Research Brief: Stakeholder Expectations of Club Leaders’ Skills

Today, finding the right club leader is less about finding someone with experience – it’s more about using data to find the right professional to match the skills needed for a club’s unique demands.

Leadership expectations of club managers only continue to grow. Leaders require the operational knowledge that corporate executives demonstrate. Members have increasingly higher expectations of the experience their club delivers. Employees have more options than ever and desire a leader who understands they are an integral part of the club.  But what precisely do members and members of management want in their next GM/COO/CEO? How do these expectations change based on what each group perceives as essential?

The club industry has done an excellent job of creating opportunities for professional development focused on creating well-prepared industry leaders.  For example, the Club Management Association of America (CMAA) has integrated 11 competency areas around conceptual, administrative, and technical skills into their Business Management Institute (BMI) curriculum.  The Club Management Association of Canada’s (CMAC) mission – to create great leaders through excellence in club management – also focuses on supporting their members by providing professional development in critical operational areas.

But when it comes to clubs finding their next great leader or a current professional looking for the next great club, identifying the specific skills and abilities needed to succeed isn’t always straightforward.  Expectations are provided and often repeated across job descriptions, focusing on:

  • Position overview and the expectations of the position;
  • Attributes, competencies, and qualification expectations; and
  • A summary of the club’s initiatives and where the club is going

However, the specificity of crucial stakeholder expectations needs to be clarified.  Often members and employees have very different needs, and these insights are critical to understanding who will be successful as a leader.

Using our research-based approach, where data about the club’s needs are front and center in the search process, deeper insights into expectations can be established.  Using a multi-step method, we emphasize understanding the similarities and differences between stakeholders and how these influence finding the right candidate. Information is collected from both groups, employees and members of the club, to identify the skills and capabilities needed from potential candidates, assess potential hires’ fit, and place a candidate with the best opportunity to succeed.  Our research has found that stakeholders’ expectations at a club are focused on four areas: technical knowledge, management skills, professional attributes, and member engagement.

While each area represents critical leadership abilities and experiences, each offers unique value.  For instance, technical knowledge and management skills have similarly elevated levels of importance.  Whereas technical knowledge is driven by knowledge of various functional business areas, management skills are driven by effective leadership and the ability to be strategic. Professional attributes illustrate that being personable and creative is important, while member engagement focuses on understanding and delivering on the needs specific to the club industry.

Stakeholder Differences

As part of our executive search process to identify each club’s unique needs, employee and member stakeholder groups are asked to prioritize the skills they see as most important.  Results indicate similarities across expectations along with significant differences between members and staff.

Members emphasize the financial and budgeting skills needed at the GM/COO level, the importance of bringing food and beverage experience to the position, and the ability to provide direction for the departments they supervise.  Food and beverage stand out as unique, given that GGA generally sees this as an area of improvement when working with club industry clients.  These results indicate that greater emphasis is being placed on a new GM/COO hire to increase member satisfaction in this critically important area as part of having broad department-level experience.

On the other hand, managers emphasized club industry experience, the ability to manage the board, being innovative in finding solutions, and governance experience.  Understanding the club industry’s uniqueness is critical for this group.  From a previous experience standpoint, managers want a leader who knows how to effectively to interact with members and manage this fundamental relationship effectively.

From Differences to Interaction

To provide greater insight into clubs’ needs, the interaction between the specific abilities and experience across technical knowledge, management skills, professional attributes, and member engagement areas demonstrates where emphasis can be placed.  Through this process, clubs and potential applicants get a genuine sense of what the right candidate looks like. As demonstrated below, it is important to understand that some areas are more important than others when looking for the appropriate skillset. The larger bubbles indicate a more important position attribute, while only those interacting skills and experiences are shown, indicating that not every skill set is interrelated. For instance, from a GM/CEO/COO perspective, the importance of demonstrating leadership experience (the largest bubble) comes down to effectively leading in areas such as listening, team orientation, and successfully handling members. Leadership can also be showcased by having business acumen and financial knowledge. While thinking strategically and being able to motivate are essential considerations, effectively communicating is considered a critically important skill compared to other abilities.


Key Takeaways

While various leadership skills are essential for any position, a research-based process paints a clearer picture of the right candidate skillset needed for each club.  By tailoring any search process using these insights, unique needs can be identified to find suitable candidates for clubs and the right opportunities for candidates to help everyone succeed in the long term. From our research, we have found that:

1.While similarities exist between two very influential stakeholder groups, significant differences indicate that care should be taken to ensure that the needs of both groups are considered when hiring a club leader.

2. These differences are shown in how each stakeholder group views one another. Members see supporting other managers as more important, while managers see managing the member relationship as significantly more important.

3. Club’s stakeholders’ expectations are focused on four areas, that not all areas are considered equally important, and that significant (and important) interactive relationships exist across categories.

Though potential club managers are typically evaluated on a list of abilities, leaders are judged by their success in exceeding member expectations. Technical abilities are important to deliver these exceptional experiences, but personality is also critical to a leader’s success. By using a data-driven approach, the unique needs of each club can be identified to understand and match the personality attributes and management experiences needed to lead successfully. Ultimately, there is no standard formula for finding the right leader, but by using data, a club can find future leaders with the best chance to succeed.

Interested in learning about GGA’s Executive Search services?

If you would like to learn more about how we can help your club find its next club leader, please contact us.

Between Members and Governance: Member Discipline Today

The call went something like this: “We need your advice in a disciplinary matter here at the club. It seems that one of our members was making offensive statements when a fellow member asked the member speaking out to stop his comments. An argument ensued and the offended member punched the member making the offensive statements in the face. What disciplinary actions do you recommend?”

Uncivil – and sometimes antisocial – behavior has become a matter of concern in clubs across the globe. Many club members began to demonstrate anomie, as French behaviorist Emile Durkheim called it during the early 20th century. Anomie, in societies or individuals, is a condition of instability resulting from a breakdown of standards and values or from a lack of purpose or ideals. Durkheim summarized his findings by stating, “We are moral beings to the extent that we are social beings.” 

The pandemic loosened ties between people and relocated them to their clubs. Children stopped going to school; their parents stopped going to work; parishioners stopped going to places of worship; people stopped gathering, in general. Many sociologists think all of this isolation shifted the way we behave. “We’re more likely to break rules when our bonds to society are weakened,” Robert Sampson, a Harvard sociologist who studies social disorder, says. “When we become untethered, we tend to prioritize our own private interests over those of others or the public.” 

Many club leaders are reckoning with unprecedented behavioral abnormalities. “The pandemic has created a lot of “high-stress, low-reward” situations, explains Keith Humphreys, a psychiatry professor at Stanford University, “…and now, everyone is teetering slightly closer to their breaking point. Someone who may have lost a job, a loved one, or a friend to the pandemic might be pushed over the edge by an innocuous request.” 

Like their friends and neighbors, club members became untethered from social norms and standards of mutually respectful behavior and their disconnection from behavioral standards has left many clubs seeking guidance in matters of member discipline. 

First, each club must return to – or re-establish – its standards of decorum and respectful conduct. The most frequently abused private club standards are usage of technologies in restricted areas, violations of established dress codes, and general adherence to long-established club rules for reservations – whether for sports or meals. 

Second, club members demand that their boards and management take disciplinary action with members who frequently or repeatedly stray from the club’s rules. The questions in many club boardrooms are: What? And how? 

Updating a club disciplinary structure requires several steps which must be described as swift, firm, and fair. 


Members want to see rules enforced in a timely manner to ensure that regular rule-breakers begin to refrain from undesirable actions.  

 In order to implement timely rules enforcement, clubs must establish and broadly communicate clear guidance concerning the club’s rules and regulations. Four primary steps should be used: 

  1. Establish clear-cut steps to be consistently implemented when club rules are broken. 
  2. Communicate that the Board is responsible for member discipline. 
  3. Demonstrate and disclose the disciplinary process that will be used.  
  4. Adhere to the practices that are established for disciplinary matters. 


Execute the disciplinary process without passion or prejudice. It helps that the Board has already reviewed, approved, and authorized disciplinary actions – or punishments – in advance of events as they may unfold. Rules cannot be made on an impromptu basis. 

 Board members must be congruent and respectful of those members being disciplined. As behaviorists have indicated, good people sometimes become disconnected from their own social judgement. Be understanding and committed to the premise that members want to belong to a club that has standards and that the club stands for something to be honored. 

 Do not make exceptions or excuses. In pre-determining what rules violations or offenses are to be addressed, develop proportionate disciplinary responses to each.  


Plan the disciplinary process to ensure that a reasonable and responsible fellow member can see that the Board is acting with balance and understanding in disciplinary matters.  

The important priorities to remember are: 

  • Be prepared to defend your disciplinary approach. 
  • Coordinate your club’s disciplinary plan with capable club counsel who can review your club’s bylaws and disciplinary approach prior to taking action. 
  • Confirm with counsel that they can successfully defend your approach to restoring or improving discipline in your club 
  • Confirm all disciplinary examples and intentions with experienced club lawyers before taking action. 
  • Interview all participants (and witnesses) in rules violations to confirm the facts involved. Take the time to overturn all possible observations, recordings, and/or previous communications and events. 
  • Allow for appeals and reviews to ensure that the club’s actions align with local jurisdictional guidelines…regardless of the offense. 
  • Include family members for repeat offenses. Poor or disrespectful conduct means one must tell his or her spouse that the family has been suspended. 
  • Maintain a spirit of understanding and collegiality throughout the review and disciplinary process. 
  • Refer matters – such as employee harassment, inappropriate behavior, assault and/or battery – to law enforcement. Report legally relevant situations to the proper authorities. 

Some members may believe that their clubs and directors are too soft on discipline. Most members want to belong to a club that honors the values being proclaimed. Be who you say you are. 

Once disciplinary action has been taken, tell members that the Board has acted:

  • Do not name the individuals involved. 
  • Communicate disciplinary actions by stating (i) the offense, (ii) the action taken by the board, and (iii) the outcome of this action. 
  • Maintain strict confidentiality to protect the privacy of all concerned. 
  • Communicate the disciplinary actions of the board monthly (note and report when no actions were required as behavior improves) 

If you do not respect your own rules, no one else will respect your authority to discipline. 

Member Satisfaction Trends & the Importance of Continuous Measurement

Club leaders generally have a strong pulse on the strengths and weaknesses of the member experience at their club. But given the amount of direct member feedback that Club Managers receive and the presence of vocal minorities at every club, it can be difficult to prioritize the needs of the silent majority.  

GGA has the opportunity to facilitate many private club surveys that collect ongoing feedback from tens of thousands of members each year. In doing so, common trends in member satisfaction begin to reveal themselves, and an understanding of what lies beneath the general satisfaction feedback.  

That is why formal member surveys are essential to help club leaders gain a deeper understanding of member satisfaction at their club. We recently released the results of our annual Club Leader’s Perspective industry survey, a 2023 update on pressing needs in club management, including emerging trends, challenges and needs heading into a new year. The feedback from 230 club leaders across the industry uncovered some interesting insights regarding member satisfaction: 

Those who do not measure satisfaction through a survey were more likely to be optimistic about satisfaction levels at their club – 42% of responding club leaders surveyed their members over the past year. Of that cohort, 61% measured an overall increase in satisfaction. In contrast, 74% of the audience that did not measure satisfaction perceived an increase. 

Across our client sample of satisfaction surveys, we observed a relatively flat overall satisfaction trend this past year, and we believe it is unlikely that 3 in 4 clubs this past year experienced improved levels of member satisfaction. As an overall trend, we observed satisfaction levels in 2022 remain slightly elevated from pre-pandemic levels but relatively consistent with 2021. The one area that we noticed a common decrease in satisfaction was food and beverage operations, often driven by low scores in menu variety/selection and service consistency.  

Only 16% of club leaders believe they are facing new and significant challenges related to their membership at their club. 

We were surprised to see ‘membership’ lower in terms of creating new challenges for club leaders. Given the high turnover and member growth that many clubs incurred during the pandemic, we are starting to observe ‘generational divide’ challenges emerge as a strategic issue for many clubs, specifically preserving culture and assimilating new and old generations of members. Member surveys provide great value in mitigating this issue by clearly delineating the key differences and commonalities in wants, needs and priorities for different generations. 

For the club leaders who measured satisfaction, they found older generations to be harder to satisfy than new generations, which is consistent with what GGA has observed the past year. Club leaders who did not quantitively measure satisfaction displayed a more balanced perception of the difficulty of satisfying each generation.  

Club leaders who surveyed their members were also more likely to have increased their membership size in 2022 (or waitlist), and more likely to have deployed an adjustable capacity for membership based on activity access and utilization (rather than a pre-determined rigid cap from the bylaws). Intuitively, this makes sense as regular member feedback can provide club leaders with the confidence to optimize usage at the club, satisfaction with access, and ultimately identify opportunities to increase members or member usage.  

From a membership perspective, the industry remains in a position of strength, with a growing number of waitlisted clubs and member feedback that suggests low attrition risk due to current satisfaction levels. But developing and maintaining a deep understanding of member satisfaction at a private club should not be a cyclical exercise. It requires consistent and ongoing measurement. In high times, like the present, this allows you to optimize members and usage, maintain competitive strengths and foresee any future satisfaction risks like the challenge of bridging a harmonious culture across multiple generations. In down-times, it can provide a valuable roadmap and priority list to address weaknesses and focus on the elements of the member experience that will move the needle the most in terms of restoring satisfaction and retention.  

Ben Hopkinson, Director, GGA Partners and James Stumpo, Senior Associate, GGA Partners.

5 Tips for “Yes” in Your Capital Call Communications

People fear change when they don’t understand the reason for it. And when they don’t understand the reason, they resist it.

In our work related to capital investment communications, we find that the vast majority of private club members understand and accept that it is their duty to leave their club better than they found it, with the caveat that the investment they are being asked to make is reasonable and necessary.

While obtaining a positive vote for your upcoming assessment is not guaranteed, getting members to say yes to being assessed can be much more achievable by following these 5 guidelines:

1. Communicate the Need

One of the keys to achieving a positive assessment vote outcome is to clearly communicate the need for the proposed upgrades. Whether your irrigation system is past its useful life and now costs more to maintain than replace or your casual dining area cannot service the demand or still has 1980’s decor, it is important to educate members about the need for the upgrades as well as the benefits that members will receive from them.

2. Engage Members in the Process 

Gone are the days when new amenities being proposed were based on the desires of a board member or two. Today, board members and management teams have adopted a more strategic approach to determining investments needed to ensure their club’s continued success. Club leaders are apt to rely on member surveys and focus groups as the starting point to understanding the need and the desire for capital improvements. It is a good first step, but not the only one. The most effective club leaders prepare preliminary plans and drawings with the understanding that once members have a chance to review the information, there will likely be a need for changes. We encourage clubs to present the plans in multiple meetings with small groups of members. This allows the facilitator to engage each member to hear questions and comments. This method allows the facilitator to control the flow of the meeting and ensure that one or two members are not monopolizing the meeting. Once all meetings have been completed, a recap of the key takeaways should be shared with all members.

3. Don’t Rush the Process 

Typically, the reaction to the introduction of major capital improvements and the associated assessment will be quite mixed. At GGA, we typically find that 20% of members will fully embrace the upgrades and 20% will be adamantly opposed to the plan. The remaining 60% need time to process the information and become comfortable with the prospect of the changes to the club and their budgets. That’s why it is vital to allow time for members to process the information, become comfortable with the plan and consider how it will benefit them. If you rush to a vote, there is a good chance the level of support needed will not be achieved. But if you take the time to communicate how you are addressing member concerns, answer member questions, provide plan updates, then ask for support, you will have a much greater chance of getting to that “yes” vote.

4. Develop an Equitable Payment Plan

The most senior members at clubs are least receptive to paying a lump sum assessment, using the argument that they will be paying for something they will not be able to enjoy for long. To ensure the capital improvement payment plan is not the deterrent to support, many clubs have moved to a “pay as you go” program whereby a small portion of the total assessment is paid in a lump sum, but the remaining assessment amount is paid monthly or semi-annually over three to five years. Not only does this payment option make it more manageable for all members, it also shows that those who will be enjoying it for years to come will assume more of the burden of paying for the plan.  

5. Bring Members Along on the Journey

Just like you, members are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information that bombards them every day, which means that your capital investment communications need to work harder than ever to break through the clutter. Efforts to keep members informed along the journey to improve their experience should carry a consistent theme, be repetitive and as short as possible.

A clear, consistent communications plan to educate and engage your members in the process of planning your capital improvements will ensure that fear is not the deciding factor of your club’s future.

Interested in learning about GGA’s Capital Call Communications services?

If you would like to learn more about how we can help your club execute a capital call, please contact us.

Online Voting, Explained

The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated digitization across many sectors, inspiring many to wonder: why didn’t we do things in this way before? This is indeed the case for electronic voting. Many clubs implemented electronic voting, albeit by necessity, to navigate complex challenges brought on by the pandemic. However, electronic voting is still relatively immature within the club industry. If you are curious about electronic voting, we answer five common questions that help to paint a clearer picture of electronic voting.

Why do online voting?

With the option of electronic voting, participation rates traditionally increase. Instead of needing to attend a meeting and fill out a paper ballot, members can access the ballot at home on their computer or at work on their phone. Voting can be completed in minutes and members receive a virtual confirmation assuring them that their vote was tallied. Higher voter turnout means higher levels of engagement among your members, and a simpler democratic process.

If planned properly, online voting can also be much more cost-effective. Your club can save on printing and mailing costs that would not be required through an online platform. It can also allow your club to allocate time and human resources to other areas of club operations.

By moving ballots online, elections are transitioned to a safe and secure platform, used routinely by private organizations and corporations. Online voting allows an ongoing audit trail that virtually eliminates the potential for human error which would not exist with paper ballots.

Online voting is customizable and implementing changes to your election is simple. The online voting system can be set up according to specifications provided by your club. This includes branding the voting website, ballot loading, preparation and loading the list of voters, and managing authentication of voters. When it comes time to vote, a mass email is distributed to all electors with a direct link with unique authentication credentials encrypted into it, making it easy for the member and safe for the club. Once the vote has been completed and the results are analyzed, online voting provides clubs with faster and more accurate tabulation of results, saving the club time and resources. The online platform also allows for further demographic segmentation while maintaining voter anonymity.

Do our bylaws align with online voting?

When first adopting an online vote, many clubs notice that their bylaws make it complicated to shift their voting to an electronic platform. Most clubs’ bylaws were written before the introduction of online voting, and therefore, may not adequately account for it. Just because a club’s bylaws or state statutes do not restrict a club from conducting a vote online, it does not mean their bylaws are optimal for doing online voting. Although many clubs are technically permitted to conduct online voting, their bylaws may prohibit them from doing so in an efficient and logical manner.

Typical barriers and bylaws that may interfere with a smooth online voting process may include:

  • Proxy requirements and the format of the proxies, i.e., general proxies vs. directed proxies.
  • Critical timing requirements and limitations on when proxies can be collected and when voting must occur.
  • Explicit requirements to issue paper notices, ballots, or proxies.
  • Specification of who is authorized to administer, issue, or receive proxies and ballots.

So, what is a club to do?

A change to your bylaws may be required. To successfully implement online voting, advisors can help clubs identify the required changes to their bylaws that are more compatible with online voting.

Who will be responsible for planning the vote?

Elections vendors offer support and guidance on the logistics and technical aspects of how the voting will occur. Votes require strong leaders/leadership team to plan and coordinate various aspects of the vote, such as communicating with members, producing meeting notices and information circular packages that are cohesive with the online voting process. Involving the club’s legal counsel is always advisable to ensure compliance with bylaws, state statues, and any other important requirements.

How should members be prepared for online voting?

It is recommended to initially implement online voting for a ‘low risk’ vote, such as an AGM vote where there are no polarizing motions or elections tabled. Although hybrid votes can be more complex, when they are set up appropriately, they can be a good first step for members to become familiar with the process. For example, in a simple vote with no proxies, members could be mailed a paper ballot or be given the option to vote online. The outcome of how many people elect to vote online vs. by paper can provide you with a good gauge on what your members are comfortable with. You can also observe turnout from other online engagement efforts, such as member surveys.

What vendor or service should I use for online voting?

There are many vendors, each of which excel at different aspects. Important factors to consider when selecting a vendor may include:

  • Budget
  • Structure: whether the vote will be a hybrid vote or exclusively online.
  • Vote requirements: will the voting experience need to be integrated with the technology being used to run the meeting via video?

Ready to implement electronic voting for your next vote?

If you would like to learn more about how electronic voting can help you run successful votes, please get in touch.

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. 

Four HR Questions Club Boards Should Be Asking

When was the last time your club audited its human resources? Alignment between a club’s strategy and its employee offering is essential in order to enhance the overall club lifestyle, culture, and experience for members and staff.

To determine whether it’s time to reexamine culture, Partner Derek Johnston lays out 4 questions private club boards should be asking. 

Among the most reverberant takeaways from the coronavirus pandemic is the importance of people to businesses. Global business leaders and executives at leading corporations have indicated that the shift toward talent as the most important source of corporate value has continued. The pandemic also seems to be leading an increasing number of talent-forward companies to take an “employees first” approach.

But this is nothing new for large-scale global businesses. Indeed, the third week of August marked the one-year anniversary of the influential Business Roundtable’s statement on corporate purpose – which puts employees, customers, their communities, and the environment on a par with shareholders.

“Human resources” is trending

It’s also nothing new for club businesses. Our continuous research on club industry trends has shown human resource management and labor challenges to be a persisting trend, one which club managers have reported to be rising in importance – before the coronavirus.

In 2019, human resources was ranked the 6th most-impactful private club trend (out of 27) in a global survey of club managers. And, in a separate Canadian club industry survey, it was identified as both a key risk and primary hurdle to modernizing club management while topping the list of areas which managers say are under-supported from an education standpoint.

The early-pandemic question as to whether COVID-19 impacts would accelerate the business community’s move to stakeholder capitalism, or slow it down as companies focus on short-term financial pressures, seems to have answered itself.

For clubs, the people-related challenges previously reported by managers have exacerbated, with topics like employee willingness to work, labor anxiety, staff recruitment and turnover emerging as key strategic questions which club leaders are currently wrestling.

Widespread COVID-19 impacts like club closures, layoffs, and furloughs certainly haven’t helped ease concerns. With significant changes afoot in staffing, retention, human resource availability, and operational adaptations, clubs are presented with a unique opportunity right now – the chance to reevaluate and perhaps reset their culture.

Got culture?

In clubs, culture IS governance. Sound governance is a strategic imperative primarily because it enables, supports, and nurtures effective strategy. And, as the Peter Drucker saying goes, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

This is extremely important for club leaders.

It’s important because it means that no matter how strong a club’s strategic plan is, its efficacy will be held back by team members, staff, and employees if they don’t share the proper culture.

When the breaks are going against the business, as they are for some right now, the people implementing the club’s plan are the ones that make all the difference. While strategy defines direction and focus, culture is the habitat in which strategy lives or dies.

Now is the perfect time to reexamine your club’s culture to ensure staff square rightly with the club’s strategy. In other words, to ensure that your people are the best fit for accomplishing the club’s goals and objectives. Someone who was right for a specific role pre-pandemic may not be right for the same role now. Your business has changed, and some people may need to change too, either themselves or their roles.

How can club leaders reexamine culture?

The first place to start is by understanding what you’re currently doing for employees. Club leaders require a comprehensive understanding of the club’s current approach to human resource management so that they can determine the alignment of people and culture with the club’s goals.

When was the last time the club audited its human resources approach, policies, procedures, and performance? Ensuring alignment between the club’s strategy and its employee offering is essential in order to enhance the overall club lifestyle, culture, and experience for members and staff.

To help you get started, here are four HR questions private club boards should be asking:

1. How does our current organizational structure sit relative to best practice and what recent COVID-related changes should we make permanent or revisit?

Review your club’s current organizational structure, including both employees and contract workers, against best practice structures at comparable clubs locally, nationally, and globally. This review should focus special attention on the roles and responsibilities of human resources within the organizational structure with the goal of highlighting key gaps or divergences from best practice. Often times in clubs, an overly flat organizational structure tends to create ‘siloes’ that breed inefficiencies and bloat staffing levels.

2. Are we both efficient and competitive in the compensation and benefits afforded to employees?

Complete a comprehensive benchmarking exercise which compares compensation and benefit levels of all key staff and for the club as a whole to comparable clubs and other businesses with whom you compete for talent. The focus of this exercise should go beyond salary and hourly wages, factoring in relevant club financial and operating data, benefits packages, member and employee feedback scores, and other market-related information.

The goal is to identify current and accurate reference points for evaluating current compensation and benefits against best practice. There is a high degree of likelihood that there are opportunities in your current compensation and benefits structure to better align incentives and shift compensation to top talent, which tends to support increased productivity and reduced head count.

3. Are our personnel positioned to help us achieve the club’s goals and objectives? Are we helping them achieve theirs?

Assess your club’s performance tracking and review processes. The goal here is to analyze current performance evaluation processes and procedures to ensure alignment with the club’s overarching goals. This requires the board and executive committee to have a focused, clear, and comprehensive understanding of the club’s mission, vision, core values, and objectives.

For maximum benefit, to both member and employee satisfaction, it is incredibly important that performance is measurable and incentivized. The trick is determining the right way to track and measure performance and tie it to the right incentive.

4. Are our staff equipped with the tools they need to succeed? Are they empowered to do so?

Evaluate your club’s current recruiting, onboarding, training, and ongoing relational efforts. This will likely require management meetings and staff interviews to learn about the current approach and unearth any ideas or recommendations your team may have to suggest.

The success of every private club is dependent on the quality of their staff. Recruiting the best talent, integrating them into the envisioned culture, training them for success, ensuring their satisfaction, and ultimately retaining them is an important goal. The outcome from which tends to have a positive financial impact on the club and on the member experience.

After all, an investment in people is an investment in culture and clubs will benefit from this investment.

Members Worried About Their Club’s Financial Health; Say Their Return Contingent on Safe Conditions

Members Worried About Their Club’s Financial Health;
Say Their Return Contingent on Safe Conditions

TORONTO (August 11, 2020) – Private club members are worried about their club’s financial well-being in the aftermath of the global pandemic, and only 27% expect operations to revert to the way they were before the challenges imposed by the coronavirus.  But most say they will retain their membership if their club holds the line on dues increases, maintains the quality of its facilities, and makes returning to the club safe for themselves and their families.

Those were among the findings of a survey of private golf club members conducted by GGA Partners, an international consulting firm and advisor to many of the world’s most successful golf courses, private clubs, resorts and residential communities.  The study was conducted among members of U.S. and Canadian private clubs with survey participants averaging 12 years of club membership.

Survey respondents were not optimistic about their club’s financial position with 71% saying they expect a decline in the financial health of their club. Fifty percent cited current economic conditions and 42% said a drop in member spending would lead to the decline, which 20% predicted would be “significant.”

In response to downward financial pressures, members expect their clubs to adapt operationally rather than financially by scaling back high-touch areas of operations to simultaneously reduce operating costs and lower the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Rather than increasing revenue through dues or membership growth, almost three-quarters of members would prefer their club make near-term, operational changes – including reducing dining operations (61%) and administrative expenses.

Despite the multiple ways their lives have been affected by the pandemic, roughly four in five members report either an increase in importance or no change in the club’s importance in their lives. Friendships, the quality of amenities and recreational activities were cited as factors driving the club’s importance. Twenty-one percent say the club’s importance has diminished because of the pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has not negatively impacted the relevance of the club in the lives of most private club members.  If anything, its importance has been reinforced,” said Henry DeLozier, a partner in the Toronto-based firm.  “Together these results suggest that the importance and relevance of their club experience are strengthened during emotionally challenging times.”

When asked how they would (or have) approached returning to their club in the wake of the coronavirus, 39% said they would (or have) returned without any restrictions imposed by the club.  However, 61% said their return was contingent on certain conditions: 50% said they would return if social distancing was maintained and government guidelines enforced; 11% were more hesitant, saying they would not return until the club had been operational “without issues” for a trial period or until rigorous virus testing capabilities were implemented or a vaccine were available.

Members said they also would consider leaving their clubs if dues increases exceeded typical annual hikes (50%) and the club’s facilities deteriorated (41%).

“The good news for club operators is that scaling back operations, reducing services and limiting access to amenities and activities – essential maneuvers to safely and responsibly navigate a virus-plagued social environment – are unlikely to cause significant membership attrition,” DeLozier said.


About GGA Partners

GGA Partners™ is an international consulting firm and trusted advisor to many of the world’s most successful golf courses, private clubs, resorts, and residential communities.  We are dedicated to helping owners, asset managers, club and community leaders, investors and real estate developers tackle challenges, achieve objectives, and maximize asset performance.

Established in 1992 as the KPMG Golf Industry Practice, our global team of experienced professionals leverage in-depth business intelligence and proprietary global data to deliver impactful strategic solutions and lasting success.

For more information, please visit



Henry DeLozier
Partner, GGA Partners

Rob Hill
Partner, GGA Partners
+353 86 68 12 744

Winter is Coming…

Amidst the euphoria of clubs reopening, EMEA Partner Rob Hill encourages club leaders to look beyond 2020 and plan now to do all they can to maintain those gains, because starting this winter, 2021 is going to bring a whole new challenge.

Numerous UK golfing bodies, clubs and media are understandably enjoying the moment – citing a considerable spike in membership interest and lauding the industry’s resurrection as reason for celebration.

Amidst the euphoria, club leaders would do well to look beyond 2020 and plan now to do all they can to maintain those gains, because starting this winter, 2021 is going to bring a whole new challenge.

The Bank of England has warned that the UK faces its deepest recession since 1709 and the OECD forecasts that the UK will suffer the worst recession in the developed world.

Thus far, the true state of the UK labour market has been disguised by wage subsidies covering 9.1m jobs – a scheme coming to an end in October this year.

GGA Partners Research (A Member’s Perspective, 2020) signals that 43% of private club members expect their disposable income will decline over the next 12 months, while 58% believe their overall consumer spending will also decline.

This new economic environment will first focus its wrath on the 8% of clubs in the UK and Ireland that classify their current cash position as ‘Critical’. It will swiftly sweep through the further 29% that classify theirs as ‘Concerning’.

As far as the COVID effect on member attitudes to returning to use their club, 11% of members signal that they are hesitant, would not return until the Club had been operational ‘without issues’ for a trial period, until rigorous virus testing capabilities or even a vaccine is available. This is particularly applicable to the 70’s+ age group (A Member’s Perspective, 2020), leading to a likely detrimental impact on this demographic’s perceived value for money and relevance.

A study carried out by the English Golf Union as it then was in 2008, identified in the first year of that recession, almost 1/2 of all clubs experienced a decline in membership numbers with “the most significant decrease in the 22-44 age group” – a reflection of the age group that gets hit hardest in an employment downtown. It’s reasonable to assume this trend will be repeated.

By all means enjoy re-opening, celebrate the new demand and interest in the game and membership, and the first profitable quarter for f&b departments in recent memory! But remember what you’re experiencing now isn’t the new normal. That’s coming this winter and it is the responsibility of club leaders to prepare their organisations for the next cycle NOW.

This means addressing any governance weaknesses that may hinder nimble and difficult decision-making. Following proven guiding principles to protect the club’s overall financial health. Protecting the condition of club assets and exploring opportunities for investing in enhancements which will broaden relevance and appeal. Investing in people and their education to deliver efficient and outstanding member and visitor experiences. Investing in a membership retention plan with an emphasis on value, NPS, socialisation, and safety, and investing in an appropriate brand management strategy so that values are communicated effectively to both internal and external audiences.

If you have an interest in reading insights from my colleagues and research from our extraordinary team at GGA Partners, I encourage you to go to where you can also sign up to receive releases of interest.

A Member’s Perspective: The Shifting Private Club Landscape

New GGA Partners Research Report Highlights Private Club Members’ Perspective on COVID-19 Impact

More than 6,300 private club members share their attitudes toward the club industry in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and how they expect clubs to respond. Now available for download.

TORONTO, Ontario – GGA Partners – international consulting firm and trusted advisor to many of the world’s most successful golf courses, private clubs, resorts, and residential communities – has released the results of a global research survey of more than 6,300 private club members across six countries on four continents.

The research, which incorporates clubs in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and China, measures the attitudes and preferences of private club members on club operations and finance in the wake of the COVID-19 global health crisis.

“The coronavirus pandemic has shifted the private club landscape in many ways and these research findings offer insight into the near-future ripple effects with which club leaders must reckon,” explained Derek Johnston, a Partner in the firm. “As an industry advisor for trends shaping private club strategy, our team at GGA Partners is doing all that we can to help club leaders navigate the crisis and strengthen their understanding of how to react and adapt in order to meet the morphing needs and expectations of members.”

Overall results are encouraging; members feel highly positive about the crisis-management performance of their clubs and indicate that the importance of “the Club” in their lives has not been negatively impacted by the pandemic, but rather reinforced.

“In terms of correlation, the more effectively clubs have performed during the COVID-19 pandemic, the more important they became in the lives of members,” stated Ben Hopkinson, Director Client Success and Sales at GGA Partners.  “Together, these results suggest that, for members, the importance and relevance of their club experience is strengthened during emotionally challenging times.”

However, despite the enduring importance of the club in their lives, members’ high-level economic outlook over the next 12 months is more somber: 43% expect their disposable income to decrease and 58% believe their overall consumer spending will as well.  Perhaps most disheartening is members’ outlook on how their club’s financial position will change: 71% envisage a decline, with 20% characterizing the anticipated decline as ‘significant’.

In response to anticipated downward financial pressures, members expect their clubs to adapt operationally by scaling back certain high-touch areas of operations to simultaneously reduce club operating costs and the risk of COVID-19 transmission.  The extent of operational changes is predicted to be moderate in nature – only 12% of participants envision changes characterized as ‘significant’ or ‘drastic’.

The majority of private club members indicate their understanding of the need for operational adaptions to reduce costs, showing stronger support for changes which reduce service offerings and availability than those which increase their cost to belong.

The good news for club operators is the implication that operational scale-backs, service reductions, and restricted/limited access to amenities and activities – essential maneuvers to safely and responsibly navigate a virus-ridden social environment – are unlikely to cause significant membership attrition.  The tough news is that increasing dues beyond the norm – or allowing the value and quality of club amenities to diminish – just might push members away in the short-term.

According to Patrick DeLozier, Director at GGA Partners, constant evolutions in the COVID-19 pandemic place enhanced pressure on the planning capabilities of club leaders.  “It’s really a day-to-day for managers,” he said. “The stop-and-start reality of new case development and safety protocols requires club managers to have up-to-date information and the support of very sound research and data to work through challenges with the club’s board of directors.”

This means that club leaders need to have a plan for what they’re going to do next as the situation evolves quickly and unexpectedly. “The need for data-driven analysis, diligent financial monitoring, and a prepared communications strategy is more prevalent than ever,” DeLozier clarified.  “To sustain forward-thinking, club leaders need to have a ‘Plan C’ for the ‘Plan A’.  Pandemic-related changes are so rapid that, if you can’t adapt quickly, you’re well behind the eight ball.”

These results and more are detailed in a report titled A Member’s Perspective: The Shifting Private Club Landscape, now available for download.

Click here to download the report and see the findings


About GGA Partners

GGA Partners™ is an international consulting firm and trusted advisor to many of the world’s most successful golf courses, private clubs, resorts, and residential communities.  We are dedicated to helping owners, asset managers, club and community leaders, investors and real estate developers tackle challenges, achieve objectives, and maximize asset performance.

Established in 1992 as the KPMG Golf Industry Practice, our global team of experienced professionals leverage in-depth business intelligence and proprietary global data to deliver impactful strategic solutions and lasting success.

For more information, please visit



Bennett DeLozier
GGA Partners