Addressing Board Transparency

ADDRESSING TRANSPARENCY
THREE FACTORS CRITICAL TO HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PRIVATE CLUB BOARDS

As society becomes more open and increasingly skeptical, club members demand greater transparency from their boards. Whether in member focus groups, general meetings of members or the club dining room, members seek greater transparency.

Three factors are proving critical to highly effective private club boards: (a) communication methods, (b) communication cadence, and (c) nondisclosure rules.
Boards are encouraged to heed three primary factors:

Establish and normalize the board’s communication methods. Develop a comprehensive communication plan for the club and make board communications an important and consistent part of the club’s communications. In so doing consider:

1. Topics of interest – Most club members seek a sense of “belonging.” See that they are invited to suggest topics of interest to them. In most clubs, that roster of needs includes activities and events, human interest stories about fellow members and staff, and the latest programs for each member segment. To ensure a sense of inclusion, see that members are aware of important activities well in advance of the sign-up or registration periods.

2. Multiple media options – Rely upon a wide array of media tools ranging from social media, email, postcards, and posters within club buildings. Most clubs serve multiple generations with preferred and most commonly used media options. Recognize that different subsets of the club’s members – separated by gender interests and generational media usage – require recognition and programming.

Maintain a reliable cadence of communications. Establish, announce and honor a realistic cadence of communications by topic and by membership category to help your members know what to expect and when. There are several keys to an effective communications cadence:

1. Communications profile – Develop an understanding of communications preferences for each member. Understand when – by day of the week and time of day – each member wants communications from the club. Understand what media options each member prefers. Use it.

2. Communications calendar – Publish the communications calendar to enable all members to watch for the topics of greatest interest to them. Keep it. Ensure that members and staff are well aware of the schedule and have ready access to each communication.

3. “Big events” communications – For the most popular club-wide events, such as the member-guest, holidays with Santa, parent-child dance, interrupt the normal cadence to draw attention to these special occasions.

Be transparent about the topics which will not be disclosed. Some topics – such as matters of club member discipline, employee compensation and benefits, and contract negotiations while in process – are confidential and should not be disclosed. Make it clear to members that topics require confidentiality of board members … and honor that confidentiality requirement. Be understanding and consistent to demonstrate that the board seeks the openness many members desire except on these important points.

Be transparent about what topics the board will not divulge for reasons of confidentiality and employee/member privacy. Some members want to see board meeting minutes and the club’s financial information, such as the balance sheet and income statement. The board should develop and broadly communicate what information it will share with members and in what format. The board is well advised to remember that these reports should be considered confidential and, therefore, not readily distributed outside of the club membership.

Beyond members’ demands for greater transparency, effective boards want club members to be well-informed and engaged with their clubs. Private club boards must maintain highly effective, truthful and consistent communications with club members. The rewards are greater member satisfaction, member engagement and a restful night’s sleep for board members.

This article was written by GGA’s Henry DeLozier for The Boardroom Magazine. It appeared in the March/April 2024 issue.

31 Years | 31 Lessons – Lesson 1

 

Managing a private club is  not an easy task. It requires knowledge, stamina, fortitude, patience and a sense of humor. With each new year comes new challenges, opportunities and lessons to learn.

When GGA Director Colin Burns, CCM, joined the firm, he shared the lessons he learned over a lifetime in the hospitality industry, as an advocate for club management and his three decades as the general manager of Winged Foot Golf Club with our team. In hearing those lessons, we were reminded how success comes from doing the right thing every day.

We asked Colin to record his common sense and professional advise for us to share with you. Today we present the first of Colin’s 31 Years | 31 Lessons videos. We will be releasing all 31 on our LinkedIn page over the next several months in the hope you find these lessons helpful as you navigate your own path to success as a leader in our industry.

Watch Lesson 1

 

The Art of Influence – Executive Presence in the Boardroom

What do people think when you walk into a room, open your mouth to speak, or engage with others? Are they excited for what is about to happen? How do they see you, and how do they experience you? What happens as a result of your presence?

Senior leaders are increasingly discussing Executive Presence – what it is and how to have more of it. No matter how you define it, it has much to do with how we influence others.  To be clear, Executive Prescence is not about how many followers you have on your social profiles but rather, how you connect, communicate, care, and impact others.

In his recent book, “The Gift of Influence”, Tommy Spaulding reveals how we can be more mindful and effective in wielding influence throughout a lifetime of connecting with others. He outlines research that suggests the average person will influence up to 80,000 people in their lifetime – about the size of a football stadium. He suggests that “If you commit to living a life of positive influence, you will never look at your personal and professional relationships the same way again.” “Leadership is not about influence. It is influence.”

Influence has everything to do with leading in the boardroom, the staff room, and beyond. Here are some considerations on how to elevate your presence, your influence and your life.

Trust – The Strongest Foundation

All relationships start and end with trust. Think about the best board relationship of your career or greatest team you have ever been a part of. What was the level of trust?

If you want to build trust with others, make sure you are trustworthy yourself as well as trusting of others. This doesn’t mean establishing blind trust without questioning. It means that we always have the intention of trust.

Years ago, author Stephen Covey likened trust to an emotional bank account. As with a real bank account, we want the balance to be at its highest. And so, it is true with a trust account. When the balance is high, the relationship is easy, more productive, and positive influence occurs. On the other hand, a low trust account breeds an environment of fear, a lack of engagement, negative influence and limited results.

Ensure you are making more deposits than withdrawals into your trust account with others: Be upfront. Be clear with your intentions. Do what you say you will do. Find the answers. Show you care. Acknowledge others.

Communication – A Main Ingredient

Most great influencers are extraordinary communicators. They understand that the words they say are powerful, and the way they say them is even more.  They get to the point – and they have one! Brevity and clarity are their style. They say what they mean and mean what they say. They speak with good intentions. They have the good of the other person and the organization in mind, not themselves. A great communicator uses the language of vision and possibility.

In the leadership development practice, we have a saying “Say Less. Ask More.” The best leaders exercise the skill of listening more and speaking less. They are curious. They don’t have all the answers and genuinely seek them out. They ask powerful questions that engage others, explore solutions, and bring about growth. The focus shifts to others, not themselves.

A positive influencer also knows how their body language and voice add to or detract from their impact. They are purposeful yet speak with integrity and authenticity. They read the room, they remain calm under pressure, and they connect and engage others. Their eye contact, facial expressions and gestures are appropriately warm and powerful at the same time. They influence.

Humility – If You Don’t Have It, Find It

No question, you need to be competent in your role, but do you need to be the smartest person in the room?

Positive influencers own their competence, yet never let their competence own them.

The most purposeful leaders have the gift of humility. They let the results speak. They always give credit where it is due. They show up as competent, kind, caring leaders, and they often get amazing results. Their reputation speaks for itself, without their own input. They are keenly self-aware and always learning and growing.

Are you aware of how you “land” with others? Do you speak the language of team or individual?   What message are you trying to send? Be acutely aware.

The great news about executive presence and influence is that they are learned skills. Start where you are. Dive in. Get feedback from those that you trust. Acquire some training or coaching. Change some habits and see how your positive influence soars – in the boardroom and beyond.

Interested in learning more about GGA’s Leadership Development and Coaching services? Contact our team.

What Do Members Want?

Some club leaders believe that it is a fool’s mission to try to understand what members want.

In fact, it is quite simple…you need to ask members what they want. Michael Gregory and Dr. Eric Brey at GGA Partners can tell you with certainty that developing a broad and deep understanding of members’ wants, needs, expectations, and fears is a matter of faithfully applying proven practices of attitudinal research.

Dr. Brey, a PhD-accredited professor at the University of Wisconsin – Stout, is an expert at leveraging analytics to implement dependable customer-centric strategy and hone it on what truly impacts satisfaction. And it all begins with asking members what they want. Sometimes referred to as qualitative analysis, members’ viewpoints are normally collected within small groups and sometimes validated in expanded follow-up listening sessions. In his work with GGA, Dr. Brey has implemented this science within private clubs where understanding members’ attitudes are so important.

In order to measure what matters are of greatest importance to a given club’s members, attitudinal surveys prove to be a trustworthy tool. Establishing the proportion and intensity of members’ attitudes has become even more important in a time when members want to know that their viewpoints were taken into account.

Gregory, having worked at GGA since 2007, is expert at administering private club surveys. He emphasizes that attitudinal surveys in private clubs are essential because the relationship between the club and its members is an emotional and often intense one. In recent years, club leaders have become more reliant on member surveys as the sophistication of such surveys goes deeper into members’ viewpoints. Not the stuff of satisfaction surveys, an attitudinal survey seeks to quantify and measure members concerns and expectations, willingness to fund certain capital projects, and identify the characteristics – by analyzing underlying data – to provide club leaders with clearcut insight into what members want. Five factors that are consistently revealed in member surveys include:

 

  1. When factures occur in private clubs, they are often on the lines of gender and generation.
  2. Normally, the most satisfied members are the newest and the least satisfied members are the most tenured in the club.
  3. Older (in age) members are least supportive of capital projects and debt.
  4. Younger members are eager to see regular capital improvements.
  5. Women tend to be most alert to the club’s value system…”are we what we claim to be?”

Insights vary from club to club and require careful and objective analysis of underlying demographic data to enable the board to understand how members align and differ on certain topics. Dr. Brey advises careful analytical discipline and measurement. “There is no substitute for patient and transparent data analysis,” he says.

At the end of the day, Brey and Gregory confirm that it is possible to know what members want. One simply needs to ask the right questions in the right way.

This piece was authored by Henry DeLozier, Partner, for the National Club Association‘s Winter 2023 Issue of Club Director Magazine. 

An Anatomy of Two Committees

Of all the club committees, none is more important that the nominating committee and none is less important than the executive committee. You may think it a radical thought, but before you dismiss it, consider the following rationale. One of the five principles of good governance is electing board members on their merits and not on their popularity, personal agendas, seniority or some other basis. Honoring that principle is best achieved via an uncontested election, where the number of candidates equals the board slots to be filled. An uncontested election requires two essential ingredients:

*An independent, objective nominating committee.

*A board-established profile that lists the requirements and desired characteristics of board members.”

Member trust in the uncontested election process is directly linked to their perception of the nominating committee’s integrity. To ensure that trust is nurtured, establish your nominating committee using the following guidelines:

Smaller is Better

The size of most club nominating committees is between five and seven members. Because of the high premium placed on the confidential proceedings of the committee, we prefer the smaller size.

Selecting the Chair

The key decision in forming the committee is the selection of its chair. Club bylaws often specify that the chair is selected by the president. Others may identify the immediate past president as the chair. Of the two approaches, we favor having the president select the chair, primarily to avoid the appearance of a self-perpetuating board. However, the importance of this decision calls for a board-approved set of criteria for the chair. For example, the board may require the president to select a chair based upon their reputation of integrity, independence and objectivity; their understanding of club governance; and their ability to lead a highly confidential vetting process.

Allow the Chair to Select Committee Members

Once the chair is designated, there is the selection of committee members. Some bylaws have the president selecting the committee members. For those clubs whose bylaws are not specific as to how committee members are chosen, we recommend leaving that decision to the newly appointed committee chair. If they have been selected using criteria like those listed above, they will recruit like-minded members to carry out this important role.

Define the Ideal Candidates

As important as selecting the right chair and committee members is the process used by the committee to prepare a slate of candidates. The board should approve a profile that includes both required and desired characteristics of board members. Further, we recommend the committee be held accountable to use the board profile to vet potential candidates. A properly formed nominating committee using a board approved process and referencing a board profile is best equipped to select a slate of highly qualified candidates for the board.

The Executive Committee

While the nominating committee has the most important role among club committees, we believe the executive committee has the least. Our concern with a board’s executive committee is that it can become a mini-board, i.e., it can make decisions that are best left to the entire board. One of the principles of good club governance is the board speaking with one voice. Having the executive committee stand in for the full board dilutes this principle and can result in board members not on the executive committee feeling like second class citizens.

Despite the threats to the one-voice principle, executive committees have a long history in clubs primarily for two reasons:

  • There are board decisions that must be made between board meetings.
  • There are matters calling for a group smaller than the board to handle.

Regarding the need for decisions between board meetings, the last two years have demonstrated how easy it is to call an online meeting of the board. If an issue requires a decision by the board, the president can email an invitation to board members and assemble an online meeting within days. Some bylaws require a notice period of a week or two before a special meeting of the board but many clubs have amended their bylaws to allow only a few days’ notice, given the ease with which board members can be contacted and made available for the meeting.

The second rationale for having an executive committee is the occasional need for a small group to handle a particularly sensitive issue or provide the general manager with counsel on a policy or a decision. While a smaller group is more efficient and may be more secure with sensitive information, we do not see an executive committee as the one-size-fits-all group. For example, if the behavior of a staff member may result in adverse publicity for the club, it may be best to assemble a group of board or club members based on their expertise and not their office. Similarly, if the general manager needs counsel on handling an issue or transaction, they can call on board members or club members best suited to offer the advice.

A final point: Although the common board size is nine members, many clubs have 12 or more members. These larger boards are more likely to lean on an executive committee for efficient decision making. However, the more these larger boards rely on their executive committees, the more likely the non-committee members will feel left out. If a board is unwieldy, reduce its size rather than creating a two-tiered board by depending on an executive committee to make intermediate decisions.

This piece was authored by GGA Director, Frederic Laughlin for the National Club Association‘s Summer 2022 Issue of Club Governance. 

Corporate Policies and Best Practices for Proper Club Committee Alignment

More and more, private clubs are looking to corporations for policies and best practices in governance. For example, private clubs have realized the benefits of modeling the relationship between their boards of directors and general managers after the relationship between corporate boards and their CEOs. Although there are other lessons from the private sector clubs are learning, there is one area clubs seem slow to embrace: the appropriate alignment of committees.

Corporate boards maintain committees such as strategic planning, finance, audit and nomination committees to support governance functions. But they leave the formation of advisory committees on matters such as accounting, customer relations, sales, marketing, communications and the like to the CEO. In contrast, most private clubs have all their committees reporting to their boards. We believe there is a more effective approach to aligning club committees with the functions they support.

Assume you are just starting a private club and you have been assigned to develop a governance model. You decide on the size of the board, the terms of office, the election process and other features of the model. Next comes the task of identifying club committees, including their purpose, configuration and leadership. What’s the first step in this task?

The Purpose

Begin with the primary purpose of a committee, which is to serve as an advisor on policies relating to the issues subsumed by its scope of services—for example, finance, membership, golf, house, strategic planning, etc.

The next question is to whom does the committee report? The answer lies in the functions being supported by the committee. The board is a governing body with a strategic perspective. It needs committees to support strategic functions like finance, strategic planning, membership and governance/legal. In a good governance model, the board delegates the authority and the responsibility to the general manager to manage club operations, which includes delivering the services and activities efficiently and effectively. The committees supporting these functions, therefore, are best positioned reporting to the general manager.

We recommend two types of committees for a private club:

  • Board committees that support board functions and report to the board.
  • Operations committees that support operational functions and report to the general manager.

Unfortunately, the inertia militating against this alignment is rooted in history, where virtually all committees have reported to the board. Most club bylaws state specifically or clearly imply that all club committees report to the board, meaning that even boards that seek to realign their committees must first go through the process of amending the bylaws. Even if their bylaws allow for a restructuring, many boards are reluctant to effect the change.

Their rationale tends toward one of the following:

  • Having operational committees report to the general manager would diminish their role and prestige in the club, making it harder to recruit members to serve on these committees.
  • Moving operational committees away from the board reduces the board’s ability to stay informed on operations.

Value and Attraction

It is difficult to refute outright that service on operations committees will be less valued and therefore add to the difficulty in attracting quality members. Yet our experience suggests that club members are more persuaded by the influence of a committee and the quality of its management than by the person or persons to which it reports. In that vein, the closer the committee is to the decision-maker, the greater its influence and sense of value. Accordingly, we believe that whatever loss of status presumed by having operations committees report to the general manager is more than offset by the linkage the committee enjoys with the person who is responsible for making the decisions it recommends.

Likewise, we can understand the perception that not having operations committees report to the board will cause board members to lose touch with these important functions. However, there is no reason the board cannot require reports from the general manager that contain metrics the board believes are necessary for it to monitor performance.

Additionally, having operations committees report to it may encourage the board to meddle rather than monitor. Too often, board meetings are burdened by committee reports that address matters that belong to the general manager—not the board. If the general manager’s handling of an operational area is in question, the board can always ask for input from the committee. But to bake committee reports into the board agenda not only consumes meeting time, it also invites the board to be inappropriately involved with operational matters. Moreover, it blurs the clarity of responsibility for operational performance. If boards are holding general managers responsible for operational performance, the general managers must be given the authority to carry out the duties and the authority to form committees that support the functions related to operations.

Clearing Hurdles

As mentioned, many clubs refer to governance models of successful businesses, such as adopting the COO model, which clearly separates the governance function of the board from the operational leadership of the general manager/COO. But too many of these clubs are unwilling to realign their committees to more accurately reflect the corporate model and more effectively connect their committees to the appropriate level. We don’t discount the years of tradition that resist such a change, but we recommend that clubs clear the hurdle of the status quo and place their committees where they will most efficiently serve.

This piece was authored by GGA Director, Frederic Laughlin for the National Club Association‘s Summer 2022 Issue of Club Governance. 

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