Creating Strong Club Culture

“CULTURE EATS STRATEGY for breakfast,” said management guru Peter Drucker. For clubs, culture is governance, and private club strategy—no matter how good and well-conceived—will be a victim to poor governance.

According to Fred Laughlin, nonprofit governance expert and a Director at Global Golf Advisors (GGA), “the board speaks with one voice—in writing,” in clubs that are well governed. When you omit either one of two key concepts in the phrase, you invite dysfunctions.

Take out “one voice” and you have a board of factions. While diversity of thought around the board table is healthy, speaking with multiple voices outside the boardroom confuses the members, frustrates the general manager and discourages the board members whose voice is not heard.

Take out “in writing” means the board must choose another way to communicate policies, which usually comes from the person with the most power or influence, the largest faction of followers or the loudest voice. Such verbal policies are ephemeral, lasting only if the person or group stays in power.

Following is a useful three-question test concerning the governance at your club:

1. Are we who we claim to be? The brand promise in most private clubs is that the club will provide an enjoyable lifestyle for its members. Lifestyle varies from club to club; the promise does not vary where the culture of the club is genuine.

2. Are we doing what is right for the members? Often boards deliberate what is allowed under the bylaws. Sometimes the proceedings ask: What options will the members tolerate? Great boards concern themselves with the moral compass that points to doing what is right. Truthfulness, dependability and openness are terms most often cited in private club member surveys concerning expectations of the board.

3. Are we truly servant leaders? Servant leadership places the point of focus on those served ahead of focusing on those serving. Great and successful clubs share the characteristic of strong servant leadership.

Strategy flourishes in clubs with cultures that foster great governance. Great strategy is simple in its description and thorough in its formulation. Effective strategy depends upon a culture borne of trustworthy governance.

An indicator of a club with weak governance is timid and has ambiguous goals that hold no one accountable for their achievement.

How Does a Club Implement Strategic Thinking?

“Putting strategy to work is the key,” according to Derek Johnston, a partner at Global Golf Advisors. GGA recommends a shortlist of primary actions to ensure strategy is alive and functioning at the highest level.

  • Strategy must be an agenda item at every board meeting. Strategic plan review enables the board to adhere to strategy. Progress toward goals should be reported into every board meeting by either the long-range planning chair or the club manager.
  • Keep score on strategy. The strategic scorecard is a valuable tool that enables the board to focus on the key strategic goals and objectives. As simple as a financial performance dashboard, the strategic scorecard shows each goal or objective across the horizontal axis with the monthly or quarterly (depending upon the frequency of your board meetings) forming the vertical axes. Progress updates should be summarized at every board meeting.
  • Socialize strategy. See that the management staff is fully informed of the key strategic goals. More importantly, see that everyone on staff understands and is committed to the strategy that the board has set.
  • Publish the club’s strategic plan. Members want to know that their club operates in a responsible manner. Make the club’s strategy available to all members in ways that ensure that the strategic plan is not passed throughout the local community and into the hands of competitor clubs. It is important for club members to know what is and is not included within the clubs’ strategy.

Discipline and attention is necessary for private club boards responsible for preserving and enhancing the best attributes of the club.

Written by GGA Partner Henry DeLozier, this article was originally written for and published by Club Director Magazine in January 2018.