Manager Views on Innovation

Generating growth through culture change is the goal of the Innovation Labs initiative.

Discussions about business, society, the economy or technology invariably include the word “innovation,” which implies a pursuit of inventiveness or change. The word also appears in conversations about golf culture or the club industry, though typically in a negative context or when referring to a lack of change.

By nature, clubs embrace and value tradition. That’s one of the things that defines them as clubs. They are organizations dedicated to a particular interest, activity or lifestyle. However, a culture of tradition does not prevent a club from pursuing change.

Investigating innovation

In recent years, club managers, club members, developers and businesses that serve the industry have used the word “innovation” more frequently. But it’s unclear what innovation looks like for clubs. We see various industries targeting clubs with innovations: Manufacturers are making equipment stronger, lighter and more powerful; agronomic experts are growing turf that is cleaner, greener and more sustainable; technology focused fi rms are developing ways to make golf more accessible and less time-consuming.

As part of its commitment to continually provide forward-looking ideas and advanced education to club managers, CMAA identified innovation as a key research topic for 2018. At Global Golf Advisors (GGA), the goal is to leverage adaptation, transformation, growth and efficiency to maximize the performance of clubs — and innovation is always on the table.

Key objectives for both CMAA and GGA have always been to help clubs optimize their performance and maximize financial, operational and lifestyle related results for club leaders and their members. Earlier this year, CMAA announced the renewal of its business partnership with GGA, a multiyear commitment of cooperation to enhance CMAA’s research initiative using GGA’s business intelligence services and to co-create Innovation Labs to promote and inspire innovation by clubs. The Innovation Labs will explore new ways to help clubs move ahead faster.

Typical research projects analyze past results and projected outcomes. Research on innovation, however, is forward-looking and requires new ideas, new methods and change. Still, successful innovations are difficult to quantify and involve significant risk.

To minimize risk and create reliable, replicable and successful methodologies, GGA and CMAA have established a joint task force that will identify, measure and field-test ideas that have the greatest potential for innovation in club management.

Establishing baselines

This case-based approach to innovation began with a yearlong research project involving clubs that are reimagining the way they operate. The first phase of the three-phase project was to study the relationship between clubs and innovation by talking to the individuals who know clubs better than anyone: club managers.

This effort was launched in advance of the 91st CMAA World Conference on Club Management and Club Business Expo in San Francisco. CMAA members took a 10-minute survey designed to gather managers’ thoughts on innovation, identify research opportunities and assess latent demand for innovation within clubs. The nearly 400 CMAA members who participated represented more than eight types of clubs, and more than 150 individuals volunteered their clubs to contribute to additional research.

Results from the preliminary survey confirmed that innovation is crucial for the future of club management. According to the survey, approximately 95 percent of club managers regard innovation as “important” or “very important” to the long-term success and sustainability of clubs.

Club managers also believe clubs need to improve when it comes to innovation. Managers do not necessarily regard their clubs as innovative. Less than two-thirds (63 percent) described their club in that way. And when asked to quantify the extent of their innovativeness, only 40 percent of managers rated their club as “innovative” or “extremely innovative.”

Participants also rated the extent to which they believe clubs are keeping pace with innovative practices in other industries. Ninety-two percent rated that pace as being between “slightly below average” and “slightly above average.”

The top three challenges that inhibit innovation were determined to be: (1) limited resources such as money, time, space and people; (2) social or cultural opposition to change; and (3) a lack of structured innovation processes or procedures.

Using the right tools

What fuels the engine of innovation? What is required to innovate? Survey feedback identified three keys to innovation: (1) a culture that fosters and supports innovation; (2) willingness to change norms and take risks; and (3) strong visionary business leadership.

Club managers said one of the most important ingredients for innovation is a culture of strategic thinking. This encourages new ideas, supports experimentation, solicits group input and is characterized by fearless, resourceful leaders willing to take calculated risks.

While managers are divided on whether innovation is a priority for their clubs (55 percent said yes; 45 percent said no), it is clear that those who focus on innovation are seeing results. Among managers who indicated that innovation is a primary focus, 91 percent said their clubs seek opportunities to innovate and 90 percent said their focus on innovation gives them a competitive advantage. One caveat: Only 27 percent of clubs that focus on innovation have a clear, well-defined innovation strategy.

Even managers who believe innovation is essential to the long-term success of their clubs do not regard themselves as particularly innovative. They believe the club industry lags behind other sectors when it comes to change. They say they would like to catch up in the areas of marketing, communications, technology, food & beverage and strategy, but they say they are hampered by resource constraints, cultural opposition and a lack of effective infrastructure. Even many clubs that do prioritize and pursue innovation are operating without a deliberate plan of action.

To translate ingenuity into business strategy, managers believe that a broader cultural endorsement is needed within their clubs to support, enable and nurture innovation. Affecting cultural change from the top down, with reliable bottom-up support, is not easy. Clear policies and programs are essential.

The results of this preliminary survey have helped guide the development of GGA/CMAA research and the new Innovation Labs initiative. They will be circulated in a detailed, full report later this year. Stay tuned for more details on ideas, insights and experiments to be generated by the Innovation Labs during the coming year.

GGA’s Bennett DeLozier penned this article for Club Management Magazine, published by the Club Management Association of America.