As I’ve traveled the country visiting clubs and general managers the last two years, there are many things that have become crystal clear to me about club leaders. Of these I’ve developed a baker’s dozen, if you will. This is first in a series of future articles on my top 13 (for now) keen observations.

Tom’s Top 13

1. What a fantastic business we work in! But it is a business. The strongest of leaders in our industry know how to run their club like a well-oiled factory, while the members still feel a familial and personalized experience.

2. Ideas and feedback drive successful organizations forward, so create a culture where questioning things is not only accepted but it’s encouraged. Create an environment of trust and sharing.

3. Time is a valuable commodity for everyone. Respect the time of your members, your team and yourself.

4. Be smart about your business partnerships. Create a checklist of all the things a purveyor or service provider has to possess in order for you to do business with them. Their values, the value they bring to the organization and the synergy you bring to each other.
5. Understand the Member’s (existing and prospective) Buying Decision Process and your Club’s perceived value, quality and variety:

Stage 1 – Need recognition
Stage 2 – Information search
Stage 3 – Alternative evaluation
Stage 4 – Purchase decision
Stage 5 – Post-purchase behavior

6. Know your stuff. Your Board and team know you don’t know everything, but you must be the resident expert on our business. What you don’t know you must be able to access quickly through your network.
7. Have a Strategic Plan that provides a vision, purpose, plan and brand. Get buy in for your plan.

8. Clarify roles and responsibility. Roles and responsibilities must be memorialized for an organization to succeed.

9. Employee engagement is not optional. If they aren’t with you they are against you.

10. Teach/develop/listen to your team. You know the old saying “AGM: What happens if we train them and they leave? GM: What happens if we don’t and they stay?” If Millennials aren’t growing they’re going!

11. Be Self-Aware about yourself as a leader and your organization. “One who knows others is wise. One who knows self is enlightened.” – Lao Tzu

12. Audit your organization. Is the culture of your organization to allow people both externally and internally to question the way you do things? Never rest on your laurels.

13. Everyone outside your walls is a competitor. “Poor

[clubs] ignore their competitors; average [clubs] copy their competitors; the best [clubs] lead their competitors.” – Philip Kotler

In the first of the series, we will explore #12

Number 12: Do you GAP? No, not wear 80’s jeans and sweaters. No, not follow (GAAP) accounting principles.

Gauge All Practices. That’s a Wallace acronym, free of charge. Embrace your realities and question your perceptions. This means go out and dig. Find out what’s really working and what’s really not. Nothing can be more profound then surveying your employees or having outside experts look at your operations to see where your perception and realities are not aligned.

Is the culture of your organization to allow people both externally and internally to question the way you do things? I recently read a story about tomorrow’s companies and Millennials. I think Millennials are fairly often misrepresented. In the past, it might have been OK to tell a young worker, “just do what you’re told and wait your turn.” Millennials aren’t geared that way. They ask questions. People are taken aback by this, but I now think it’s quite healthy. While some may feel it’s insubordinate to question authority or even the status quo, but they truly want to know why. They are asking for feedback and for understanding. When the questioning is driving you crazy remember “Innovation is anything, but business as usual”. We should question everything, all the time. Examination and scrutiny lead to understanding and change where needed.

Here comes another Wallace acronym: Triple A for Audit, Assess, Advance. The more you self-audit or have outsiders audit you, the better off you will be. Assess and use the information learned and you Advance as a leader and organization.

Any of us that have started a new management position know that what you’re told during the courting process is not necessarily reflective of the true reality, either intentionally or unintentionally. Perceptions are spun to spotlight the club as a shiny operation with few challenges. The reality may be, and often is, completely different. If done intentionally, what they are saying is help us fix our problems. If done unintentionally, what they are saying is we have no idea what our problems are. In either case, a close examination followed by an assessment of the information learned can lead to ultimate success.

As a new manager you spend a tremendous amount of time learning and questioning why things are done a certain way. You adjust the sails and, as captain, right the ship and then all too often, after a couple years go by the questioning and auditing of operations, governance, processes and procedures typically slow or stop. You might be tempted to rest on your laurels believing your systems are in place and are beyond reproach. Stopping can be very dangerous. “Resting on your laurels is as dangerous as resting when you are walking in the snow. You doze off and die in your sleep.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

Creating a culture of questioning things allows you to clearly define who you are compared to who you want to be. Clubs are famous for using the word TRADITION, and the members hold on hard to that word. A tradition is foundational. It’s part of the fabric of your club’s historical tapestry. Most confuse tradition with habitual behavior. HABITS can be good or bad and don’t necessarily reflect the club’s culture and brand. A $7.00 inclusive bridge lunch may be called a tradition by some, but I just call that a bad habit, especially if it doesn’t protect the three E’s that all clubs today must be (last Wallace-ism, I promise): Equitable, Ethical and Efficient. We preserve our heritage and our traditions, but we audit our “Habits.”

Simply put, you have to make sure you both know and practice the industry’s best practices. If you aren’t capable of doing it internally there is plenty of help out there. Look to the CMAA for help. To start, you must ensure, at a minimum, that the following areas be scrutinized and routinely audited: Governance, Strategic Planning, Food & Beverage, Branding, Communication and Employee Engagement. Secondarily, if they are cornerstones at your clubs: Agronomy and Merchandising.

I firmly believe “Gauging All Practices” leads to a better understanding of your realities, shatters your perceptions, helps you break bad habits, and will always lead to higher performance.

TomThomas B. Wallace III, CCM
Tom Wallace is a Partner of KOPPLIN KUEBLER & WALLACE, The Most Trusted Name in Private Club Executive Placement.