Best Practices for Establishing a Modern-Day Performance Management System

Best Practices for Establishing a Modern-Day Performance Management System

Over time, while completing executive placements for private clubs and when reaching out to top-performing general managers, we have consistently been surprised to discover that in many scenarios there is a subjective process for performance evaluation or not one at all.

This is concerning as we often see a connection between managers who aren’t receiving feedback and managers who are being let go from their positions.

As we noted in Part I, “It’s YOUR Club … But It’s MY Life!” (BoardRoom magazine, January/February 2024), clear communication and alignment of initiatives are essential for a GM’s success.

Transparency is vital for a new GM and it is equally as important to maintain that transparency as time goes on. There should not be any blind spots for the club’s leader, and without regular feedback on performance or a system in place, there likely will be.

While some managers may be comfortable not having a specific and measurable review process, we see that top-performing clubs and their executives have formal annual goal-setting/feedback processes and meet twice annually to review these goals. These are reasons we believe managers should instigate the implementation of such practices:

  • With a formal system in place, there’s no denying that the review is fair, mutually agreed upon and measurable. The system also helps avoid challenges presented by board turnover.
  • Without a review, the GM doesn’t know the perceptions, priorities or preferences of others, and this creates blind spots. When the GM is made aware of blind spots, they can then work to communicate better or overcome these situations.
  • In the absence of measurable goals, there is the risk that an uneducated president or board could deny a portion of the GM’s bonus simply based on their opinion(s).
  • Accountability at every level is becoming mainstream in businesses today. It is only a matter of time until a board member or club president begins to question the process.
  • The best GMs in the business seek feedback and strive to constantly improve. Seeking feedback is proactive. Would the GM rather the board/executive committee/ club president design the review process, or would the GM like to lead that charge?
  • As feedback becomes more prominent with younger generations and in business practices, allowing feedback to flow through the entire organization will become increasingly important to club success.

We recommend the GM and club president/executive committee calendarize the review process so it isn’t forgotten about. At the beginning of the year, goals should be established together, then reviewed mid-year review and at end-of-year.

Managers and presidents must understand the importance of these meetings as they create synergy and avoid disconnects in club leadership. We believe these conversations should be kept to a group no larger than the executive committee, and the criteria should be determined and agreed upon by the GM, the club president and/or the executive committee.

While some clubs base a GM’s bonus 100 percent on financials or on beating the budget, we believe that is a mistake. We also have seen bonus potential of up to 50 percent of a GM’s annual salary and some with no bonus incentive. We recommend a bonus potential equivalent to 20 percent of the GM salary and based on measurable and mutually agreed upon goals.

The GM should have some input as to what he or she is being reviewed on and by whom. Those involved in the process should be a select group of objective people who know and understand the GM and the criteria based on agreed upon areas. The most common areas include:

  • Member satisfaction/Net promoter score – Must have surveying in place for one year
  • Employee satisfaction/Net promoter score – Must have surveying in place for one year
  • Financial management
  • Membership management – Net growth/Waitlist management
  • Human capital management
  • Capital management
  • Strategic leadership
  • Building maintenance/FFE management
  • Communications

We suggest integrating the five strategic pillars relevant to running a successful club into the bonus/review process and attaching key performance indicators to each of these areas to ensure clarity and measurability. For example:

  1. Financial sustainability (20 percent of bonus): Operating the club in a way that supports the club’s mission, maintains healthy membership levels and all operating needs as well as capital investment.
    1. KPIs to measure:
      1. Achieve club annual budget
      2. Ensure all club departments achieve their departmental budgets annually
      3. Achieve/maintain 1,500 total members by yearend.
  2. Effective leadership (20 percent of bonus): Leading the club through transparency, effective communication and adoption of best-in-class governance practices.
    1. KPIs to measure:
      1. Update and improve leadership onboarding to ensure a comprehensive approach, vital sharing of information and systems that will create successful outcomes
      2. Design and deploy ongoing leadership development processes to ensure key staff leaders are consistently educated, developed and invested in.
  3. Member engagement (20 percent): Cultivate deep engagement with the membership by ensuring frequent usage, meaningful relationships and emotional connection to create passionate ambassadors who embrace an ownership mindset.
    1. KPIs to measure:
      1. Achieve/maintain net promoter score of nine or higher
      2. Achieve/maintain previous year member usage numbers or higher.
  4. Human capital management/Operational excellence (20 percent): Building a well-trained, best-in-class, highly functioning team of professionals by actively attracting, retaining, developing and rewarding the club’s most valuable assets.
    1. KPIs to measure:
      1. Maintain/improve team member net promoter score of nine or higher
      2. Design and deploy standard operating procedures for all front-line positions to ensure club standards are consistently met in all areas of the club
      3. Establish an effective retention plan to reduce employee turnover to 5 percent or less.
  5. Capital planning (20 percent): Capital asset planning includes equipment, machinery, amenities, buildings, infrastructure and land needs being maintained, reinvested in and replaced in appropriate time frames to ensure facilities are fresh, relevant, functional and appealing.
    1. Create a capital reserve study to ensure all club assets are documented
    2. Execute kitchen renovation on time and on budget
    3. Effectively enhance the employee break room based on responses from employee surveys while completing on time and on budget.

The “weight” of each item and the “weight” of each KPI should change based on the importance of each to the club and its overall goals. How heavily each is rated should be mutually agreed upon by all parties. In addition, board discretion should be used when necessary. Taking the COVID19 pandemic as an example, boards should have the ability to alter, modify or amend the payout plan in the best interest of the club in the event of unforeseen events impacting the operation.

Overall, when creating a review/bonus plan, the following questions should be answered with yes:

  • Do the goals support our strategic plan?
  • Are the goals SMART? Can we define what success looks like?
  • Does the plan reward team and individual performance – not one at the expense of the other?
  • Upon accomplishment of these goals, will our club be materially closer to our vision?

Lastly, a case can be made for incorporating 360-degree performance reviews into a club’s performance management system. When considering implementing 360-degree performance reviews, we recommend participants are mutually agreed upon and that all department heads, some board members, some committee members and some members at large are included in the process. This doesn’t necessarily need to be an annual process, as a bi-annual 360-degree performance review is sufficient.

Clear feedback, as a dynamic exchange, benefits the GM/COO, the team, the board and the club as a whole. When GM/COOs actively seek feedback and participate in goal-setting, it demonstrates their commitment to personal and professional growth.

This commitment significantly contributes to the club’s success and fosters a positive, forward-thinking organizational culture. Such a culture not only meets the expectations of younger managers but also positions the club as an attractive workplace for emerging leaders eager to contribute to their own growth and the club’s overall success.

BoardRoom – March/April 2024

Best Practices for Establishing a Modern-Day Performance Management System2024-05-29T16:19:28+00:00

It’s YOUR Club … But It’s MY Life!

It’s YOUR Club... But It’s MY Life!

An eager and extremely qualified GM begins a new job with a great club. The club president and board give the new GM goals and set initiatives.

Everyone is excited about the new working relationship. Within a year or two, the GM completes the initiatives set forth … yet confusion and frustration begin to arise in factions of the membership. Then those feelings begin to spread to more members. Soon the staff also begins to raise concerns that are then fueled by members’ frustrations … all because members and employees don’t know or understand the board’s directions to the GM. The problems snowball and suddenly the GM is let go … even though the GM did exactly what the board asked the GM to do.

This story may seem far-fetched, but this kind of situation happens over and over again in the club industry. All too often decisions are made to eliminate a GM based on emotional factors caused by gaps in communication and misalignment. When it comes to significantly impacting a person’s life, career and family, terminating a GM should not be quick or reactive.

Members and employees must be included in the initiatives the board and GM have agreed upon, or they will be left to make their own conclusions and assumptions. When objectives are not shared or not clearly articulated, it leads to a lot of behind-the-scenes conversations which lead to misinformation. When misinformation is fueled by emotion, things get out of hand and escalate quickly.

So, when bringing in a new GM, the board must share with the membership and staff the direction/goals that the board has given to the new GM. Transparency is essential so the path ahead is clear, there is a level of understanding and no surprises. During a transition and the onboarding of a new GM, widespread understanding is essential.

Alignment and accountability of the club’s constituencies (board, committees, members at large, employees, etc.) are crucial for a successful transition. Constituency groups may get overlooked or are unaware when boards only communicate directions, master goals and initiatives among themselves and the GM. Consequently, there must be effective communication, which is never easy, along with clear expectations and alignment between constituency’ goals, and accountability at every level.

To ensure alignment and accountability:

1. Schedule a board orientation that includes the new GM within the first 30 days of the new GM’s start. We have found this to be one of the most effective ways to ensure alignment.

2. Clearly define roles and responsibilities and tie them to the master goals, which the board sets with the GM.

3. Have a plan, data and information for true accountability. This document clearly spells out the objectives, tactics, accountabilities, time frames and costs, and it should be updated for each board meeting to ensure continued focus of this critical success factor. Essentially, use a performance management system to document the GM’s accountability and the accountability of anyone else in the organization who is responsible for certain aspects of the plan.

4. Communicate the role members and employees play in helping the GM achieve goals.

The GM must be aware of the performance management criteria. Scheduled performance reviews should occur regularly (annually at minimum, quarterly at most) to ensure alignment of priorities and that goals are being met. Master goals for the GM should inspire the performance management criteria.

Use an evaluation matrix to give the board a clear snapshot of the GM’s performance and provide a basis for decisions that may need to be made in the future. If predetermined performance goals aren’t met, the performance evaluation matrix should detail a specific timeline to offer the GM the opportunity and time for improvement.

When it comes to GM accountability, there should be a standard operating procedure for raising an issue about the club/operations/GM. The process should be respected and the results clearly communicated. The board must also be brave, prompt and communicate effectively the actions being taken. This is much more successful than the board defending itself or the GM after “shots have been fired.” Establishing
trust right out of the gate with members and employees is crucial. Ensure a transparent, data-driven process and follow up and follow through, recognizing that communication takes many forms for constituencies to fully understand expectations, priorities and overall allocations of money, time and focus.

Boards must be vigilant on the front end to create success on the back end.

For example: If pace of play is an issue at the club and the pro is out on the golf course actively moderating pace of play, then there shouldn’t be much shock that the pro is hurrying people along. And the pro most certainly shouldn’t be reprimanded for doing so. If the golf committee’s goal is to speed up the pace of play, then the members can’t be allowed to criticize the pro for working to speed up play. This initiative needs to be communicated effectively in advance so no member should be surprised.

Being good communicators and “playing offense” is much more effective than keeping directives closely held by a small group of members and the GM, and later being on the defense when people claim to be unaware of what is happening and why. People rarely win when they only play defense.

Clubs must make every effort to openly share expectations, provide data-driven feedback and identify areas of improvement with reasonable timelines to ensure managers are well aware of how their performance aligns with club expectations.

Club presidents and boards must consider the ramifications of just “switching out a manager” or making quick decisions without thinking about the lasting effect a termination has on the person, their career, their family … and on the club.

As a follow-up to this article, we will offer best practices for setting goals and creating a performance management system in the next issue of this publication.

BoardRoom – January/February 2024

It’s YOUR Club … But It’s MY Life!2024-03-19T20:08:37+00:00

Steps to Strengthen Club Governance

Steps to Strengthen Club Governance

For the Outlook 2024 Pulse Survey question, “What do you think are the major issues affecting private clubs today?” one reply read:

“Lack of volunteerism within the club, from committee involvement to sitting on the board of directors. Our newer members are not as engaged in governance and would rather someone else do it.”

To address this very common lament of club managers and help to strengthen overall club governance in the year ahead, there will be a stronger focus on these best practices:

  • Continued emphasis on clubs operating more like a business where data, financials and the strategic plan/capital reserve study are used to make decisions.
  • Using a third-party portal of governance-related items. This will be one of the biggest opportunities for clubs in 2024. Portals can be accessed 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.
  • Boards will become more strategically involved in how the club is recruiting, onboarding and retaining staff. There will be a plan for how the club can become an employer of choice, and boards will become strategic partners 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 improved communication will be:

  • Sharing master goals for the board, committees, and GMs/department heads annually with the membership.
  • Surveying members (not anonymously) through day-to-day satisfaction and feedback surveys, while moving away from using committees as sounding boards.
  • Transitioning from a nominating committee to a leadership development committee that works year-round to actively nurture volunteer leadership and make it easier to find good people to fill volunteer positions.

Club Trends – Winter 2024

Tom Wallace, is a partner with KOPPLIN KUEBLER & WALLACE, a consulting firm providing executive search, strategic planning and data analysis services to the private club and hospitality industries. Tom can be contacted at

Steps to Strengthen Club Governance2024-02-21T19:36:30+00:00

2024 Trends in Private Club Governance

2024 Trends in Private Club Governance

What can we expect in governance in the year ahead? Stronger communication, more strategic boards and clubs that run like businesses basing decisions off data are trends Tom Wallace expects to see continue in the year ahead. Wallace, a partner with the firm Kopplin, Kuebler and Wallace, believes there are some key aspects that will become increasingly important in the governance realm in 2024. They are:

Surveying and Understanding Members. Clubs will move away from using committees as sounding boards and will do more loyalty and satisfaction surveys of members. “These surveys won’t be anonymous, they will include members’ names,” Wallace said. “If they aren’t willing to put their name on it, then they are thinking like a customer, not like an owner.” Removing the anonymity also means demographics add key data for club executives to understand the member’s age/background/etc. to help put the comments/suggestions/complaints in perspective. Without those demographics, it limits how club executives can lead and make decisions based on member feedback.

Responsibilities, Orientation and Education for Members. There will be a bigger focus on education and training for members, especially when they first join the club. Wallace believes that more explanation of the club’s responsibility matrix will happen during new member orientation rather than waiting until a member serves in a volunteer position. “There will be better education up front to make sure every member understands the governance model where committees are advisory, the staff is responsible for operations and the board is strategic,” he said. He believes more clubs will be better explained to new members that they are expected to serve on the board and/or committees. Not to imply forced volunteerism, but rather setting the expectation that members are asked to volunteer.

Human Capital Prioritization. Board members will become more involved in the club’s strategy for recruiting, hiring, retaining and training staff in the year(s) ahead. There will need to be a plan for the club to be an employer of choice. “While this is still a paid staff responsibility, boards will have to become partners in this initiative because it’s only going to become more challenging and cost more money. It is not getting any easier to hire people in the hospitality industry,” Wallace explained.

Board Portals. The biggest opportunity for boards in 2024, is the use of a third-party board portal service for all governance items. This is not a password protected area of the club website specific to board members which has been popular for several years. Rather, a third-party portal is an app online with a password which grants access to all club governance documents such as board/committee agendas, minutes, voting items, training videos, recurring education, supporting resources and more. All of these documents live in the portal so it is an easy way to communicate and stay more organized, functional and effective.

As boards trend toward less frequent meetings that may be longer to tackle strategic issues, using a third-party portal allows for more focus in the board meetings and for the board to have the ability to communicate and stay active in between meetings. It allows the minutia of committee agendas and other tedious issues to be handled in the portal and approved in advance of the board meetings. This way time spent in board meetings can be focused on strategic items. Wallace gave the example of approving an unexpected repair expense through the portal rather than scheduling a pop-up board meeting or waiting until the end of the month for approval.

Third party portals are customary for nonprofit boards and are beneficial because the platform tracks all voting, decisions, minutes, consent agenda items, what was approved or not, how long it takes people to view items and respond, who signs off on what, attendance and more. The portal is accessible by desktop or mobile device and it sends a text or notification to the person when something is posted they need to review. “The portal makes all the board and committee details very efficient, accessible and organized, which is why it presents such an opportunity for clubs to evolve their governance to the next level,” Wallace concluded. Some sample third-party portals are BellesBoard and Board Effect.

Private Club Advisor – January 2024

Tom Wallace, is a partner with KOPPLIN KUEBLER & WALLACE, a consulting firm providing executive search, strategic planning and data analysis services to the private club and hospitality industries. Tom can be contacted at

2024 Trends in Private Club Governance2024-02-16T15:42:05+00:00

Private Club Leadership in a Nutshell

Private Club Leadership and Culture

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.

BoardRoom Magazine – November/December 2023

Private Club Leadership in a Nutshell2023-12-12T17:33:38+00:00

Building an Effective Search Committee

Building an Effective Search Committee

A smooth, effective and trusted hiring process should be the goal for any private club embarking on a search for its next executive leader or department head.

The club’s overall success depends on hiring the most qualified candidate who is the best fit for the leadership role.

Based on our firm’s experience in the private club executive search business since 1997, one of the most important factors determining the success of the leadership hiring process is the makeup of the search committee.

The search committee can make or break the effectiveness and efficiency of the executive search process. Members serving on this committee should be purposefully and carefully identified to ensure the best possible outcome. The club should require that these committee members meet certain conditions and be willing to invest the time and energy necessary for the commitment. Those serving on the search committee should be aware of their significance in the success of the hiring of the next executive leader or department head.

When selecting search committee members, confidentiality is of utmost importance. It is as imperative as finding the best candidate for the job. Search committee members should always maintain confidentiality and never reveal information about the candidates or their current positions before the club makes an official announcement.

Even an inkling to a friend or colleague who may know a candidate, or knows a member at a candidate’s current club, could jeopardize the search. Candidates’ jobs could be at stake, the risk of losing exceptional candidates in the search may be high and organizational credibility could be damaged. For this reason, only trusted members who will provide complete confidentiality should be invited to serve on the search committee.

The composition of the search committee should have representation from various demographics and club constituencies, including active members who represent a variety of the club’s programs.

Typically, frequent users of the club and a cross-section of tenured, senior members and younger, newer members are recommended. Members serving on club committees likely understand how the management/governance works and are committed to the betterment of the club.

Finding members who enjoy and support the club and who will positively represent the club is ideal. These members will interact with candidates.

While the committee is interviewing candidates and determining their capabilities and fit in the role, candidates will be observing committee members to determine if the club culture and members’ mentality are compatible with their career goals. We often say the more chamber of commerce-type members on the committee, the better.

We recommend at least five but no more than seven members make up the search committee. Odd numbers are best in case of a tie, and the fewer the members the better because of the discretion required. Too many opinions often hinder the efficiency and effectiveness of the process, offering another reason to keep the group tight.

A lot of time, effort and commitment is required of the search committee, and it is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly. These members will receive a substantial amount of information about candidates, including resumes, questionnaire responses, professional portfolios and behavioral assessments.

It is not unusual for these documents to add up to more than 200 pages. In addition, search committee members will participate in multiple candidate interviews and possibly even dinners or social events with the final candidates. A commitment to participation is a contributing factor to the success of the committee and the entire hiring process.

Lastly, it is important to determine the role of the search committee in advance of compiling the committee. In our experience, a best practice is to have the search committee recommend the final candidate(s) to the board of directors, and then the board meets with the final candidate(s). We recommend the board makes the final decision along with the input and support of the search committee.

All of these factors must be considered when determining the makeup of the search committee. To ensure the best candidate is selected for the job, it is vital to create a smooth, effective and trusted hiring process by establishing the best possible search committee.

BoardRoom – September/October 2023

Building an Effective Search Committee2023-10-20T13:25:34+00:00
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