Less than ten years ago at a CMAA World Conference educational session Bill McMahon of the McMahon Group asked those in attendance how many clubs represented had a strategic plan? The answer was less than ten percent! Fortunately when that question is asked today, the answer is often more than thirty-five percent and climbing. So what are club executives coming to realize that those in the other business world have known for some time; a strategic plan has the following characteristics:

  • It is a road map for the future of the club.
  • It is not just a Capital Plan, but a combination of identified issues, needs, goals and objectives to help ensure the perpetuation and continued viability of the club.
  • It determines who and what you are, and what purpose you serve as a club.
  • It helps you understand what sets you apart from the competition.
  • It helps prepare for and manage change, which is inevitable in today’s club world.
  • It allows for stability and continuity in club governance.
  • It provides the club management team with clear and measurable goals and objectives.
  • It is about being proactive rather than reactive.
  • It is one of the common denominators found in today’s top performing clubs.

In Jason Jennings’ best seller Hit the Ground Running almost every one of the top ten corporate executives chronicled highlighted the importance of a strategic plan in their company’s success. So what parallel can we draw to the private club industry? Clubs with successful, active strategic plans usually have three key players driving their plan; a President or Committee Chair, a Facilitator and their General Manager/COO! So why should the general manager play such a key role in ensuring the success of the Club’s strategic plan? Often he or she is the keeper of the plan. Remember that in most clubs a board can completely turnover in six years, and according to CMAA Past President Michael Leemhuis’s research for his MCM on Leadership, the average tenure for a private club general manager is now in excess of seven years. Also as indicated earlier in this article, the strategic plan is a road map for the club, and it provides the club management team with direction and clear and measurable goals and objectives. Thus, it is apparent that a well developed and active strategic plan will benefit both the Club and the management team, another well known fact in the corporate world. That is why most successful corporate executives take charge of their company’s strategic plan and why many of the successful clubs that we have seen have General Managers/COO’s who work closely with their Boards and Facilitator in doing the same. Unfortunately we have also seen the reverse, where a strategic plan is not properly implemented and thus the Club does not realize the true benefits because the General Manager does not “buy-in” to the plan and take a leadership role. It is important to point out that for a strategic plan to be successfully implemented in a private club, it has to be embraced by the overall membership, not just the board and management. It needs to be the Club’s plan which has been developed by the board and management with “buy-in” from the membership. Only then can it be successfully implemented with club management playing a significant leadership role. This is the model that is seen at today’s top performing clubs. – JS

John R. “Jack” Sullivan, CCM Jack is Vice President of Hamilton Harbor Yacht Club and provides consulting services to private clubs. He specializes in strategic planning and other private club operational issues.