Not the Time to Wait

Henry DeLozier highlights three important points for club leaders to ramp up club operations and refine their game plan.

When asked what steps they are taking to prepare their business for the post-COVID-19 environment, many small- and medium-sized business owners and managers say they’re taking a “wait-and-see” approach. While that attitude is understandable, with conditions and health and safety guidelines changing by the day, it’s also not advisable.

The more effective strategy is the one that many other businesses are taking to navigate the crisis in creative and productive ways: Anticipating and preparing for a post-COVID-19 business, whenever that may come and whatever it might resemble.

In a wide range of businesses, preemptive leaders are driving revenue through new marketing tactics and sales channels, putting new incentives in place to spur immediate purchasing and capture pent-up demand, moving more of their in-person interactions online, pivoting their business to address new needs and developing new products to position their business when customer demand returns to normal.

Others are enhancing their digital presence by sprucing up their website with new content or fixing online issues for a better customer experience. And many businesses are strategizing by mapping out potential scenarios for the future.

Three important points to consider when ramping up club operations:

1. Update the club’s financial plan.

The business interruption and financial impacts will be profound and may even threaten the club’s existence. The board must reset the club’s financial plan by evaluating the current in-flow of dues revenue and the realistic projection of pending banquet and catering activity. Refer to the club’s historic reference points for revenue as the key component in ramping up successfully. Balance revenue projections with the probable attrition rate caused by members who will leave the club for health and financial reasons.

Look realistically at the club’s expenses and prepare yourself – they will be discouraging. Plan to restart programs and services in a phased manner that focuses on the most popular and engaging programs in the eyes of your members.

It’s important to remember that members may have different priorities in a post-recession world. Knowing what those are through surveys and focus groups is far more advisable than assuming the old normal is also the new normal. Keep in mind that the club may not be able to restart at a level and pace that meets members’ expectations without what may be significant investments.

In a financial sense, the club is starting over financially. This can be good for clubs overloaded with expensive debt since it gives them incentive to renegotiate their debt structure. Interest rates are at historic lows and will remain so for some time. This makes it a good time to restructure the club’s financial plan to remove historic flaws, such as membership-optional communities and outdated governance practices.

2. Strengthen your team.

Every club in your area is being affected differently by the pandemic. Some will retain staff with little change. Others will be forced to reduce operations, programs and staff. Some of your own employees will decide not to return or may be unavailable. Be prepared and recruit aggressively to fill and strengthen key positions on your team. It’s also a good time to review and update personnel records, roles and benefits.

3. Introduce new social programs.

As leaders hit the reset button, remember that private clubs enjoy an emotional relationship with their members far more than a transactional one. When evaluating and creating programs, consider the following:

Members will want to see one another and be seen. There will be a great opportunity for friends to be reunited and reminded that their club is a safe haven for their families and friends.

Look at events that are either successive – where one event sets the stage for the next – or part of a series of similar events. Give members the sense of ongoing relationships rather than one-off types of events.

Host member information exchanges. As members anticipate their clubs reopening, they will have lots of questions, which can be boiled down to “What’s changed – and what hasn’t?” Assemble a team of staff members who constitute the Answers Team.

Get ahead of questions by anticipating as many as you can and communicating the answers widely through email, newsletters and social media.

Creating a Reliable Game Plan

The most effective transitional leaders will be those who can manage information aggressively. Keep your stakeholder groups of members, employees, suppliers, and extended business partners – like bankers and insurance carriers – well-informed.

Your members and stakeholders want information, to be sure. Even more importantly, they want confidence that their club is in steady hands. They want to see evidence – action more so than talk – that the club is taking measured steps and addressing the key strategic issues without distraction with petty short-term matters. This capability requires a reliable game plan.

In May, GGA Partners conducted a series of weekly webinars to help club leaders construct their game plan and illustrate the thought processes that go into reopening and operating again in the wake of COVID-19. The sessions offered a deeper look into these three important points and tactics to prepare for a post-pandemic business environment.

The archive of each webinar and accompanying slide deck (if applicable) are available on CMAA University, complimentary to all CMAA members. Once you are signed in to CMAA University, you can find the recording and accompanying resources under CMAA Member Education, COVID-19 Resources. The content is then organized by topic area, see below for where each of the four webinars are housed:

Crisis Management and Communications

Changing Communications for Changing Times – Linda Dillenbeck & Bennett DeLozier – May 27, 2020

Member Surveys in Uncertain Times – Michael Gregory & Ben Hopkinson – May 20, 2020

Reopening Your Club

Transitional Leadership: Restarting Your Club – Henry DeLozier – May 6, 2020

Business Continuity

Future Trends in the Workforce – Patrick DeLozier – May 15, 2020

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This article also featured in Golf Course Industry magazine

Creating A Better Environment for Workers … and Potential Hires

This is the second of two Golf Course Industry Game Plan columns focusing on becoming an employer of choice.  For more, check out the previous article “Become an Employer of Choice”.

“… And what do you do, Mike?” the guy grilling the burgers at the neighborhood barbecue asked casually.

“I’m the golf course superintendent at Laurel Lake Country Club.  It’s an amazing place to work.  I have a great team and my manager really appreciates the job we do.  If you’re thinking about joining a club, why don’t you come out as my guest one day?”

Is that the kind of answer one of your staff members would give in a similar situation?  If it is, you’re in an enviable position in this tight labor market — you’re what’s known as an “employer of choice.”  Employers of choice enjoy higher retention rates, better productivity from their teams and a healthier workplace culture.  What’s more, they don’t have to search as hard for top talent because the best people come to them, hoping to join their team.

So how do you create that kind of reputation for your club?  It doesn’t happen overnight, but it can start with the ways in which you promote job openings.  Here are five keys to positioning your club as a place where top talent wants to work:

1. Show your colors up front. Describe who you are and what your course or club represents. This description of your values and the high standards to which you hold team members is attractive to top performers.  Stating your values and the significance of the position helps prospective employees know if your club is one where they would be proud to work.

2. Describe the job benefits clearly. Benefits are an important differentiator in today’s workplace, but don’t think of them in limited terms. Beyond health insurance, sick leave and vacation days, benefits include respect, being part of a winning team, and the opportunity for continued professional learning and development.  Make sure you help prospective employees understand the full range of benefits that you offer.

3. Tell what the job entails. Pay attention to the language you choose to describe the job and its responsibilities. And don’t be hesitant to describe the job in demanding terms. Top performers want jobs that challenge them and ones that matter.  Describe the team that the prospective employee would join, its work ethic and its team spirit.  Being a part of a great team is a strong incentive to employees who enjoy collaboration and sharing.

4. Know your competition. Being an employer of choice requires that you do your homework to know how your compensation, benefits and culture compare with the competition. In a tight job market, it’s also important to realize that your competitors include more than golf clubs and other golf operations courses.  You’re also likely competing with landscape companies and hospitality positions for top talent.  Knowing what competitive organizations offer helps you structure benefits and comp attractively while being mindful of the budget.

5. Tell stories of valued performers. Stories of performance, customer service, overcoming adversity and teamwork give new employees insight to the organization and the culture they are part of. Think of it as a window into your team room, which allows you to describe the human components of the job that are not a part of the formal job description.

In his book, “Attracting and Retaining Talent: Becoming an Employer of Choice,” Dr. Tim Baker emphasizes the importance of standing on trustworthy values.  “In plain terms, being an employer of choice means establishing a business that is a great place to work.  If companies don’t genuinely act to become an employer of choice, then good employees will simply vote with their feet and move to a forward-thinking employer who offers them what they want.”

Remember the story of the janitor at the Johnson Space Center in Houston who, when asked by President John. F. Kennedy about his role, said, “Mr. President, I’m part of the team that is putting a man on the moon.”

Don’t you wish that janitor worked for you?

This article was authored by GGA Partner Henry DeLozier for Golf Course Industry Magazine

Become an Employer of Choice

The order of the day went straight to the point: “England expects that every man will do his duty.” In the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar, one of England’s more decisive naval battles, Admiral Lord Nelson called upon the sailors of his island nation to ward off an attack by the combined French and Spanish navies. It was a battle to the finish and one in which Nelson was mortally wounded. When told of eminent victory, among his final words were, “Now I have done my duty.”

Golf course managers today are charged with myriad duties, maybe not with life and death consequences, but critical nonetheless. Foremost among them is the recruitment, training and retention of a qualified and motivated staff. There is no more important role to the financial and operational well-being of courses simply because so many moving parts require near constant attention.

What’s more, the job is getting tougher. The U.S. has more job openings than unemployed people, a situation known as “full employment.” The U.S. economy added 216,000 jobs in April, notching a record 103 straight months of job gains and signaling that the current economic expansion shows little sign of stalling. The Labor Department reported in July that the unemployment rate fell to 3.6 percent, the lowest since 1969.

What we should glean from those statistics is that the war for talent continues unabated across U.S. businesses, making it even more challenging for leaders to build a staff with the highest quality workers. Becoming an employer of choice in your market is now a business imperative. Here are five ways to distinguish your facility:

1. Prioritize. With labor costs representing slightly more than half of operational costs at most facilities, making your course and club attractive to job seekers is a smart use of resources. Start by deciding the selection criteria for each position. Thinking through on-the-job performance standards helps to establish the search criteria for each position. This careful job description serves to focus the employer’s intentions and expectations. Detailed job description and criteria also clarify the opportunity for prospective employees, so they know going in what is expected of a successful candidate.

The process seems simple, but many employers fail to prioritize the time and thought process to describe what is needed from a specific position.

2. Organize. Employees want to know what will be expected of them in the job. An organized approach to describing the position makes sure employer and employee are on the same page, reducing surprises and establishing an understanding on key aspects of employment. Carefully organizing the position description signals that you know what you want and will keep searching until you find the best candidate.

3. Standardize. Your search process is a miniature branding effort. Using consistent and professional formatting, job and benefits descriptions and comprehensive summaries of expected annual income guide prospective employees to you. Remember, you’re not simply searching for someone to fill a position – you’re searching for the best possible fit.

Describe the culture of your team with words that demonstrate commitment and dedication. For most people, work is an emotional relationship before it is an economic consideration. In a December 2018 study of employees’ attitudes, Clutch, a B2B search firm, noted that “workplace values are essential to recruiting, retaining, and motivating quality employees.” In the same study, employees emphasized the importance of fair treatment and compensation alongside ethical treatment. While compensation is obviously important, how people feel about themselves in their jobs is even more valuable.

4. Recognize. To keep top performers, celebrate their successes. To many workers, the respect of their co-workers is highly important. Create a culture that recognizes the efforts and successful performance results of teammates. There are many examples of employee recognition successes, but most important is keeping the recognition fair, transparent and generous. Recognition will prove to be one of your best investments in time and money.

5. Evolution-ize. Create a recruitment and retention process that evolves with the workforce, your club and employees. Most staff members want to work where there is a fresh and invigorating environment. Traditions are extremely important and should be balanced with the need of employees to see change and growth in their jobs and lives.

This article was authored by GGA Partner Henry DeLozier for Golf Course Industry Magazine

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