better lifestyle. Then play. That's something I think leaders struggle with the most, is they are fearful of play and taking away from work, or maybe appearing vulnerable.

There's science, and we mention in the book, behind play and how it fosters creativity and collaboration and alleviates stress. The beauty of those four Ps are I promise anyone who reads that book, it's going to be a code for a high-performing team, right? Invest in people, have a purpose, have play, and profits will follow.

Kruse: Now, I want to dive in a little bit as I was thinking about management, and leadership, and engagement, I have found for myself that having very well established defined goals for the organization, for the business units on down aligned to individual performers, I have found that it both drives the hard business metrics. Back to the point, I feel like I have a purpose. I know exactly that my work is meaningful and how that aligns, but I'd love to get your take. What do you think about goal setting and objective key performance metrics? Is that making it too much about the hardcore profits, or is there a way to use it to drive engagement as well?

Runyon: I think you drive engagement. You do want visibility that the company is most important initiatives and objectives, but it's a leader's job to drive the company's objectives to the individual role of every team member. How does what they do move the needle on that company objective? It can be more than just profits. I mean, for us in franchising, we enrich people's lives for better health, or through franchise ownership, and that has incredible return on that type of investment. We call it ROEI, return on emotional investment, versus just ROI. For us, when we share the story, the objectives, it's not just about the metrics of money, but it's about the metrics of how we're transforming people's lives and enriching them just beyond a paycheck. Yes, I share … I think the visibility of the company initiatives is super critical and let's tie it back to each employee's function.

Kruse: Your own practice around metrics, are these sort of set annually, or are they reviewed quarterly? How do you actually work them?

Runyon: Yeah. First of all, how you do it I think is important, so we get a team together and we allow the team to weigh in and we're very collaborative. It's a very democratic process on what they say. We want to harness their perspectives on the business. First of all, it's a team building, it's one of our biggest objectives. Then we publish a monthly internally, so our team … In fact, they usually have something in their workstation or in their department that shows if we're making progress throughout the year. We try to create what I call these visible scoreboards so our team knows regularly if we're winning or losing on these objectives, but then we will publish something each month that our team gets.

Kruse: That's great. You mentioned some things. What are you most excited about when it comes to Anytime Fitness these days?

Runyon: Well, I mentioned earlier about how we're kind of turning this digital into just being able to scale outside of our clubs, which just means we can impact more people. I mean, you don't necessarily have to be a member of our club for us now to help coach you on a healthier lifestyle. Then of course, the international side of the business is absolutely exciting. I mean, we have 1,200 clubs located outside the U.S.

Kruse: Wow.

Runyon: We're on five continents, 33 countries. I just came back … In the last six weeks I've been in New Zealand, Australia, and Southeast Asia. You know what's super cool? Is entrepreneurship is a global language, right? It doesn't matter if you open up a club in China, or if you open up a club in Chattanooga. I mean, you feel the same way as an entrepreneur. Then the aspirations for better health are also global and most of the world is underserved when it comes to fitness. I'm so excited to bring now this franchise, convenience, life-changing fitness operation to different parts of the world that really need it. Not only can we have a successful brand, but I'm telling you, we can get more communities to a healthier place at a time when the world needs better health.

Kruse: Yeah. I can't remember who told me once years ago, they said basically there's two kinds of diseases. Diseases of poverty and diseases of wealth. As the rest of the country, rest of the world is getting countrier … The rest of the world is developing and getting wealthier, we're unfortunately seeing obesity epidemics spreading in areas you might not think you would see it. I'm sure you're going into these countries with a solution.

Runyon: We are. Two things. Number one, we're all surrounded by unhealthy eating options and we're kind of engineering activity out of our life because technology kind of seduces us to just sit in front of a screen, whether it's on our couch or whether it's at work. We're becoming … We're all becoming more sedentary. Yes, we are first of all raising education level, raising the access of why physical activity is important and how it can be a power force for everything in your life. We take a great deal of pride in that and I love going to a different country and seeing a member who maybe we don't speak the same language, but you can tell, right? They've got the energy and vitality from working out. We are changing their life and we understand each other immediately, because we both get the aspirations to just live a better quality life tomorrow.

Kruse: Love it. Chuck, how can our listeners find out more about you, your book, and of course your company?

Runyon: I'm available on Twitter, @ChuckRunyon, or on Instagram. They can order the book directly off of Amazon. By the way, you probably heard of … Remember the golden ticket from Willy Wonka?

Kruse: Yeah.

Runyon: We did something called the purple ticket, so in the first 5,000 books ordered through Amazon, there's a special purple ticket and if you happen to be a purple ticket winner, we're going to invite you to Minnesota for a two-day love work summit, which is going to talk about people, purpose, profits, play in your work life, and in your personal life, and we are going to have a tremendous amount of fun. That's going to be great. If anyone out there's listening, order your book on Amazon and look for that purple ticket.

Kruse: I think the next… My next book comes out late 2018 and I'm going to call the publisher and say, “Hey, how can I do a version of this purple ticket thing?” I love this idea.

Runyon: It's actually been a great deal of fun, because people on social media say, “Hey, I won a purple ticket,” and then we invite them up here and it's like going to the Willy Wonka Factory, man, it's kind of cool. I grew up watching that as a kid, so now-

Kruse: Oh, great movie.

Runyon: I get to … Yeah.

Kruse: You get to live it out. You get to act it out.

Runyon: Exactly, yes.

Kruse: Chuck, we're going to make sure we put all of those links into the show notes everywhere that this goes out. Thank you so much for coming onto the LEADx Show.

Runyon: Kevin, thank you. Greatly appreciate it.

CEO of LEADx, and NY Times bestselling author, of Great Leaders Have No Rules and Employee Engagement 2.0. Get a FREE demo of the LEADx platform at