Research Brief: Stakeholder Expectations of Club Leaders’ Skills

Today, finding the right club leader is less about finding someone with experience – it’s more about using data to find the right professional to match the skills needed for a club’s unique demands.

Leadership expectations of club managers only continue to grow. Leaders require the operational knowledge that corporate executives demonstrate. Members have increasingly higher expectations of the experience their club delivers. Employees have more options than ever and desire a leader who understands they are an integral part of the club.  But what precisely do members and members of management want in their next GM/COO/CEO? How do these expectations change based on what each group perceives as essential?

The club industry has done an excellent job of creating opportunities for professional development focused on creating well-prepared industry leaders.  For example, the Club Management Association of America (CMAA) has integrated 11 competency areas around conceptual, administrative, and technical skills into their Business Management Institute (BMI) curriculum.  The Club Management Association of Canada’s (CMAC) mission – to create great leaders through excellence in club management – also focuses on supporting their members by providing professional development in critical operational areas.

But when it comes to clubs finding their next great leader or a current professional looking for the next great club, identifying the specific skills and abilities needed to succeed isn’t always straightforward.  Expectations are provided and often repeated across job descriptions, focusing on:

  • Position overview and the expectations of the position;
  • Attributes, competencies, and qualification expectations; and
  • A summary of the club’s initiatives and where the club is going

However, the specificity of crucial stakeholder expectations needs to be clarified.  Often members and employees have very different needs, and these insights are critical to understanding who will be successful as a leader.

Using our research-based approach, where data about the club’s needs are front and center in the search process, deeper insights into expectations can be established.  Using a multi-step method, we emphasize understanding the similarities and differences between stakeholders and how these influence finding the right candidate. Information is collected from both groups, employees and members of the club, to identify the skills and capabilities needed from potential candidates, assess potential hires’ fit, and place a candidate with the best opportunity to succeed.  Our research has found that stakeholders’ expectations at a club are focused on four areas: technical knowledge, management skills, professional attributes, and member engagement.

While each area represents critical leadership abilities and experiences, each offers unique value.  For instance, technical knowledge and management skills have similarly elevated levels of importance.  Whereas technical knowledge is driven by knowledge of various functional business areas, management skills are driven by effective leadership and the ability to be strategic. Professional attributes illustrate that being personable and creative is important, while member engagement focuses on understanding and delivering on the needs specific to the club industry.

Stakeholder Differences

As part of our executive search process to identify each club’s unique needs, employee and member stakeholder groups are asked to prioritize the skills they see as most important.  Results indicate similarities across expectations along with significant differences between members and staff.

Members emphasize the financial and budgeting skills needed at the GM/COO level, the importance of bringing food and beverage experience to the position, and the ability to provide direction for the departments they supervise.  Food and beverage stand out as unique, given that GGA generally sees this as an area of improvement when working with club industry clients.  These results indicate that greater emphasis is being placed on a new GM/COO hire to increase member satisfaction in this critically important area as part of having broad department-level experience.

On the other hand, managers emphasized club industry experience, the ability to manage the board, being innovative in finding solutions, and governance experience.  Understanding the club industry’s uniqueness is critical for this group.  From a previous experience standpoint, managers want a leader who knows how to effectively to interact with members and manage this fundamental relationship effectively.

From Differences to Interaction

To provide greater insight into clubs’ needs, the interaction between the specific abilities and experience across technical knowledge, management skills, professional attributes, and member engagement areas demonstrates where emphasis can be placed.  Through this process, clubs and potential applicants get a genuine sense of what the right candidate looks like. As demonstrated below, it is important to understand that some areas are more important than others when looking for the appropriate skillset. The larger bubbles indicate a more important position attribute, while only those interacting skills and experiences are shown, indicating that not every skill set is interrelated. For instance, from a GM/CEO/COO perspective, the importance of demonstrating leadership experience (the largest bubble) comes down to effectively leading in areas such as listening, team orientation, and successfully handling members. Leadership can also be showcased by having business acumen and financial knowledge. While thinking strategically and being able to motivate are essential considerations, effectively communicating is considered a critically important skill compared to other abilities.


Key Takeaways

While various leadership skills are essential for any position, a research-based process paints a clearer picture of the right candidate skillset needed for each club.  By tailoring any search process using these insights, unique needs can be identified to find suitable candidates for clubs and the right opportunities for candidates to help everyone succeed in the long term. From our research, we have found that:

1.While similarities exist between two very influential stakeholder groups, significant differences indicate that care should be taken to ensure that the needs of both groups are considered when hiring a club leader.

2. These differences are shown in how each stakeholder group views one another. Members see supporting other managers as more important, while managers see managing the member relationship as significantly more important.

3. Club’s stakeholders’ expectations are focused on four areas, that not all areas are considered equally important, and that significant (and important) interactive relationships exist across categories.

Though potential club managers are typically evaluated on a list of abilities, leaders are judged by their success in exceeding member expectations. Technical abilities are important to deliver these exceptional experiences, but personality is also critical to a leader’s success. By using a data-driven approach, the unique needs of each club can be identified to understand and match the personality attributes and management experiences needed to lead successfully. Ultimately, there is no standard formula for finding the right leader, but by using data, a club can find future leaders with the best chance to succeed.

Interested in learning about GGA’s Executive Search services?

If you would like to learn more about how we can help your club find its next club leader, please contact us.

The Next Chapter in Club Governance: An Interview with Michael McCarthy

Michael McCarthy is the CEO/General Manager of Addison Reserve Country Club in Delray Beach, Florida, a position he has held for 17 years. In 2007, Michael served on an Advisory Committee to help develop the Club Governance Model (Model) for the Club Management Association of America (CMAA). Designated the Standard of Excellence by CMAA, the Model began to be adopted by clubs across the country, albeit slowly. Sixteen years later, Michael was again asked to revisit club governance principles and practices – this time by serving on a committee to write a Club Governance Handbook (Handbook) for the National Club Association (NCA) and CMAA. “Private Club Governance: A Handbook of Principles and Best Practices” was released in August 2023 and is available to both CMAA and NCA members.

We caught up with Michael to reflect on the journey from the 2007 Model to the 2023 Handbook and to hear his thoughts about the next chapter for club governance.  

GGA: Michael, you have been at the forefront of club governance for over two decades, you were one of the first General Managers to be given the title of CEO, you were on the advisory team that developed the Club Governance Model, and most recently on the committee that prepared the Governance Handbook. What is it about club governance that deserves so much of your attention?  

McCarthy: I started working in private clubs in 1988. At the time, the majority of clubs held onto antiquated traditions of governance. They were run by Boards of Directors, officers, or committees with more of a focus on collegiality than on efficiency. There was almost hostility to operating clubs like a business. I was fortunate to have seen in business how important it is to distinguish between governing at a strategic level and managing at an operating level. So, I brought that mentality to the clubs I worked with and was fortunate to have open-minded boards that saw the importance of clarifying the roles of the board and the GM. 

GGA Partners: So, what do you say to members who want to be in a club and not a “business?”  

McCarthy: That implies we are sacrificing collegiality to gain efficiency. Far from it. Our mission at Addison Reserve is “Excellence is our Standard.”  While our members expect us to honor the mission, they also expect us to be good stewards.  They are happy to see us employ proven business practices in serving them. To do otherwise is to invite members to distrust their leaders – both the board and management.  

GGA Partners: You mentioned the need to distinguish between governing and managing. Why is that important at a club?  

McCarthy: Boards at private clubs comprise men and women who are skilled in their professions and who have very successful careers. However, their expertise may not translate to managing a large, complex private club. That job is best left to a competent GM who is given the authority and the resources to run the club efficiently and effectively. The board continues to be responsible for setting the strategic direction of the club and for holding the GM accountable for aligning operations with the strategy. Fulfilling that responsibility calls for board members who understand that they are governors and not managers.  

GGA Partners: How do they develop that understanding?  

McCarthy: Start with well-documented board policies that describe the club’s governance model, the expectations of individual board members, the delegation of the authority to the GM, and the roles of the board, its officers, the advisory committees, and the GM. Ensure that the orientation of new board members includes a detailed review of board policies. Soon after the election of new board members and officers, conduct a board retreat that includes a training session to reinforce the principles and best practices of good governance. 

GGA Partners: Speaking of governance models, you have observed the trend in club governance over the past two decades. Where do you see progress to date; what do you see as the next chapter; and how optimistic are you for future progress? For example, the GM/COO model was introduced more than 20 years ago and has gradually become the norm among clubs. You have held the title CEO for 17 years. Do you see the GM/COO model giving way to a GM/CEO model?  

McCarthy: Although I would like it, I don’t see it happening any time soon. Remember, it took time for clubs to accept the GM as COO, and even today, many clubs have a GM/COO while their bylaws name the President as CEO. This is a vestige of the past when boards and Presidents were involved in operations. In most of these clubs, the GM/COO has operational responsibility. If that’s the case, give the GM the title of CEO, or at least remove the CEO title from the President. 

GGA Partners: And finally, share your thoughts on the future of club governance.  

McCarthy: As you know, I was recently involved in the development of a Club Governance Handbook that was jointly sponsored by NCA and CMAA. I see the Handbook as ushering in the next chapter for Club Governance. It contains an integrated Framework which pulls together the principles and best practices of club governance. Acting on the recommendations in the Handbook may be a challenge to clubs that have trouble emerging from the status quo, but those that take to heart the Handbook’s instruction will clearly benefit. CMAA and NCA seek to encourage General Managers to appreciate the importance of proper club governance and embrace the principles in the Governance Framework. Finally, we General Managers who have traveled the road from antiquated club governance models to the Handbook must mentor and coach the next generation of leaders to preserve the standards set in the Handbook.  

Between Members and Governance: Member Discipline Today

The call went something like this: “We need your advice in a disciplinary matter here at the club. It seems that one of our members was making offensive statements when a fellow member asked the member speaking out to stop his comments. An argument ensued and the offended member punched the member making the offensive statements in the face. What disciplinary actions do you recommend?”

Uncivil – and sometimes antisocial – behavior has become a matter of concern in clubs across the globe. Many club members began to demonstrate anomie, as French behaviorist Emile Durkheim called it during the early 20th century. Anomie, in societies or individuals, is a condition of instability resulting from a breakdown of standards and values or from a lack of purpose or ideals. Durkheim summarized his findings by stating, “We are moral beings to the extent that we are social beings.” 

The pandemic loosened ties between people and relocated them to their clubs. Children stopped going to school; their parents stopped going to work; parishioners stopped going to places of worship; people stopped gathering, in general. Many sociologists think all of this isolation shifted the way we behave. “We’re more likely to break rules when our bonds to society are weakened,” Robert Sampson, a Harvard sociologist who studies social disorder, says. “When we become untethered, we tend to prioritize our own private interests over those of others or the public.” 

Many club leaders are reckoning with unprecedented behavioral abnormalities. “The pandemic has created a lot of “high-stress, low-reward” situations, explains Keith Humphreys, a psychiatry professor at Stanford University, “…and now, everyone is teetering slightly closer to their breaking point. Someone who may have lost a job, a loved one, or a friend to the pandemic might be pushed over the edge by an innocuous request.” 

Like their friends and neighbors, club members became untethered from social norms and standards of mutually respectful behavior and their disconnection from behavioral standards has left many clubs seeking guidance in matters of member discipline. 

First, each club must return to – or re-establish – its standards of decorum and respectful conduct. The most frequently abused private club standards are usage of technologies in restricted areas, violations of established dress codes, and general adherence to long-established club rules for reservations – whether for sports or meals. 

Second, club members demand that their boards and management take disciplinary action with members who frequently or repeatedly stray from the club’s rules. The questions in many club boardrooms are: What? And how? 

Updating a club disciplinary structure requires several steps which must be described as swift, firm, and fair. 


Members want to see rules enforced in a timely manner to ensure that regular rule-breakers begin to refrain from undesirable actions.  

 In order to implement timely rules enforcement, clubs must establish and broadly communicate clear guidance concerning the club’s rules and regulations. Four primary steps should be used: 

  1. Establish clear-cut steps to be consistently implemented when club rules are broken. 
  2. Communicate that the Board is responsible for member discipline. 
  3. Demonstrate and disclose the disciplinary process that will be used.  
  4. Adhere to the practices that are established for disciplinary matters. 


Execute the disciplinary process without passion or prejudice. It helps that the Board has already reviewed, approved, and authorized disciplinary actions – or punishments – in advance of events as they may unfold. Rules cannot be made on an impromptu basis. 

 Board members must be congruent and respectful of those members being disciplined. As behaviorists have indicated, good people sometimes become disconnected from their own social judgement. Be understanding and committed to the premise that members want to belong to a club that has standards and that the club stands for something to be honored. 

 Do not make exceptions or excuses. In pre-determining what rules violations or offenses are to be addressed, develop proportionate disciplinary responses to each.  


Plan the disciplinary process to ensure that a reasonable and responsible fellow member can see that the Board is acting with balance and understanding in disciplinary matters.  

The important priorities to remember are: 

  • Be prepared to defend your disciplinary approach. 
  • Coordinate your club’s disciplinary plan with capable club counsel who can review your club’s bylaws and disciplinary approach prior to taking action. 
  • Confirm with counsel that they can successfully defend your approach to restoring or improving discipline in your club 
  • Confirm all disciplinary examples and intentions with experienced club lawyers before taking action. 
  • Interview all participants (and witnesses) in rules violations to confirm the facts involved. Take the time to overturn all possible observations, recordings, and/or previous communications and events. 
  • Allow for appeals and reviews to ensure that the club’s actions align with local jurisdictional guidelines…regardless of the offense. 
  • Include family members for repeat offenses. Poor or disrespectful conduct means one must tell his or her spouse that the family has been suspended. 
  • Maintain a spirit of understanding and collegiality throughout the review and disciplinary process. 
  • Refer matters – such as employee harassment, inappropriate behavior, assault and/or battery – to law enforcement. Report legally relevant situations to the proper authorities. 

Some members may believe that their clubs and directors are too soft on discipline. Most members want to belong to a club that honors the values being proclaimed. Be who you say you are. 

Once disciplinary action has been taken, tell members that the Board has acted:

  • Do not name the individuals involved. 
  • Communicate disciplinary actions by stating (i) the offense, (ii) the action taken by the board, and (iii) the outcome of this action. 
  • Maintain strict confidentiality to protect the privacy of all concerned. 
  • Communicate the disciplinary actions of the board monthly (note and report when no actions were required as behavior improves) 

If you do not respect your own rules, no one else will respect your authority to discipline. 

Finding The Perfect Match

Growing up in a small town in Southwestern Ontario, my formative years were deeply influenced by sports and various activities. From a young age, I found myself immersed in a vibrant sporting culture that played a pivotal role in shaping my upbringing. Countless evenings were spent playing games of golf, hockey, baseball, and any other sport my friends and I could play after school. These experiences fostered a deep passion for competition, teamwork, and the pursuit of excellence. At the time, I was unaware that there existed opportunities that could combine my love for sports with the traditional business world. It wasn’t until I was introduced to GGA through my university’s job portal that I realized it was possible.

GGA’s innovative approach to private and leisure club strategy opened my eyes to the vast potential within this industry. The combination of business acumen, strategic thinking, and a profound understanding of the private club landscape presented an irresistible opportunity. It was a perfect match that aligned with my interests and offered a path to contribute meaningfully to the private club world.

Developing the foundation for business strategy

Prior to joining GGA, I spent five years pursuing a double degree at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario. Immersed in a rigorous academic environment, I completed degrees in both business and financial mathematics. The dual nature of this program proved to be a constant source of challenge and growth, fostering the development of crucial skills that continue to serve me well in my career at GGA. Throughout my studies, I honed my problem-solving abilities, sharpened my time management skills, and cultivated a strong sense of organization—all of which have been instrumental in navigating the dynamic landscape of my current role.

The combination of business and financial mathematics has granted me a unique perspective in managing complex business situations. Equipped with a comprehensive understanding of financial implications, I approach decision-making with an acute awareness of both operational and financial considerations. This integrated knowledge allows me to analyze multifaceted scenarios and make informed judgments that align with broader organizational goals.

During my time in university, I spent multiple internships at BDO, where I served as a junior consultant in its Risk Advisory practice. These internships played a pivotal role in establishing a strong foundation for my consulting career. Not only did I learn how to foster and maintain client relationships, but I also acquired invaluable expertise in analyzing operating procedures, conducting thorough market research, and aligning business strategies with industry best practices. These experiences were critical for refining my analytical prowess, developing my communication skills, and solidifying my understanding of the consultancy landscape.

Shift to the private club industry

Since joining GGA as an Associate, I have had the opportunity to work on a variety of engagements, each presenting unique opportunities for growth and learning. From contributing to a strategic growth plan for a prominent multi-course operator to conducting feasibility studies for luxury residential and resort communities to delving into financial modeling for a notable sporting club, I have immersed myself in a multitude of projects. Embracing each engagement as a chance to expand my knowledge and expertise has been integral to my personal and professional development.

What truly energizes me is the ability to leverage my expanding technical acumen, complemented by my business and finance background, to deliver robust solutions to our clients. I take great pride in being part of a forward-thinking organization. The collaborative environment and the wealth of knowledge within our team have provided invaluable support, enabling me to grasp the intricacies of the private club landscape. I am eager to continue honing my understanding and making meaningful contributions to this evolving industry.

More about me

Beyond my professional pursuits, I enjoy reconnecting with my roots and maintaining an active lifestyle. In sync with the emerging trend, I have developed a newfound interest in pickleball, embracing the physical and social aspects of this engaging sport. Additionally, as a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, I find both joy and heartbreak (especially this year) in passionately cheering for my team.

Overall, my journey in the private club industry has been one of continuous growth, both personally and professionally. Through collaboration, ongoing learning, and an unwavering commitment to excellence, I am excited to contribute to the success of GGA and make a positive impact within the private club landscape.

Tyler Macpherson is an Associate at GGA Partners. He can be reached at

The Brave New World of Online Voting

If the noise associated with the 2020 and 2024 national elections is any indication, there is no shortage of public distrust of electronic voting systems, which have been around for more than six decades, starting with the use of punched card systems.

Claims of stolen elections, instances of voter fraud and reports of malfunctioning equipment have contributed to the skepticism of electronic voting in general and online voting in particular—a skepticism likely shared by many club members. Even so, there are sizeable benefits to online voting that qualify for consideration by the club’s leadership. Moreover, there are policies and practices that significantly increase the reliability and accuracy of online voting.

Benefits of Online Voting

Greater Member Participation in Elections. Rather than being required to attend a meeting and fill out a paper ballot, members can access an online ballot at their home or work and complete the process in minutes rather than hours. Once the vote is submitted, members receive a virtual confirmation assuring them that their vote was tallied. Higher voter turnout means higher levels of engagement by members, resulting in a more accurate indicator of the entire membership.

Potential Cost Savings. Online voting can be less expensive since the avoided cost of printing and mailing election materials and ballots is often more than the fees incurred from the online voting platform vendor. There is also the benefit of fewer staff hours handling materials, processing ballots and tabulating results.

Secure Platforms. There are several well-tested, trusted internet platforms for online voting available to support club member votes. The platforms have easily implemented processes with the necessary security checks to authenticate voters. They also leave audit trails to allow for validating results.

Speed and Accuracy of Results. Once the election is closed, results are quickly tabulated and certified. Not only does this save time and resources, it also eliminates the human error that may occur during a manual vote count. Depending on whether demographic data are collected with the vote, the online platform can provide demographic segmentation while maintaining voter anonymity, thereby giving club leadership information about how opinions vary by demographic.

Selecting an Online Voting Systems Vendor

Important factors to consider when selecting a vendor may include:

  • Ensuring you understand what is included in the service and the associated cost, so you can compare “apples to apples” with other vendors.
  • The reliability of processes for protecting the confidentiality of data.
  • The process for integrating written ballots if the vote is not entirely online.
  • The ease of voting, i.e., the clarity of the process and the likelihood of errors from members who are not tech savvy.
  • The results of interviewing references, i.e., feedback from clients with similar member profiles who have used the online platform.


There are several factors that must be considered when planning and preparing for an online vote. They include:

Aligning Bylaws. Club bylaws will need to be reviewed as they typically cover voting requirements, which may need to be amended to permit online voting. Bylaws also specify the timing of annual meetings, notification lead times, publication of the slate of candidates, and policies related to proxies, e.g.:

  • Proxy requirements and the format of proxies, g., general proxies vs. directed proxies.
  • Critical timing requirements and limitations on when proxies can be collected and the deadline for submitting a vote.
  • Explicit requirements to issue paper notices, ballots, or
  • Specification of who is authorized to administer, issue or receive proxies and ballots.

Election Planning. Vendors specializing in online systems for private clubs will offer support and guidance on the logistics and technical aspects of conducting the online vote. However, it is incumbent upon club leaders to develop and execute a plan to educate members about the process. As mentioned above, there will almost certainly be bylaws that need changing. Because amending the bylaws at most clubs requires member approval, it is critical that members be comfortable with and supportive of the proposed voting process. Be transparent with the plans to use online voting and provide multiple means to communicate to and hear from members, e.g., email messages, town hall meetings and focus groups. Ensure the involvement of legal counsel both in the drafting of amendments to the bylaws and in assessing the risk of legal action by a member.

Your plan may be to start with a hybrid approach where members are given a choice of using a paper ballot or voting online. Although the hybrid approach adds a degree of complexity to the process, it may address concerns from members who are leery of online voting. Moreover, the results from the initial use of a hybrid approach will provide a gauge of the percentage of members who choose to use a paper ballot instead of online voting. If the percentage of members using the paper ballot is low—say in the single digits—it may be appropriate to require that all votes be registered online.

The Leap to a Brave New World

Even though a hybrid approach may have a certain political appeal, we recommend a change in the bylaws that specifies the use of online voting only. Members today are more technologically savvy than ever and will continue to rely on electronic devices to complete everyday tasks. Accordingly, we believe member resistance to going completely online will be modest. However, don’t presume a zero-member pushback. Put together a plan for two-way communication with the members, including special training for members who do not have access to a computer or the inability to use it to register their vote. Finally, ensure your plan has competent legal review, and move forward to realize the full benefits associated with online voting.

This piece was published in the National Club Association‘s Summer 2023 Issue of Club Governance. 

Executive Sessions: What, When, How, and Why

How many private club boards include executive sessions as part of their board meetings? Not enough, in our view. Although executive sessions can play an important role in a board’s relationship with the general manager (more and more clubs have adopted a governance model that designates the General Manager as the Chief Operations Officer (COO) or Chief Executive Officer (CEO)). Although we heartedly endorse this practice, we use the generic label of GM throughout this article.) and their staff, too few boards have a policy relating to the conduct of executive sessions as a regular item on their meeting agendas.

To encourage boards to adopt a policy of including executive sessions as a regular part of their meetings, this article offers:

  • What: Identify the two types of executive sessions.
  • When: Describes their frequency and where they are placed on the agenda.
  • How: Recommend their conduct.
  • Why not: Suggest why they are viewed with skepticism.
  • Why: Explain why they are important.


There are two types of executive sessions:

  • Type 1: those that include only the GM and board members (Type 1 sessions may also include subject matter experts to provide special advice on a sensitive topic.).
  • Type 2: those that include only board members.

Type 1: While the GM attends all board meetings, it is not uncommon for key staff members to also attend. They can serve as a resource for additional information and the board discussions and actions can help staff members understand the board’s strategic perspective. However, there are topics of a sensitive nature where it is advisable for only the Board and GM to discuss. Hence the need for a Type 1 executive session.

Type 2: Often the GM’s success turns on his/her being provided valuable feedback from the board that as a group is responsible for the GM’s evaluation and for their success. The agenda for Type 2 executive sessions is focused on hearing from board members as to where the GM is performing well and where he/she can improve.


For club boards that meet monthly, we recommend including a Type 1 executive session as part of every board meeting. Topics of a sensitive nature are common enough at board meetings to warrant Type 1 executive sessions be on the agenda. Although executive sessions can be placed anywhere on the meeting agenda, we believe they are best placed at the end.

While it is best practice for Type 1 executive sessions to be part of every board meeting, Type 2 sessions should be scheduled at least semi-annually and at most quarterly. The purpose of the Type 2 session is to provide the president with constructive feedback he/she can present to the GM subsequent to the board meeting.


With a Type 1 executive session, the chair or the GM will typically schedule topics for discussion. The chair may also invite board members to raise topics that they believe belong to only the board and the GM to discuss. To join the Type 1 session, the chair may invite experts such as attorneys, accountants, or advisors on employee matters to advise the board on sensitive topics or potential risk areas to the club.

The value of Type 2 executive sessions rests on the clarity of their purpose, effective communication with the GM, and the professional conduct of the discussion. It is important that the session have a framework and not be an ill-structured voicing of opinions. Fashion the agenda around the GM’s annual performance goals, which should be documented in the board policies manual. Share the agenda with the GM and ensure that they understand the purpose of the session and the benefits of the feedback they will receive in the process. Include both quantitative metrics such as meeting budget and retaining staff and qualitative assessments such as responsiveness to member concerns and value of reports to the board. Seek results from the session based on the consensus derived from the discussion that provides the president with clear messages to be delivered to the GM.

Relating to the “how” question of conducting the executive session, be prudent about what to include in the minutes. Regarding advice on minutes, in her excellent article, “Goldilocks Minutes,” Robyn Nordin Stowell cautions that “Board minutes should include enough information, but not too much information.” She goes on to identify what should be and what should not be included in meeting minutes. Her counsel is especially relevant to executive sessions that include sensitive topics. For example, she cautions against naming individuals or providing detail on disciplinary actions.

Why Not

Although we don’t hear from staff that they are offended to be excused for Type 1 executive sessions, we often hear from GMs who dislike Type 2 sessions. They have misgivings about the board criticizing their performance. One GM said, “An executive session is an invitation for disapproving comments by board members who don’t have a clear idea of what I do. The board and I are partners in leading the club and I view executive sessions as undermining that partnership.” This is an understandable reaction. Few of us enjoy being talked about—especially when constructive criticism is a part of the discussion. But the benefits of Type 2 sessions properly conducted can more than offset the displeasure or skepticism of the GM.


The GM and the board are in a real sense leadership partners. However, each partner has a role in the relationship. The board confirms the mission, develops the strategy to achieve it, and delegates the operational authority to the GM to carry out the strategy. In turn, the GM is accountable to the board to achieve the operational goals within written board policies. The clarity by which the board delegates and the GM is held accountable is fundamental to health of the partnership.

The increased popularity of the concept of the GM as COO or CEO has added greatly to the quality of private club governance over the past two decades. GMs are being given the authority to do the jobs for which they are well-trained and equipped. However, having a GM as COO or CEO does not reduce the responsibility of the board to properly evaluate him/her via a structured, well-documented evaluation process. Such a process includes periodic feedback during the year—feedback borne out of board member input during Type 2 executive sessions. Boards that default to the president to conduct the evaluation of the GM or wait until the end of the year to tally their opinions on the GM’s performance do a disservice to this important duty of the board.

Just as the GM as COO or CEO helps to distinguish the roles of the board as governing and the GM as managing, so too can executive sessions send a similar reminder. Good club governance models have the board speaking with one voice to the GM. Far from disrespecting the GM/board partnership, executive sessions can strengthen the relationship by giving the GM the benefit of constructive feedback from a board committed to his/her success. We recommend that club boards include Type 1 sessions on the agenda of every regularly scheduled board meeting and Type 2 sessions on the agendas of at least two board meetings a year. Regularly scheduled sessions reduce the perception that an executive session signals a problem with the staff, a risk of litigation, a concern about the GM’s performance, or another unfounded speculation. Put executive sessions on the calendar of board meetings and let them contribute to the board’s effectiveness in general and its ability to support the GM in particular.

This piece was published in the National Club Association‘s Summer 2023 Issue of Club Governance. 

Getting to What Matters in Member Satisfaction

“There is no way to make every member happy. No matter what a club does, someone will always be unhappy. Some members will never be satisfied.”

These are all common sentiments in the club industry, as member satisfaction is a complex topic, even on the easiest days. For some, satisfaction is having a reliable club experience at an elevated and personalized level. For others, it’s the expectation that the club is responsive to their individual expectations. Ultimately, what drives satisfaction is that members find value in their memberships, even if not every member is always happy.

When looking at members’ expectations, satisfaction is driven by the need to provide value in four primary areas:

  1. Perceived value and the quality provided by the club.
  2. Emotional value and the feelings generated by membership.
  3. Price value and the role of cost, time, and effort of membership.
  4. Social value and how the club affects a person’s standing.

Member satisfaction is understanding the mix of member wants, needs and desires to ensure a club’s value proposition meets these expectations.

Understanding Satisfaction

Clubs shouldn’t be afraid to understand member satisfaction, even if the results aren’t positive. Fear of finding out members aren’t always happy limits a club’s health. Taking for granted that you know your member- ship too often relies on listening to only those who actively share their satisfaction (or dissatisfaction). To right-size the opinions of the most vocal and ensure all members see continued value in membership:

  • Start with interactional satisfaction. Surveys are often driven by understanding how members use the club and how satisfied they are with these This information provides an opportunity to support the operational efficiency of any management team. Through consistent evaluations of operational satisfaction, clubs can identify areas for potential improvement and track their successes.
  • Take members’ opinions seriously. Quality data and member in- formation are at the core of member Asking about satisfaction is one thing, but getting an accurate view of members’ thoughts means having them actively involved. You must ask for feedback and act on it if you want true understanding. And that doesn’t just mean talking about what happened. It means showing movement—quick wins members can see, sharing how insights are used and communicating changes. Too many clubs don’t share the outcomes of their activities and, even worse, don’t follow through to address what was learned.

Emphasis placed on regularly collecting interaction satisfaction is an essential first step. This ”Are you satisfied with our service?” perspective provides critically important views into the club’s value proposition.

Delivering Value

Too often, the complexity of member satisfaction is dominated by an operational emphasis without considering members’ assumptions and expectations. Assumptions are made that club-member interactions are only what matters. Future expectations of current and prospective members are often ignored. To successfully drive satisfaction and create an exceptional value proposition, clubs need to think differently about their members.

When looking at members’ motivations and expectations, it is important to remember that a club is a place to facilitate your members’ wants. Clubs can create meaningful value by going beyond transactions (e.g., having a meal) to facilitating personal needs (e.g., the desire for social interaction at dinner). These needs focus on providing:

  • A mix and range of activities and services (e.g., golf and tennis).
  • An atmosphere that is desired by members (e.g., club atmosphere).
  • Personal fulfillment of internal wants and needs (e.g., ability to pursue competition).
  • A comfortable and safe feeling (e.g., a sense of emotional comfort).
  • A social environment for interpersonal interactions (e.g., quality of social network).
  • Ability to access club amenities (e.g., use of the club when wanted).

When clubs build the range of experiences that members desire, membership value and satisfaction grow.

Club leaders can proactively address changing perceptions by continuously looking to the future of what members see as crucial to their experience.

Club leaders can proactively address changing perceptions by continuously looking to the future of what members see as crucial to their experience. By thinking strategically about satisfaction, information can be collected on what members want and how it will influence their behaviors. This means asking members about current offerings, what services and amenities they want, how any changes affect their behaviors and whether or not their needs are being met.

Bottom Line

Satisfaction is among the most complex topics professional managers and club governance leaders will encounter at clubs. By looking at satisfaction beyond daily interactions, an accurate picture of member fulfillment can be understood by looking at these often-over- looked member considerations to drive member value. While there is no way to make all members happy, all of the time, an emphasis on membership value provides the right focus to ensure club success.

This piece was authored by GGA Director, Dr. Eric Brey, PhD. for the National Club Association‘s Summer 2023 Issue of Club Governance Magazine. 

How a Club Works: Back to Basics

When our children were young, they had an endless stream of questions, often beginning with the words “how” and “why.” One day, we bought them a book entitled, “How Things Work.” It was a hit with its basic diagrams and simple explanations, and it greatly reduced the flow of “how” and “why” questions. As simplistic as it sounds, we recommend that club leaders provide their members with a basic understanding of how things work at their club—how it is governed and how it operates. We often hear from members via surveys about what they view as a lack of communication, transparency and trust with their board of directors. Although regaining member trust is a multifaceted exercise, the first step in addressing adverse perceptions of club leadership is a primer that serves as the club’s version of the book “How Things Work.

This article offers a sample approach to providing members of “Model Country Club” with a basic understanding of how their club works. These concepts and their supporting documents should be part of a new member orientation portfolio. We trust that clubs can customize the sample message to meet their configuration and culture, so their new members understand the governance structure of the club and the expected roles of each of the key players in the structure.

Welcome to Model Country Club (MCC). For you to get the most out of your club membership, it’s important that you understand how the club works, i.e., the basic structure and governance of MCC and the roles of the key players, namely the:

  • Members
  • Board of Directors (often called Board of Trustees or Board of Governors. In the case of MCC, it’s the Board of Directors.)
  • General Manager (GM) and staff
  • Committees

Structure and Governance
MCC has three layers of structural authority and responsibility:

  • Members: As a member, you own the club and enjoy access to the full array of services, facilities and amenities it offers (not all private clubs are member-owned. For this sample message, MCC is a member-owned club). Your predecessors established MCC in the 1921 Articles of Incorporation. Members establish the framework of club governance in the Bylaws, which were last amended in 2017. Annually, members choose who will lead and guide the club by electing representatives to the Board of Directors (Board).
  • Board of Directors: The members elected to the 10-member Board become the club’s “governors.” The Board is given authority in the member-approved bylaws and is charged with fulfilling and sustaining the club’s mission through fiduciary and strategic oversight of the club.
  • General Manager: The Board delegates authority to manage operations to our GM, the Board’s “one employee.” The Board establishes the mission and strategic direction for the club and relies on the GM to align operations with the strategic plan to accomplish the mission.
  • Committees: Our committees advise the:
    • Board on Board-related functions like finance, long-range planning, membership and governance.
    • GM on operational matters such as golf, greens, house and fitness.

Role of Key Players

Members: As owners, members have the authority to amend the bylaws and therefore formulate the policies within which the Board must operate. However, that authority is operative only during the annual meeting or specially called meetings. At all other times, although members are encouraged to offer feedback or suggestions, they act as customers expressing their opinion, not exercising authority.

Board Members: With the delegation given in the bylaws, Board members have the authority to formulate policies within which the GM and staff must operate. However, that authority is operative only during properly called board meetings. At all other times, although board members may make suggestions to the GM and staff, they are acting like club members expressing their opinion, not exercising authority.

General Manager: Using the authority delegated by the Board, the GM is responsible for club operations within written Board policies. The GM and staff are encouraged to solicit feedback from club members and respond in a timely and substantive way. However, they are not obligated to act on a suggestion if they don’t believe it is in the club’s best interest.

Committees: Committees serve the Board by providing advice and proposing policies on Board-level functions. Operations committees support the GM and staff by providing advice and proposing policies on operations-level functions.

Going Back to Basics

The governance structure at MCC is straightforward and designed to operate efficiently and effectively as well as to engender the culture as a family-centric community. Each of the key players in the structure must understand their roles—in terms of both their authority and the limitations on their authority. We seek a community where members, leaders, and staff personnel are respected, and where each of them is trusted to carry out his/her role in the structure with integrity and quality.

This piece was published in the National Club Association‘s Summer 2023 Issue of Club Governance. 

Revisiting the Board Policies Manual

During the Hundred Years War, the English army laid siege on Harfluer, France, and blew a hole in its fortification. After King Henry’s troops tried and failed in an initial attempt to take advantage of the opening, he spurred them to try again with the memorable command, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.” The phrase is used today to encourage additional attempts to succeed. We use it to revisit the board policies manual (BPM) and urge clubs to adopt it as their club management system.

Fifteen years ago, the Club Managers Association of America (now known as the Club Management Association of America) designated the Club Governance Model (Model) as its standard of excellence. The centerpiece of the Model was the BPM, a document containing or referencing all policies of the Board of Directors. The Model reinforced the concept of the general manager as chief operating officer (GM/COO). Clubs were initially slow to adopt the Model in general and the BPM in particular. However, over the years, the BPM has steadily found its way on the list of strategic action items for clubs seeking to strengthen their governance models. The growing recognition of the BPM’s value is good news. The bad news is the perception of the BPM has morphed away from the original structure and content. It’s time to reexamine the BPM by being reminded of its purpose, emphasizing what it is, and clarifying what it isn’t.

Purpose of the BPM

The BPM is a compilation of, or a reference to, all standing board policies. The reasons for its adoption are the:

  • Efficiency of having all ongoing board policies in one place.
  • Ability to quickly orient  new board members.
  • Elimination of redundant or conflicting policies.
  • Ease of reviewing current policy when considering new issues.
  • Provision of policies to guide the board, general manager and staff.

The BPM represents the entire board’s voice speaking to sound governance principles and best practices. Because the BPM is the board’s voice and not just that of the president, the Executive Committee or a faction of the board; it:

  • Guards against divisions within the board by encouraging consensus from different points of view and eventual board-wide agreement on decisions
  • Has the stability to keep the policies operative year-on-year, even though the president and a third of the board may change annually.

BPM: What it is

The most commonly organized BPM comprises five parts:

Part 1: Introduction and Administration: States the purpose of the BPM, the rationale for its use, how it is maintained, and how its contents are employed in the club’s governance model.

Part 2: Organization Essentials: Includes the club’s vision, mission and values, along with the club’s strategic and tactical goals. These “organization essentials” form the foundation upon which the organization’s other policies are designed and built.

Part 3: Board Structure and Process: The board’s strategic perspective, job description, style, and configuration; policies on meeting management and officer elections; policies relating to committee types, responsibilities and membership are clearly outlined.

Part 4: Board-GM/Staff Relationship: This part states the delegation of authority to the GM, accountability to the board, process for GM evaluation and staff treatment.

Part 5: Executive Limitations: Includes limitations on the GM’s authority given in Part 4, e.g., signature authority on checks, budgeted and unbudgeted expenditures, capital spending, size and duration of contracts, and the like.

As configured above, the BPM will incorporate by reference those board-owned documents that can stand alone, e.g., strategic plan, members rules and regulations, conflict of interest statement and committee charters. Although the actual documents are not housed in the BPM, their contents require board approval. Incorporating them by reference in the BPM keeps the BPM shorter and focused on how the board will govern.

BPM: What it isn’t

While we can celebrate the increase in the number of clubs that are adopting the use of the BPM, we have noticed three areas where the BPMs being developed deviate from the recommended scope and structure of the document:

  • It is not a Reference Book: We have seen clubs use the BPM as a type of encyclopedia of information board members might find useful. Along with board policies, they might include their Articles of Incorporation, bylaws, contact data for board members, golf tournament schedules, opening and closing times, and the like. These may be useful reference materials, but they are not board policies.
  • It is not a Guidebook: Policies are directives. They are not suggestions or guides. Publishing them as guides practically guarantees an uneven level of compliance. Governing by guidelines will frustrate those willing to follow the guidelines and reward those who choose to operate outside of them.
  • It is not a Manual of Key Policies: Some clubs see the BPM as consisting of only the most important policies. However, if a board allows implicit (unwritten) policies to exist along with the policies in the BPM, the effect will be similar to the effect of using policies as guidelines. The implicit policies will end up trumping the explicit policies as the BPM will be perceived as “not the way we do things.”

Once More to Succeed

While we don’t see our urging the development of a properly constructed and employed BPM as rising to the level of King Henry’s charge to his troops, we have seen enough examples of improperly developed BPMs to encourage us to enter the breach once more. The BPM is the most important component of a club’s governance model. There are BPM templates available for clubs to follow with sample policies to illustrate both the contents and organization of BPMs most commonly found in the club community. Let them guide you in developing a BPM that will serve as the centerpiece of your club’s governance model.

This piece was published in the National Club Association‘s Summer 2023 Issue of Club Governance. 

Member Satisfaction Trends & the Importance of Continuous Measurement

Club leaders generally have a strong pulse on the strengths and weaknesses of the member experience at their club. But given the amount of direct member feedback that Club Managers receive and the presence of vocal minorities at every club, it can be difficult to prioritize the needs of the silent majority.  

GGA has the opportunity to facilitate many private club surveys that collect ongoing feedback from tens of thousands of members each year. In doing so, common trends in member satisfaction begin to reveal themselves, and an understanding of what lies beneath the general satisfaction feedback.  

That is why formal member surveys are essential to help club leaders gain a deeper understanding of member satisfaction at their club. We recently released the results of our annual Club Leader’s Perspective industry survey, a 2023 update on pressing needs in club management, including emerging trends, challenges and needs heading into a new year. The feedback from 230 club leaders across the industry uncovered some interesting insights regarding member satisfaction: 

Those who do not measure satisfaction through a survey were more likely to be optimistic about satisfaction levels at their club – 42% of responding club leaders surveyed their members over the past year. Of that cohort, 61% measured an overall increase in satisfaction. In contrast, 74% of the audience that did not measure satisfaction perceived an increase. 

Across our client sample of satisfaction surveys, we observed a relatively flat overall satisfaction trend this past year, and we believe it is unlikely that 3 in 4 clubs this past year experienced improved levels of member satisfaction. As an overall trend, we observed satisfaction levels in 2022 remain slightly elevated from pre-pandemic levels but relatively consistent with 2021. The one area that we noticed a common decrease in satisfaction was food and beverage operations, often driven by low scores in menu variety/selection and service consistency.  

Only 16% of club leaders believe they are facing new and significant challenges related to their membership at their club. 

We were surprised to see ‘membership’ lower in terms of creating new challenges for club leaders. Given the high turnover and member growth that many clubs incurred during the pandemic, we are starting to observe ‘generational divide’ challenges emerge as a strategic issue for many clubs, specifically preserving culture and assimilating new and old generations of members. Member surveys provide great value in mitigating this issue by clearly delineating the key differences and commonalities in wants, needs and priorities for different generations. 

For the club leaders who measured satisfaction, they found older generations to be harder to satisfy than new generations, which is consistent with what GGA has observed the past year. Club leaders who did not quantitively measure satisfaction displayed a more balanced perception of the difficulty of satisfying each generation.  

Club leaders who surveyed their members were also more likely to have increased their membership size in 2022 (or waitlist), and more likely to have deployed an adjustable capacity for membership based on activity access and utilization (rather than a pre-determined rigid cap from the bylaws). Intuitively, this makes sense as regular member feedback can provide club leaders with the confidence to optimize usage at the club, satisfaction with access, and ultimately identify opportunities to increase members or member usage.  

From a membership perspective, the industry remains in a position of strength, with a growing number of waitlisted clubs and member feedback that suggests low attrition risk due to current satisfaction levels. But developing and maintaining a deep understanding of member satisfaction at a private club should not be a cyclical exercise. It requires consistent and ongoing measurement. In high times, like the present, this allows you to optimize members and usage, maintain competitive strengths and foresee any future satisfaction risks like the challenge of bridging a harmonious culture across multiple generations. In down-times, it can provide a valuable roadmap and priority list to address weaknesses and focus on the elements of the member experience that will move the needle the most in terms of restoring satisfaction and retention.  

Ben Hopkinson, Director, GGA Partners and James Stumpo, Senior Associate, GGA Partners.