Leadership is both technical (the management side) and visionary (the strategic side). No one follows a leader for long who is not caring and visionary. In the end, excellence in leadership is a moral endeavor. The only way morality makes sense is when it’s based on love of people and love of the organization. That combination of love creates a self-sustaining culture that is attractive and compelling for prospective members, current members and staff. Love requires action.
Words have meaning and when carefully chosen as values or standards, they should prompt action. Values should be able to withstand the rigor of honest measurement for alignment with behavior. Values are where the technical and the moral converge.
Here is a short list of values or traits that are proven to serve a leader and their organizations well. Each is worth careful study. A good exercise for understanding their true meaning is to think of the antonym of each and then consciously make a choice.
INTEGRITY It is derived from the root word “integer,” meaning one and undivided.
COURAGE – Willing to be vulnerable and take a risk.
DISCIPLINE To do the deep work that makes a difference.
LOYALTY To our clubs and the people we serve.
DILIGENCE To stay the course, even when it is uncomfortable and draining.
HUMILITY Perhaps the most attractive trait of all. OPTIMISM That the other listed traits will prove their worth. CONVICTION We are blessed with brains that when deeply engaged in creative thought produce right action.
As the club industry continues to innovate and collaborate to meet the evolving needs of both members and professional staff, we share our predictions for the elements of success that will help clubs thrive in 2024….
Stronger Focus on Governance Best Practices
There will be continued emphasis on clubs operating more like a business where data, financials, and the Strategic Plan/Capital Reserve Study are used to make decisions.
One of the biggest opportunities for clubs in 2024, will be using a third-party portal for all governance-related items. Portals can be accessible by desktop or on a mobile device and give board members easy access to all governance documents. Portals allow governance to be more efficient by dealing with minutia outside of the boardroom and focusing on strategic issues during meeting time.
With respect to talent strategy, which we will touch on more below, boards will become more strategically involved in how the club is recruiting, onboarding, and retaining staff. There will be a plan as to how the club can become an employer of choice and boards will become a strategic partner with paid staff in attracting and retaining talent.
Additionally, we will see more frequent and transparent communication between all constituencies, club management, the board, and the membership base as a whole. Key components of this improved communication will be:
Sharing master goals for the board, committees, and GM/Department heads annually with the membership.
Surveying members (not anonymously) through day-to-day satisfaction and feedback surveys and moving away from using committees as a sounding board for understanding perspective.
Transitioning from a Nominating Committee to a Leadership Development Committee that works year-round actively nurturing volunteer leadership making it easier to find good people to fill volunteer positions.
Elevating Food & Beverage Operations
In 2024, clubs will prioritise elevating and improving the quality of their food and beverage operations. Recognising the importance of offering unique and diverse experiences, clubs will invest in their food and beverage programs to excite and engage members. From farm-to-fork dining options to curated cocktail and mocktail menus, clubs will enhance their offerings to align with the evolving tastes and preferences of their members.
Moreover, there is a growing trend toward incorporating sustainability into food and beverage. Clubs are increasingly sourcing locally, reducing food waste, and adopting eco-friendly practices in their kitchens. This not only aligns with the global push for sustainable practices but also resonates with members who are becoming more conscious about the environmental impact of their choices.
Embracing Technology for Operational Efficiency
The integration of technology will continue to be a dominant force shaping the club industry in 2024. Clubs are leveraging advanced technological solutions to streamline operations, enhance member experiences, and stay ahead in a competitive market. From sophisticated reservation systems and contactless payment options to AI-driven personalisation of services, technology is becoming an integral part of the club experience.
Operational efficiency will be a top priority with clubs implementing state-of-the-art management systems to optimise resource allocation, track member preferences, and manage inventory effectively. Mobile apps will continue to grow in popularity for providing seamless member interactions, from booking facilities to accessing personalised workout routines. This tech-savvy approach not only enhances member satisfaction but also positions clubs as forward-thinking and adaptable.
Employer Branding and Professional Development
The coming year will see continued emphasis on employer branding to attract and retain top talent. Professional development programmes will be at the heart of this strategy as clubs recognise that investing in growth opportunities for team members not only improves service quality but also enhances the overall club culture.
From offering specialised training to creating clear career paths, clubs will work to position themselves as employers of choice in the competitive hospitality labour market. Focusing on employee development not only improves retention rates but also fosters a positive work environment that directly contributes to better member satisfaction.
Michael Herd is an International Consultant and Search Executive with KOPPLIN KUEBLER & WALLACE, a consulting firm providing executive search, strategic planning, and data analysis services to the private club and hospitality industries. Michael can be reached at +44 (0) 7903 035312 and at email@example.com.
2024 Club Industry PredictionsHannah2024-02-24T17:52:04+00:00
Our hobbies often provide us with a mindset for making sense of conundrums that we face as leaders in the club world.
Mine are the lessons learned while riding motorcycles through mountains across North America. From the Rockies of the lower 48 and Canada on to Alaska, across to Nova Scotia, from the east coast to the west coast, and down to the hills of Texas and Alabama. As diverse as that vast terrain is, simple truths guide motorcyclists to stay upright while riding the “twisties.”
The attraction of beautiful and awesome mountain roads is that at every turn the physics of the terrain threaten to put to ground the motorcyclist. It is counter intuitive to foil the impulse of nagging fear and look beyond the moment. We carve a mountain road successfully while enjoying the flow of focus, discipline, and physical exertion. Where we choose to look and focus our attention is where we go. Looking to the far end of the curve ensures the rider makes the right moves in the moment as the road comes too fast and furious to mentally process. Gaze at an object and your tires will hit it; look down a second too long at the road in front of you and you will meet it personally.
Vision and strategy are like that. We lead best when we have our gaze fixed on the future to make the right moves in the present. I believe General Managers are hired to operate in the present and to think in the future. The confusion comes when trying to figure out how to do that successfully when we as leaders are pulled in all kinds of directions. How we make sense of the road of leadership coming fast and furious is dependent on where we put our attention.
Analogies eventually run out of road, so setting aside the idea of sitting atop a machine let’s make the transition to that of a General Manager. That is, to make sense of the complexity of leadership to enable us to lead with confidence.
The data set I reference comes from my work as an executive coach for managers across the country as well as the results of KK&W Culture Surveys we administer prior to searches. Viewed together, a picture of what clubs require in leadership becomes clear. Regardless of the type of club a General Manager is leading, the concerns are common. They know they must be an inspirational leader for operations as well as a strategic partner with the board. Similarly, there is a commonality amongst club boards as they identify the attributes they value most in a General Manager. It is satisfying to note that there is harmony between board expectations and the aspirations of the executive.
While recently speaking to the Greater Michigan Chapter of CMAA, I proposed that General Managers and their leadership teams adopt a mindset that intentionally embraces problems and challenges to create a culture of excellence. I have found that there is a misunderstanding of the nature of culture, thinking it is just about feelings and atmosphere. Although there is truth in that line of thinking, the reality is that culture is knitted together and becomes resilient through systems and processes. Embracing problems and challenges as the gateway to new and better ways of operating requires leadership to make corrections systematically. This is where the value lies for the General Manager and their team.
Leadership in a nutshell is about operations, governance, and the culture that binds the two together. We do best as General Managers when we put our focus on the future by nurturing and protecting the culture of our clubs in the present. Culture affects everything we and the board try to accomplish, so it is worth our while to give it our utmost attention. Culture comes before strategy. An important truism is that a healthy club culture is necessary to enable the execution of brilliant strategies.
The best academic minds writing about culture stress that as vast and as complex as an organization’s culture is, leadership can only engage the culture for its improvement through the curious inquiry about why a problem is present and persists. As the Executive Manager of the Detroit Athletic Club, I was committed to protecting and nurturing the culture of the club.
I viewed it as my and my team’s most important job. Just as a club president sets the agenda for the board, a General Manager sets the agenda for the staff of the operation. This is where the flow of good leadership produces something new and better.
As we carve a road through the “twisties” of club leadership, it is critical for the General Manager, the management team, and the Board to embrace problems and challenges. Embrace means to put your arms around something and give it your best. If we don’t, the future will come fast and furious and we may unintentionally meet the hard unforgiving reality of problems undetected.
Contributed by J.G. Ted Gillary, CCM, CCE, ECM, CMAA Fellow. Ted is a search and consulting executive with KOPPLIN KUEBLER & WALLACE.
Most successful culinary cultures share similar norms. These elite clubs are aligned with strong visionary general managers, a membership base that understands their role in the club’s food and beverage success, and both possess transparent trust in the executive chef.
The general manager is often the most important partner for the executive chef, followed closely by culinary resources, a supportive board, and often written strategic plans around the importance of culinary value propositions.
When working with club boards, search committees, and especially general managers on topics of sustainable food and beverage excellence, the conversation always seems to touch on the following areas.
Many clubs believe they have hired executive chefs to bring their culinary vision and direction to the clubs. Feeling confident in hiring the best while not interfering, they hope these steps take culinary excellence to the next level.
The reward comes with a risk whenever leaving professionals to their own uninterrupted actions, even resulting in misaligned service execution, siloed departments and soft or even nonexistent member feedback in the worst-case scenarios.
History has shown that elite clubs act in converse. The more a chef is part of the executive committee discussions, the better the organization’s mission, vision and standards can be absorbed. One of the most important factors is mentoring the chef in defined guidelines for menu offerings. Sharing membership data and comments can help to secure accurate, expected and approachable menu offerings. These conversations include when menu selections can be rotated, time-honored signature dishes and even popular items that need to be improved.
These menu vision sessions are not to be mistaken as requirements. They have been developed from club wisdom through membership interactions. Vital conversations in which direction of a more consistent culinary experience can exist in the club. Often general managers might feel this imputation could dampen creativity. Traditionally shown, creativity is enhanced when the vision is clearly defined, mutual expectations are measured and consistent customer feedback is shared.
The chef was hired for their culinary technique first. Defining membership needs and wants is the responsibility of the entire leadership team. In the same breath, a general manager must embrace a calculated change in the club’s culinary offerings and kitchen structure for the mutual support of the chef.
Great general managers measure the risk in the progression of the culinary arts. They are defining with the chef what are fads before they are trends, even recognizing emerging technology that has or will become part of the service culture.
A vital piece of this leadership relationship is the trust in sharing positive and constructive feedback from members and employees. In that context, partnering in menu feedback while creating a collaborative culinary whiteboard exercise is beneficial.
This process defines what creativity and conservativity look like in the club’s culinary offering, providing the chef areas where the chef can play while defining tight structure around traditions or iconic events. Menu engineering is a partnership between the chef, key club leaders and historical successes in the eyes of club membership. These over-communicated requirements often keep the chef from misunderstanding what can change while ensuring that innovation doesn’t sit on the chef’s shoulders alone. Another great practice found in annualized KPIs is that of a stop-start-continue exercise, a process that, when done correctly, gives general managers a sense of how club chefs see their role.
This exercise can include various stakeholders, employees, leaders, selected committee members, and even vendors. Often, we recommend the general manager or president perform this exercise for a new executive chef, providing the new professional with a clearer sense of expectation and, importantly, historical habits that are appreciated.
If the new executive chef has not been exposed to many of these strategic techniques previously, define “executive” in the title, empowering them to have ownership in the overall club strategy, staff development and alignment with the executive committee. A lack of involvement will alienate true ownership and responsibility of the vision of the club as it relates to culinary excellence.
Building a relationship between the general manager and the new executive chef will take time and mentorship. Schedule an hour each week (their hour) where the chef and the general manager sit and discuss items necessary for supportive action.
Meeting consistently formulates a better understanding of the partnership and expectations. Staff retention always starts in this relationship and teaching the chef how to manage and participate with defined agendas strengthens it.
Leveraging the organizational chart by alternating the weekly meeting between two offices is a benchmarkable best practice. Young culinarians learn to further respect the craft when seeing a general manager in the chef’s office. These sights inspire and highlight the importance of the executive chef’s role in the organization.
In preparation for these meetings, advice to budding or even established chefs is don’t come to the sessions empty-handed. If your partner, the general manager, can taste, see and feel the product, they have a better understanding of how, if necessary, to pitch it to members and, therefore, better support for the chef.
A talented chef wants new kitchen products, tools and equipment. Those who have a “wish list” traditionally are lifetime industry learners. To support these requests, ask for a capital project business plan, accompanying the vision. Normal costs, projected revenues, potential savings, as well as staff and member improvements are key components to include with wish list requests.
A successful proposal must be able to determine the value proposition to the club. With any capital request, the less personalized, balancing a complete club benefit is more likely to earn a higher probability of support.
In key member touchpoint capital projects, business cases can include a strategy for a “pilot.” This provides less finality to commitment, potentially giving subliminal board support, knowledge and engagement under a culinary research and development method.
Understanding the risk of change, temporary timelines might be more acceptable. These plans include measured feedback, with repair and maintenance for a set schedule of time. Pilots are vital to continue idea generation, uncover potential demand for services and endorse the concept of change.
Examples include menu designs, changes in service ware, service styles, various technology, or even uniforms. During the pilot, both member and employee feedback sharpens the scope and final decisions.
Some clubs have even turned the board meetings into light F/B research and development platforms. Hidden between monthly governance issues, emerging membership updates, or budget assumptions, hospitality can be sold continuously. A gentle reminder at this high-level meeting to not overlook culinary excellence as a key part of the membership value.
Board members understand that great deals are done over dining. A simple act of culinary inclusion ensures the chef interacts for a few minutes each month, being known and energized at this audience level.
In numerous club visits or discussions, innovation, creativity, or lack of change plagues the reputation of many executive chefs. The balance of change and the consistency required might never be solved.
With these conundrums, an executive chef can begin to lose that creative edge if not measured through education, benchmarking or conference participation. Dining out is required for any club’s culinary product to stay fresh and vibrant. Often members are more versed in local establishments, which can leave the kitchen out of the conversation.
A general manager benefits from dining partnerships by learning insights about culinary excellence. The more time spent on the club’s authority on food, the stronger members’ needs can be understood. One doesn’t need to be in love with food to respect those who are.
Finishing the education sector and creating annual goals around certification within the industry is paramount to the motivation of the existing talent. It is also a tool for recruitment. Education is the number one value proposition of a stronger culinary department.
While all clubs discuss staffing, chefs who have industry reach, local community involvement and succession planning have the greatest chance for a balanced staffing model.
Great trust, respect and education will always be timeless pillars in a lasting partnership. As a mentor once said, “I come to work to be with my friends and together we create greatness.”
Lawrence T. McFadden, CMC, ECM is a Certified Master Chef and Search & Consulting Executive for KOPPLIN KUEBLER & WALLACE. He is also Executive in Charge of the Club Leadership Alliance Food & Beverage Experience Network. Prior to joining KK&W and CLA, Lawrence served as General Manager/COO of the 146-year-old Union Club of Cleveland. His impressive 30-year career spans the globe with roles in Hong Kong and Singapore as well as some iconic operations state-side, including The Greenbrier, MGM Grand Hotel and Casino, The Ritz Carlton Company and The Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
Annette Whittley, is a food and beverage training consultant and search executive with Kopplin Kuebler & Wallace, a consulting firm providing executive search, strategic planning and data analysis services to the private club and hospitality industries.
The Co-Active Training Institute (CTI) defines coaching as “Partnering with individuals in a thought provoking, creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” It allows the opportunity to help others find the best version of themselves, to be the best leaders for their team, and in many cases find balance so they can be present for their families.
During my 20 years in the hospitality industry, I have had the opportunity to work with some amazing people and to be honest some really challenging ones also, but my best boss was present. When I came to her with a challenge, she put down her phone, shut off her computer, and listened. Many times, I had the answers but could not access them because of the mess of information floating through my operations-minded brain. She gave me time to discuss ideas and weigh pros and cons, before realizing I already knew what I needed to do. Her message was centered around a central theme “make time for your people.” In the years that followed working for Karen, I made more time for those I was privileged to lead. In fact, sometimes I made time for those NOT on my team. My experience encouraged me to offer patience and curiosity. It led me to be mindful of asking questions that help people gain clarity and see what they already knew was right. My favorite fictional coach Ted Lasso mis-quotes Walt Whitman as saying, “Be Curious, Not Judgmental.” Regardless of who said it, this mantra continues to inspire me and my own curiosity.
Coaching is not about providing solutions. How can we have the right answer to another person’s dreams or aspirations? Leaders often think “I’m in charge”; “I have to have all the answers” (as one misguided leader told me over a decade ago); or “it’s my job to get things right.” When we give out solutions like a lollipop at the doctor, we deny others an opportunity to grow. If you try to help a butterfly out of his cocoon, he will not develop the muscles needed to fly. As a coach, there is the opportunity to be amazed by the transformation someone can make – sometimes during one conversation, because they were asked, “what’s on your mind?” A developing individual can see opportunity and clarity with the resource of a coach to guide them. Coaches empower them to recognize that fine line between crazy and innovative. Often people in positions of leadership can find themselves feeling isolated. Coaches help those they are privileged to walk alongside, rest easy knowing they are not alone.
A great place to begin a coaching journey is to fill in the Wheel of Life (WOL). This tool was first introduced to me by CTI, and it is used to help an individual gauge their satisfaction in eight different areas. It is important to note that the Wheel is used to measure satisfaction and not success, because the ratings change over time. A coach uses this information to help you grow in each area, and more importantly to strive for balance between the areas. The goal is not to reach a “10” in every category, but instead to have a wheel that looks and feels in balance.
For example, client “James” shared that he wanted to increase his level of satisfaction surrounding Personal Growth. Initially, he rated this category a “5” but would love to see what achieving an “8” feels like in a few months. During a chat about Personal Growth, he discussed his dad. After some questions about why he admires his dad, he landed on a desire to experience “Spiritual Endurance.” This epiphany was a highlight for me as a coach seeing the peace he found when given the tools to bring out his own brilliance.
How do we help others achieve moments like “James” and his discovery of Spiritual Endurance?” The answer is Powerful Questions. I am here to tell you that even as a professional coach these are still difficult for me. Don’t get me wrong – I have lots of questions I would like to ask pretty much everyone, but I had to first learn to listen before I got to ask Powerful Questions. Being present in today’s age of technology, distractions, and instant gratification has proven to be challenging. Powerful Questions are those that are deeply curious, open-ended, and non-judgmental. It is difficult to be deeply curious if we are not actively paying attention. Trust me, I know how obvious that sounds, but I once had a mentor who met with me weekly, while simultaneously checking his laptop, iPad, and iPhone. Most meetings would end with “Chris, you need to speak less and listen more.” It is difficult to listen more in a one-sided conversation, where the other person is distracted or disengaged.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is a modern fable that follows a man in search of his “Personal Legend.” Have you ever had a Big Dream, or just an idea so crazy you didn’t dare utter it to another living soul? Many of these dreams never see the light of day, but if we embrace a coaching mindset, we can help others envision these dreams and potentially help bring them to life…but it takes time. Thoughtful questions are almost always open-ended, take time to answer and are for gathering insights, not just getting answers. According to Dr. Brent McCall the President & Founder of Presentation Impact “Your Listening Quotient is proportional to your Intelligence Quotient. The more we listen to someone, the smarter we become in their eyes.” In our discussion, Dr. McCall went on to share that he can get more done in the last 10% of a coaching session, by listening during the first 90%. The benefit for anyone looking to be a more effective coach, yet feels they don’t have the inherent skillset, is that by simply being a good listener we are perceived as being a more effective coach.
For a thoughtful response, a coach needs to allow the participant time to think. That means we need to lean into the silence. We must have the patience to listen, ask a Powerful Question, and finally the courage to SHUT UP for long enough, that the other person can ponder their response. In some cases, a great question might need more time for a truly thoughtful response. That may mean we table the question until our next meeting, so they can really give this topic some thought. This takes practice and self-restraint as a coach.
Good leaders and good coaches are foremost good listeners. To listen beyond surface level, we must understand the Three Levels of Listening as defined by CTI:
Level 1 – Internal listening, where your attention is focused on your own thoughts, feelings, and interpretations.
Level 2 – Intensely listening to others, where your attention is pointed with laser-like focus, on the other person you are listening to.
Level 3 – Global Listening, which has a soft, receptive focus that encompasses everything around you, including all your senses and your environment as well.
All of us intuitively are Level 1 listeners, but once you understand the different levels, you can practice and train yourself to be a more engaged listener. Most importantly you cannot be expected to listen at the same level all the time. It is natural to ebb and flow between Levels 2 and 3 and when you recognize that you’ve drifted into Level 1, simply adjust, and keep practicing. When you listen and ask great questions the other person will feel engaged.
One of my goals is to help make coaching approachable for you as a leader, but also for those in your circle of influence. This can feel daunting, but it is worth it. Your starting point is to give others the space to discover their own emotions. When we ask Powerful Questions, we guide those we are coaching in bringing their goals and dreams to light. Their dreams then have a chance to become reality. My job is not to hold them accountable but to be present and help celebrate their achievement as they cross the finish line.
You might walk away from reading this with more questions than you have answers…you’re welcome. It is good to have topics that we need to further research and study, as this forces us to evolve and change. I want to challenge you to stay collaborative, engaged, and open to other’s perspectives. Here are a few practical applications for how to keep your skills sharp, so you can best serve those around you:
Read on topics that excite you, push your comfort zone and help fine tune your leadership style. Book suggestions: The Go-Giver; Radical Candor; The Servant; and The Coaching Habit are a few good places to start.
When mentoring someone focus on what is possible. Coach the individual and not the task.
Try completing the WOL for yourself to see if your “wheel” is in balance.
When it comes to accountability establish and move the needle on short term goals.
Remember to remain coachable, even if you’re the “boss”.
Today’s workforce needs leaders brave enough to stop using a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead let’s remember Will Guidara’s suggestion, the author of Unreasonable Hospitality, that “one-size-fits-one.” Transformational Leadership starts with coaching and that requires developing a leadership strategy, instead of simply reacting to whatever is happening in the moment. It is easy to focus on developing direct reports vertically for their next role, or their next property. What most mid-level managers and directors need is a mentor who isn’t afraid to invest time in growing their skills horizontally. This will shape them into well-rounded leaders that understand how to listen and ask great questions. In doing so you are ensuring they can be their best, while also developing a strong pipeline for the next generation of Club Executives. Their Board members from the future already say, “thank you.”
Chris DeChillo is a Trusted Partner of KOPPLIN KUEBLER & WALLACE specializing in Hospitality Training and Leadership Development Coaching. Chris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or learn more online at www.kkandw.com/leadership-coaching.
At a club, the general manager/chief operating officer position is the most vital for achieving and sustaining a healthy and successful club.
The role responsibilities require a centralized, consistent professional with experience, training and knowledge of the private club model.
Transitioning between club managers can be challenging and stressful for boards, employees and even members because of the delicate balance necessary as the new leader becomes acquainted with all things club yet eases into making changes or improvements. Therefore, it’s essential that clubs prepare and plan for this transition.
Based on our wide range of experience working with boards and professionals during this sensitive time, we have put together the following best practices to help ensure successful departures and acclimations.
Before the new general manager/chief operating officer’s first day, several things should happen. First, club documents should be shared so that the new general manager/chief operating officer can review and study them in the weeks before starting at the club.
Items such as the board policy manual, employee handbook, financials and other documents advising on process and procedure should be provided well in advance to give the new general manager/chief operating officer a greater understanding of club operations and culture.
Sample checklist for advance review:
History of the club and map of the property
Talent strategy materials (new employee orientation, employee handbook, employee benefits, organizational charts, training manuals, job descriptions, human capital plan, monthly reports, team bios, etc.)
Calendars (club events, board/committee meetings, team meetings, etc.)
Collateral, member marketing materials, new member orientation correspondences
Recent club newsletters/communications
List of board/committee members, board bios, board policy manual, board and committee orientation manuals, committee charters and annual priorities for board and committees, along with the last 12 months of meeting minutes
Recent risk management assessment, club business analytics, capital reserve study
List of vendors and service providers
Strategic plan and property master plan
Most recent audited financial statements or financial summary/overview
Guest username and password to the website
Recent membership/staff satisfaction surveys that include all club operations
Union contracts (if applicable)
Second, orchestrate and schedule opportunities for the new general manager/chief operating officer to meet with key club constituencies at a comfortable time and place. Setting these meetings in advance allows the general manager/chief operating officer to meet and connect with key groups, such as the Thursday Tennis Group or the Ladies’ Golf Association, in the new general manager/chief operating officer’s first 30 days.
This ensures that these groups feel seen, heard and valued. It also gives the new leader a feel for the groups, their spokespeople, their priorities and their needs, which helps the general manager/chief operating officer start off on the right foot with these constituencies.
Third, the board of directors should determine ahead of time what the new general manager/chief operating officer’s top three or four priorities will be in the first year. The board should discuss and decide on the areas of focus with the new leader and then communicate the priorities to everyone, including the staff and the membership.
The general manager/chief operating officer then has direction and knows what the board wants in the first year. Having this focus helps ensure the new general manager/chief operating officer doesn’t get different directives from members and is not confused about where to start.
With board-approved priorities presented, the new general manager/chief operating officer can listen to the rest of the members but not necessarily act on their recommendations. Identifying priorities in advance and communicating them effectively keeps everyone on the same page and ensures expectations are in line.
While the above recommendations are important, the key to ensuring a smooth and successful transition for a new general manager/chief operating officer is a transition committee. This ad-hoc committee of three or four members serves as a sounding board, a source of club history and a foundation for support, questions and knowledge.
Committee members should be past or current board members who understand the club business model, are highly regarded by their peers and offer a fair and balanced representation of the membership. In addition, they should be demographically diverse, and their families should participate in club programs/amenities.
When looking at how to organize this group of members, start with one or two members of the search committee, a strong past president and one or two representatives from important constituencies at the club.
This committee acts as a filter beyond the board with the ability to highlight topics members are talking loudly about that are different from what the board or president directed. Made up of no more than four people, the transition committee can also help identify any blind spots the board may not know about.
Kopplin Kuebler & Wallace believes the transition committee can shorten the learning curve and ease the discomfort of being new for the general manager/chief operating officer.
“It’s the board’s job to work with the new leader to agree on three or four areas of focus and then communicate those priorities to everyone. Then, the transition committee can help filter through what everyone else feels is important,” said Tom Wallace, a partner with KK&W.
“This way if an issue arises, the group can help the GM/COO identify whether it’s just one person’s complaint or if the board has blind spots because they aren’t in the know or not well in tune.”
The transition committee can also clarify why things are done the way they are and talk candidly about the state of the club, curmudgeon members and successes or failures. Meeting with the new general manager/chief operating officer weekly for the first six months and then monthly for the next six months, this group provides consistent, confidential support for the first year. After one year, the general manager/chief operating officer may call the group together whenever a need arises.
“We’ve found this committee to be tremendously helpful for GM/COOs to ask questions and gain insight beyond just the board,” Kurt Kuebler, a partner with KK&W, explained.
“Instead of the new leader constantly going to the club president, it spreads the workload between several people and provides deeper insight and understanding. In addition, this committee smooths the transition, especially in situations where a long-tenured predecessor retired or there was a difficult set of circumstances with the person previously in the role.”
The transition committee can also help the general manager/chief operating officer determine how to best disagree with the board or club president, and they can work through that process together. This eases some of the stress and frustration for the new general manager/chief operating officer and creates a better onboarding experience.
KK&W suggests the transition committee initiate an employee survey of at least the key leadership team shortly before the new general manager/chief operating officer begins so both the employees and the new leader understand the expectations and culture of key team members. This survey
could be conducted with all employees to provide a deeper understanding.
“This whole process is intended to create a more positive onboarding experience for the new GM/COO and make it much more effective,” Wallace explained.
“Few clubs have transition plans or written orientation/onboarding programs for this position. All too often, new leaders spend weeks looking for information themselves, being overwhelmed with questions and feeling frustrated as they learn the details of the club and their role. If we can provide new GM/COOs with the information, resources and the continuous support they need right from the beginning, it creates a better situation for everyone involved.”
The first 100 days lay a foundation for the long-term success of a new private club chief executive. Recognizing the care that should be taken during this time of great opportunity, we have compiled a list of action items to proactively support onboarding and acclimation.