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