Is Your Club Truly Member-Centric?

In 2017, Toymaker LEGO announced that revenues had hit a record high, rising 6 per cent to DKr37.9bn (stg£4.4bn) – the highest ever annual level recorded in its 85-year history. Profits were also higher, with operating profit up 1.7 per cent to DKr12.4bn and net profit up 2.2 per cent to DKr9.4bn.

LEGO is a remarkable success story considering that, almost 15 years ago, the company was on the brink of bankruptcy. Though it was a transformational strategy, led by CEO Jorgen Vig Knudstorp, which sparked the unprecedented turnaround in fortunes, significant emphasis was placed on the contribution that customer insights played in the turnaround.

“We never take customers’ enthusiasm for granted. We reward them by showing that we listen to and care about their feedback. I also tell customers that they fulfil another vital role: They are an avenue to the truth. And in today’s world, a CEO needs every avenue to the truth that he or she can find.”

 From my experience, the majority of club leaders stress the importance of understanding their members in order to stay relevant in today’s fast-changing external environment. So why is it that so few clubs seek to systematically listen to their members and as a result, are constantly reacting to change rather than planning for it? Why is it they are reluctant to travel this “avenue to the truth”?

To be truly member-centric, club boards must use member insights in major strategic decisions and core processes, not just member-facing ones.

Our analysis indicates that, actually, this is rarely the case. A recent global survey, undertaken by GGA, examined several hundred clubs to find which conducted annual member research. The reported benchmark range for clubs who do conduct annual member research was found to be between 10%-20%, with the norm being just 15%-16%.

Member insights provide an essential window into the change that lies ahead through their perceptions, needs, preferences, behaviours and attitudes. Gathering, tracking and applying such insights can empower a club to lead rather than react. It allows them to match strategy and implementation to their environment, and to prepare for change rather than responding to it.

In his book Good to Great (2001), management guru Jim C. Collins cites 5 elements of member-centric associations;

  1. Culture. A documented, shared understanding among all staff, embraced and touted by leadership, which defines expectations on how the association interacts with members.
  2. Metrics – Tracking, measuring and responding to data that defines success through the eyes of its members and for the organization. One of the 7 Measures of Success pillars is being data-driven.
  3. Knowledge – Belief and practices on collecting, sharing and responding to the challenges, needs and expectations of members.
  4. Technology – Planning, managing and leveraging tools (e.g., database, social media) to collect, share, and deliver information to all stakeholders in a timely manner.
  5. Segmentation – Developing profiles of and understanding specific groups, or segments, of members to deliver on their expectations and to increase retention rates.

How does your club score in relation to these member-centric qualifications? Think back on recent “leadership” or “planning” meetings you attended at your club. In how many instances did member insights, measured evidence, inform a final decision?

In the oft-quoted words of Wayne Gretzky, leaders will find deep and relevant member insights will guide a club in “skating to where the puck is going, not to where it’s been.”

Rob Hill is a Partner at GGA’s EMEA Office, based outside Dublin, Ireland.

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.