Adding Value – The Club Controller

November 9th, 2018

The Club Controller is an important member of the club management team.  There are a number of constituencies that rely on the expertise and efforts of the Controller, including the General Manager, the club’s Board or ownership, the department heads with bottom line responsibility, and, of course, the employees who jobs depend upon the solvency of the club.

The Controller’s role is more than that of an accountant who, according to accounting definitions, records and reports financial transactions.  In addition to maintaining the General Ledger, Accounts Payable, Member Billing and Accounts Receivable, Payroll, and Financial Reporting, the Controller plays a vital role by assisting managers in maintaining the profitability of the club.

The functions of the Controller tend to fall into a routine of monitoring daily activity, processing bi-weekly payroll, ongoing processing and payment of invoices, monthly member billing, and end of month closing and financial reporting.  Once a year, the Controller has a central role in the annual budgeting process for the club.

But the Controller also provides guidance and assistance to the General Manager and department heads in meeting their fiscal responsibilities to the club and its members.  These managers have a broad range of detail- and labor-intensive requirements and must deal with the daily challenges that arise in a high quality service environment.  By keeping in mind the underlying principle of service-based leadership – of providing the necessary tools, training, resources, and support to key constituents – Controllers should offer targeted outreach assistance to managers; particularly to department heads – those key individuals with bottom line responsibilities.

Outreach services include:

Ensuring that department heads have clear accounting guidance:  Written accounting standards, policies, and procedures should be available to all managers.  While Club Resources International has produced and offers a great many of these, detailed procedural guidance should be prepared and implemented at the club level.

Assisting department heads with club-required programs:  Department heads may need assistance with benchmarking spreadsheets, Tools to Beat Budget, Annual Budgeting, and preparing for monthly meetings to review financial performance.

Providing timely operating data:  Those with bottom line responsibility have need for timely information about their operations.  The two most important are Weekly Revenue Reports and Pay Period Summary Reports that allow managers to monitor their revenues and their single largest expense – payroll.

Ongoing training on accounting issues:  In any complex operation there is the need for ongoing refresher training on key matters.  Staff turnover and the constant focus on daily operations sometimes make it difficult for managers to keep accounting issues foremost in mind.  Controllers should monitor departmental compliance with accounting policies and provide refresher training for arising issues and ongoing problems.

Making periodic visits to department heads:  These visits, based on the premise of  “How can I help you,” “Is there anything the Accounting Department can do to assist,” or “Your department seems to struggle with timely inventories.  Is there anything we can do to help?”  When coupled with a service-based attitude, such visits will go a long way in improving accounting processes while building a positive team spirit among managers.

Conducting an accounting audit of each department:  This annual check-up should be conducted with an attitude of helping department heads.  A simple checklist of important accounting considerations will provide both the department head and the Controller with a guide to identify and address areas needing improvement.  After the audit is completed, the Controller should work with the department head to draw up a plan of action to address any issues or concerns.

While the foregoing may sound like a lot of additional effort for the Controller, a club with a smooth functioning accounting process will usually perform better.  Additionally, many of the continuing irritations for the accounting staff arise from operating departments failing to meet accounting requirements in a timely and accurate manner.  These two benefits alone will make the Controller’s extra efforts well worthwhile.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the hospitality industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking managers throughout the country and around the world.

Ten Disciplines That Will Transform Your Club

October 23rd, 2018

Arguably the greatest business book to appear in the last quarter century is Jim Collins’ Good to Great, Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don’t.  In preparation for the book the author and his research team identified and examined 11 publicly traded companies that significantly outperformed their competitors for a period of 15 or more years to find out what made them so successful.  The findings were sometimes surprising, often at odds with conventional wisdom, but definitive in that they were based on empirical evidence, not business theory.

One of the findings is that all Good to Great companies had a culture of discipline.  Quoting from the book:

“Much of the answer to the question of ‘good to great’ lies in the discipline to do whatever it takes to become the best within carefully selected arenas and then seek continual improvement in these.  It’s really just that simple.”

“A culture of discipline is not just about action.  It is about getting disciplined people who engage in disciplined thought and who then take disciplined action.”

Here are ten disciplines for the club industry that, when conscientiously and consistently applied, will revolutionize your operation.

  1. Service-Based Leadership.  Don’t assume that your management team has the necessary leadership skills.  Consistent, club-wide leadership is necessary to ensure that the General Manager’s vision is thoroughly implemented and consistently communicated to all employees.  To avoid dilution of core values managers must be trained to a common understanding and application of leadership.  Service-Based Leadership provides the example of service to all employees and creates the environment for employee empowerment.
  2. Organizational Values and Culture of Service.  Every employee must be immersed in a consistently reinforced culture of service based on well-defined values.  Unless you establish the desired culture of service, one will arise on its own and invariably will be at odds with your vision.
  3. Benchmarking.  You can’t improve what you don’t measure.  All club departments must be benchmarked in detail.  These benchmarks will tell you far more about your operation than just whether or not you made a profit.
  4. Real Time Accounting.  The discipline of tracking your revenues and expenses in real time will focus the entire management team on meeting or exceeding budgets.  It will also make budgeting for future periods far easier and more accurate.
  5. Continual Process Improvement.  Never rest on your laurels.  Yesterday’s accomplishments may have been good enough for yesterday, but being the best requires never-ending effort.  Create a culture of continual process improvement to relentlessly pursue excellence.  Your mantra, like that of your members, must be “what have you done for me lately?”
  6. Disciplined Hiring and Screening for Success.  Turnover is prohibitively expensive in the people- and detail-intensive arena of club operations.  The discipline of hiring well and getting the right people in the right seats will lower your employee turnover rate.  Benchmark your turnover rate by department to continually analyze and improve performance in this critical area.
  7. Work Planning and Performance Review with Measurable Accountabilities.  To keep organizational development and progress coordinated and on track, every department head must have a work plan with specific tasks, timelines, and accomplishments.  These coupled with detailed departmental benchmarks will permit performance reviews to be based on measurable accountabilities instead of gut feel.  When the entire management team is held individually accountable, performance naturally improves.
  8. On the Go Training.  Training is a necessity in the people- and detail-intensive club business.  There is much for employees to know and master, but with tight budgets and a pressing schedule of operations it is often neglected.  One way to overcome this is to format essential training in small on-the-go sessions that can be taught in spare moments or pre-shift meetings.  When material is prepared this way, it becomes a matter of daily discipline to pull out and review essential material.  The final discipline is to keep track of all training sessions so that over time nothing is overlooked.
  9. Member Relationship Management.  Members are the life blood of your club.  How you and your staff interact with them is more important than anything else you do.  Your relationship with your members cannot be left to chance.  It must be managed as carefully as your budget and requires a formal plan and thorough training of employees.  In the final analysis, member relationship management will determine whether or not you meet your budget and your mission of exceeding member expectations.
  10. Employee Empowerment.  John Tschohl, founder of the Quality Service Institute, says “Without empowerment, an organization will never be a service leader.  Empowerment is the most critical skill an employee can master and a company can drive in order to lure and keep customers.”

Empowered employees are viewed as full-fledged partners in your quest for high levels of quality and service.  They are encouraged to think, act, and make decisions on their own based on guidelines you define, but they must fully sense the club’s commitment to such empowerment.  Simply saying that employees are empowered does not make it so.

Excellence in the service industry is neither easy to achieve nor commonly found.  It takes commitment and “the will to make it happen.”  Jim Collins says being great requires “disciplined people taking disciplined action” day in and day out in the face of any adversity.  But for those who choose to meet the challenge, the rewards are as great as the effort involved.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the hospitality industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking managers throughout the country and around the world.

Assert Your Competence and Authority with Benchmarks

October 8th, 2018

At one time or another every club manager’s abilities are challenged by a pointed question from a committee or board member.  For example:

Mrs. Johnson, a member of the clubhouse committee, asks in a sharp tone, “Mr. Smith, why don’t you do a better job of training your waiters in the dining room?”

While there are certainly many possible responses to this complaint disguised as a question, consider the benefits of a reply like this:

“Well, Mrs. Johnson, last year each of our servers had 20 hours of formal training, plus we conduct brief on-the-go training sessions as part of every pre-shift meeting.  On average each server who has been with us for six months or more has had over 40 hours of job specific training.  Last year, club-wide we averaged just over 92 hours per employee of formal training on a wide range of topics, including organizational values, legal and liability abatement, work rules and club policies, and safety, as well as job-specific skills.  This was a 7% increase over the previous year. We’re currently working on a program to expand server training with a series of videos on tableside etiquette and serving techniques, which we’ll roll out next month.  We’re always working on ways to improve the efficiency of our training delivery system, but keep in mind that every hour of training costs the club $10.47 per trainee.  I’d be happy to share our methods, resources, and job specific curriculum with you, as we could always use another set of eyes on what we’re doing.”

Mrs. Johnson nods her head knowingly and replies in a much softer tone, “Uh . . . no thanks, Mr. Smith.  I was just wondering how we go about training our staff.”

As this example suggests, there is no better way to assert your competence and authority than to be conversant with a wide range of operational data.  Such information is as useful to the head golf professional, golf course superintendent, clubhouse manager, dining room supervisor, chef, and controller, as it is for the club’s General Manager.

But to have such information at your fingertips, ready for any and all challenges, requires that every club department benchmark their operations in detail.  While these details are absolutely essential to the department head, important summary benchmarks must be forwarded monthly to the controller for inclusion in the Executive Metrics Report.  This report is then attached to the monthly financial statement and forwarded to various board and committee members.  Ultimately this information, tracked over time, educates board members and helps the General Manager establish his authority while advancing his vision and agenda for the club.

Knowledge is Power!  And the more knowledge you have about your operations, the more power and control you will have over the club’s direction and your own destiny.  So avail yourself of the great variety of benchmarking resources available on the Club Resources International website and start benchmarking your operation today!

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the hospitality industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking managers throughout the country and around the world.

Continual Process Improvement

September 23rd, 2018

Given the many details associated with managing a quality, high-end club, it is imperative that management commit to and promote a process of continual improvement in all areas of the operation.  This requires a positive emphasis on problem discovery, a discipline of constant review, and an understanding that in quality service operations, the devil is in the details.  As more and more areas of the club’s operations become systematized and routine, management at all levels, with the commitment and assistance of their empowered employees, must continually “peel the onion” to deeper and deeper layers of detail.  Further, no detail must be seen as too trivial to warrant management’s attention and the establishment of standards and procedures to ensure it is attended to by the staff.

The purpose of Continual Process Improvement is to constantly seek better ways of doing things – that is to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and financial performance of the club while providing a quality of service and level of satisfaction that encourages greater use and enjoyment by members.

The discipline of Continual Process Improvement requires that all managers and supervisors are focused on and committed to improving the performance of their club, department, or section at all times.  It means that no manager or supervisor should be satisfied with the status quo, but should constantly be looking for ways to improve.

In order to ensure the development of such a discipline in the club, the General Manager must constantly remind subordinate managers of the need to improve and make improving existing operations a key component of subordinates’ annual work plans.  Further, the GM should continually enquire, “What are you doing today to improve your department?”  When this level of interest is demonstrated by the GM, subordinate managers and supervisors will understand the importance of Continual Process Improvement.

Examples of Continual Process Improvement

  • Review of Revenue Generation or Payroll Cost during monthly budget review. Formulation of initiatives to increase revenue such as promotions, specialty dining nights, additional golf programming, tennis clinics, etc.
  • Review of retail benchmarks by the Head Golf Professional can help him improve his future retail buys. By knowing what sold and what didn’t sell, and what percentage of overall sales were soft goods versus hard goods he can make informed determinations about purchasing and merchandising.
  • The HR Manager can review employee turnover rates and exit interviews by department to determine which Department Heads need further training in Disciplined Hiring or counseling on better treatment of employees.
  • Annual review of club standards, policies, and procedures by department to see what worked and what didn’t. Brainstorming modifications of same to improve operations.
  • Monthly review of major costs by Department Heads to see if there is a better or cheaper alternative to current expenditures. The Controller can do the same for Administrative and General expenses.
  • Review of forecasted business levels and actual staffing by day of week and meal period to improve future F&B staff scheduling.
  • Review of training material with new hires after their introductory period. Determine how well initial skills training met the actual needs of new employees.
  • Examine and propose modifications to equipment placement or work flow in kitchen or food pantry areas to increase the efficiency of staff.

Methodologies for Continual Process Improvement include:

  • Preparing in-depth subordinate managers’ work plans and performance reviews. The time spent continually improving the work performance of your subordinates will allow you to focus on more strategic issues, delegate more day-to-day tasks to subordinates, and plot and follow the improvement of your club – department by department.
  • Reviewing major events, activities, and programs. Formal meetings after the Member-Guest Tournament, Mothers’ Day Brunch, 4th of July Festivities, Summer Camp, Swim Team season, etc., will allow all Department Heads to review execution and performance from their individual perspectives. The best time to do this is the week following the event when all is fresh in everyone’s mind. Have your Administrative Assistant sit in and take notes which are then distributed to all interested parties. Next year, as planning starts, pull out the notes from the previous year and make adjustments as necessary.
  • Selecting one department per month and conducting an in-depth review. In the course of a year all departments would be reviewed. Take a half day for the review and include other Department Heads in the process. Start by having the selected Department Head give an overview briefing regarding the department’s operation. The overview should be an honest “State of the Union” about where the department is and where it is going. Cover goals, both short and long-term, challenges and obstacles, key member interfaces, special services touches, review of training process, and review of departmental financial performance and benchmarks. Give a tour of work spaces describing issues with work flow, storage, telecommunications, etc. After the briefing and tour, ask other Department Heads to help brainstorms ideas for improving departmental performance. To be most effective, the subject Department Head should set the agenda and guide the discussion. After the session, the Department Head should draw up an action plan to implement ideas with a timeline and milestones for completion. The effort put into a monthly departmental review should provide multiple benefits such as continually “confronting the brutal facts” of departmental operations, fostering a sense of teamwork among Department Heads, and, of course, Continual Process Improvement.

Continual General Manager interest in improvement is the single most important driver of Continual Process Improvement.  When the GM requires Department Heads to demonstrate CPI, and their performance review depends upon it, it will happen.  Without the GM’s interest, it won’t!

Without a means of measuring improvements, it is impossible to gauge the benefits of any changes to the operation.  But before you can evaluate the impact of any changes, you must know what the operating standard is (i.e., the existing benchmark or “baseline” of any operation, event, or process).  When you know your operating standard, you can then compare changes in the standard as a result of new initiatives or changes to the operation.  For example:

The Food and Beverage Director determines that with improved product training servers will be better able to “upsell” members on wines.  Because she tracks her numbers of bottles of wine sold per day, week, and month, she knows that the club typically sells 47 bottles of wine per month at an average sale of $16.43.  After several weeks of intensive wine training for her staff, she begins to see the number of bottles sold creep up, along with the average sale.  After four months, her new operating standard is an average of 71 bottles of wine sold per month with an average sale of $19.12.  Further, because she benchmarked which particular wines were selling well and coordinated her wine purchases with the chef’s new menu offerings, she was able to offer a new selection of higher margin Chilean and Australian reds.

Continual Process Improvement is a discipline found in most successful enterprises.  It is done with the understanding that in a competitive marketplace what you do successfully today, may not be successful tomorrow.  In a world where rapid change and innovation have become the norm, we can only maintain our reputation for quality service by continually working to improve that service.  In the words of our members, “What have you done for me lately?”

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the hospitality industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking managers throughout the country and around the world.

How Many Silos Does Your Club Have?

September 9th, 2018

Teamwork pays off.  We’ve all seen examples in the sports world of one team playing well together beating a team with superior individual talent.  Legendary University of North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith made a name for himself by fielding balanced teams known for their teamwork as opposed to teams with individual high scoring stars.  Some wag once said, “Dean Smith was the only coach who could keep Michael Jordan to less than 20 points a game” – because of his insistence on selflessness and teamwork.

Teamwork is also important in business where complex organizations depend upon the strengths of different departments working together.  The term “silo” has come to represent individual managers and departments focused solely on their own agendas, functions, and tasks.  The image of a silo, standing tall with sheer walls separating its contents from other silos, is an apt analogy for business departments who work alone with minimal contact with adjacent departments regardless of degree of interdependence and common purpose.

Silos are quite prevalent in the club business where individual departments perform certain well-defined functions in the overall club scheme.  While some usually have good communications and working relationships, such as golf operations and golf course maintenance, less often is this the case between clubhouse functions, such as food and beverage, membership, and administration, and outside functions.  In many cases some department heads only encounter each other at the General Manager’s staff meetings.

The danger in having silos in your club is that some managers have little understanding beyond a broad conception of what other managers or their departments do.  Without a keener appreciation of all elements of the club’s operations, how can department heads work together as a team to understand and exceed members’ expectations?

This is particularly important in those club departments that provide a supporting function to other operations, such as accounting, human resources, administration, and facilities management.  Unless these department heads get out and meet frequently with their operational counterparts, they are unable to get important feedback or conceive of better ways to serve their internal customers.

So how does a General Manager go about breaking down the silos of a club?  Here are some suggestions:

1.  Hold regularly scheduled weekly meetings with all department heads.  These meetings allow each attendee to update others on what they are working on.  Obviously, this keeps everyone better informed and gives each a better understanding of what others do.

2. Use the annual club planning process as a team building exercise.  Many minds are better than one and often an outside view on problems can bring a fresh approach.  Read the article “A Discipline of Planning” for more information.

3.  Once a month have one department head lead a brainstorming session to improve their operation.  See the article “Continual Process Improvement” to see how it works.

4.  Take department heads to lunch at a nice restaurant once a quarter for socializing.  Follow the lunch with a brief presentation and Q&A session by a community or business leader.  Often these individuals can come from the club’s membership and would be happy, maybe even honored, to speak to their club’s leadership.

5.  Hold “Wow Factor” brainstorming sessions with all department heads.  Read the article “What Have You Done for Me Lately” for information about such sessions.

The Bottom Line:  The more your department heads interact with one another in formal and informal settings, the better they will understand the common challenges they face in running a high quality, member-focused club.  When this happens they will naturally begin functioning as a team committed to their common purpose regardless of individual function.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the hospitality industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking managers throughout the country and around the world.

What Have You Done for Me Lately?

August 26th, 2018

How often have we in private clubs heard that from our members?  No one but a few creatures of inviolable habit likes the “same ol’, same ol’,” yet that’s what many clubs serve up month after month, year in and year out. Why not try a different approach that will “wow” your members?  Make “wow factors” a part of your club’s traditions.

What is a “wow factor”?  It’s anything, usually unexpected, that causes your members to say or think, “Wow, that’s really neat!” or “Wow, I didn’t expect that!” or “Wow, that’s impressive!”

Wow factors are characterized by their unexpectedness and as such any particular wow factor cannot become part of your club routine. They are executed for one-time or short-term effect.  They are also characterized by being unusual – either cutting edge or just out-of-the-ordinary.  They can be extravagant and expensive, but these should be few and far between.  Most wow factors should be small scale, inexpensive, and momentary, that is, of short duration as in one day, one evening, or one event.

The key to making wow factors is to challenge your club’s department heads to come up with a specified number of wow factor ideas for their areas of the operation – say 10 new ideas for the coming busy season.  Each idea should be briefly described on paper – what it is, how it will be done, what items need to be purchased, any talent that needs to be contracted, any associated labor cost, and an overall estimated cost.  Then all department heads should meet with the General Manager in a brainstorming session to discuss, settle on, and schedule the roll out of each wow factor.

Here are a handful of ideas to give you a sense of the program:

  • Complimentary mini-trio sampler of desserts or appetizers for all diners on a given night – this is also an excellent way to preview or market a new menu.
  • Free soft-serve ice cream or smoothies for the kids (of all ages) at the pool on a hot summer day.  An alternative would be to arrange for the local ice cream truck to pull up in front of your pool with music playing.  Everyone gets their specialty ice cream treat and you pay the bill.
  • Flowers for all the ladies dining on some non-special night just for the surprise effect.  Google search “special days” for calendars of unusual celebrations and holidays.
  • Have the General Manager act as the club “doorman” on a random evening to greet each member and guest as they arrive.
  • A giveaway of a sleeve of golf balls to each golfer on a busy Saturday morning.  Handed out by the Head Golf Professional on the first tee for maximum effect.
  • Free mini-pizzas in the lounge on an unexpected evening.
  • A themed ice carving for a ladies luncheon.
  • Complimentary and unusual hors d’oeuvres for the weekly card game in the men’s lounge.
  • Face painting or a clown or a balloon artist at your next children’s event.
  • Complimentary wine for no special reason.  A great way to clear out dead stock or showcase new wines.

Again, the key to the wow factor is its unusual nature and unexpectedness.  Several tips:

  • Execute your wow factors where they will have the most effect – food and beverage areas, golf areas, locker rooms, special events, activities, aquatics, tennis.
  • Plan, budget, and schedule.  Formalize your program enough so that the wow factors are spread out and spread around.  Always have a budget.  Say you budget $500 per month for club-wide wow factors.  The cost to the club is $6,000 per year – not an inconsequential amount, but think of the benefit to member pleasure and even employee morale.
  • Wow factor ideas are everywhere.  Borrow from other establishments or something you saw on vacation.  The Internet is a treasure trove of ideas.  Google search words or phrases such as “Fun,” “Fun Ideas,” “Fun Activities,” “Fun Recreational Activities,” and “Inexpensive Activity Ideas” and you’ll get a sense for how many resources are out there.
  • To keep your costs down, get together with vendors for freebies.  Many would be thrilled to get some exposure to your members for their products and services.  Just make sure you prominently give them credit for their donations.
  • Once you’ve used a particular wow factor, save the concept for some future time.  Avoiding routine doesn’t mean never doing it again, just doing it again when unexpected.  Over time, you’ll develop an extensive list of wow factors that can be deployed for maximum effect at some future moment.
  • Keep your wow factor strategy, plans, and schedule under tight wrap.  Don’t ruin the surprise with “loose lips.”
  • Let your members do the talking about the wow factor, not you or your staff.  Act like nothing special is going on, while the members “buzz” about the unusual and unexpected.  Certainly, you may acknowledge a wow factor when asked about it, but act like it’s no deal, just some little thing that happened “spontaneously.”

There are hundreds of websites offering unusual and fun ideas.  Get your department heads and staff excited by searching out the most unusual activities, events, or ideas.  Your members will still ask, “What have you done for me lately?” but they’ll be delighted by the unexpected moments and your staff will be energized by the fun of “giving” these special gifts to your membership.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the hospitality industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking managers throughout the country and around the world.

How Consistent is your Club Leadership?

August 11th, 2018

Strong, stable, and consistent leadership is the single most important requirement for successful club operations.  While there are many styles of leadership suited to any industry or endeavor, experience over many years in the club business makes it clear to this writer that a service-based approach to leadership works best in the service industry with its often young, mixed gender, and multi-ethnic workforce.  This style of leadership has as its primary motivation service to others – to members, to the owners of the club, and to the employees.

ed-jpeg-4This leadership style differs from others in its focus on serving the needs of employees to provide them with the proper tools, training, resources, motivation, and empowerment to serve the club’s members.  In simplest terms, when a club’s employees are served by their leaders, they will serve the members, who by their continuing patronage serve the club’s bottom line.  An understanding of the importance of this style of leadership can be inferred from the simple question,

“How can employees provide quality service if they are not properly served by the leadership and example of their managers?”

While it is recognized that the General Manager must be a strong leader, it is also critical that the club’s subordinate managers and supervisors are also trained to be strong service-based leaders.  While some degree of a leader’s skill-set seems to be inborn, such as personality and an analytic mind, and others, such as confidence, judgment, and basic communication abilities, are developed early in life, the great majority of a leader’s skills are attitudinal and can be learned.

But to expect that your managers with varying backgrounds, education, and experiences will have a common understanding of what constitutes effective leadership is naive in the extreme.  Unless junior managers are systematically trained to develop the skills which have to do with building and sustaining meaningful work relationships with their constituencies, particularly employees, their leadership development will be hindered and haphazard.  This results in the General Manager’s vision and message of service not being communicated consistently or faithfully to line employees.  Instead of having a cohesive team dedicated to a common purpose and acting in a concerted way to further the aims of the enterprise, the club is a collection of tribes who don’t necessarily approach the mission or their jobs in the same way or with the same attitude.

Without leadership consistency, employees get a mixed service message, and their morale, engagement, and commitment will vary from manager to manager and department to department.  It’s really quite simple – if your management team does not provide consistent:

  • Vision, values, and example,
  • Communication and engagement,
  • Training, resources, and support,
  • Regard for and treatment of employees,

You’ll never gain consistency of employee commitment, contribution, and performance.

But the good news is that successful leadership skills can be taught and learned.  Warren G. Bennis, widely regarded as a pioneer in the field of contemporary leadership studies, has said,

“The most dangerous myth is that leaders are born – that there is a genetic factor to leadership.  This myth asserts that people simply either have certain charismatic qualities or not.  That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true.  Leaders are made rather than born.”

So the solution to fragmented leadership is to promote a consistent style and application of leadership club-wide.  This can only be done by providing consistent leadership training to the entire management team.  But how does the General Manager teach leadership when you have so much else to do and possibly haven’t given a lot of thought to the issue?

theworkbook_cover-4Over the years while serving as general manager in hotels, resorts, and clubs, I searched a number of times and read a number of books – most extolling the successful leadership techniques of Fortune 500 or celebrity CEOs, or written by Academics with a lot of theory but little practical advice for those toiling in hospitality management.  My frustration in trying to find something useful finally led me to write my own leadership guidance for my team, and this ultimately became Leadership on the Line:  A Guide for Front Line Supervisors, Business Owners, and Emerging Leaders, first published in 2002 and now in its 2nd edition.

This past year, in response to frequent requests to prepare a more “hands on” learning tool, I wrote and published Leadership on the Line – The Workbook, a companion piece to the original book that builds on the themes of Service-Based Leadership from the book by offering self-study sections on Leadership Basics, Values, Lessons, Applications, and Assessments.  Taken together the book and the workbook provide an effective way to teach and to learn a consistent, service-based approach to leadership.

Given the primary importance of leadership in any successful venture, it should never be left to chance.  Even if confident of your own leadership abilities, do yourself and your managers a favor by promoting a consistent, club-wide conception and application of leadership.  When consistently reinforced by your leadership and example, it will have a dramatic impact on their performance, as well as the club’s.

The book ($19.95) and workbook ($19.95) may be purchased at Amazon.com or on the Hospitality Resources International website (never a shipping charge).

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the hospitality industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking managers throughout the country and around the world.

What Have You Done for Me Lately?

July 26th, 2018

How often have we in private clubs heard that from our members?  No one but a few creatures of inviolable habit likes the “same ol’, same ol’,” yet that’s what many clubs serve up month after month, year in and year out.  Why not try a different approach that will “wow” your members?  Make “wow factors” a part of your club’s traditions.

What is a “wow factor”?  It’s anything, usually unexpected, that causes your members to say or think, “Wow, that’s really neat!” or “Wow, I didn’t expect that!” or “Wow, that’s impressive!”

Wow factors are characterized by their unexpectedness and as such any particular wow factor cannot become part of your club routine.  They are executed for one-time or short-term effect.  They are also characterized by being unusual – either cutting edge or just out-of-the-ordinary.  They can be extravagant and expensive, but these should be few and far between.  Most wow factors should be small scale, inexpensive, and momentary, that is, of short duration as in one day, one evening, or one event.

The key to making wow factors is to challenge your club’s department heads to come up with a specified number of wow factor ideas for their areas of the operation – say 10 new ideas for the coming busy season.  Each idea should be briefly described on paper – what it is, how it will be done, what items need to be purchased, any talent that needs to be contracted, any associated labor cost, and an overall estimated cost.  Then all department heads should meet with the General Manager in a brainstorming session to discuss, settle on, and schedule the roll out of each wow factor.

Here are a handful of ideas to give you a sense of the program:

  • Complimentary mini-trio sampler of desserts or appetizers for all diners on a given night – this is also an excellent way to preview or market a new menu.
  • Free soft-serve ice cream or smoothies for the kids (of all ages) at the pool on a hot summer day.  An alternative would be to arrange for the local ice cream truck to pull up in front of your pool with music playing.  Everyone gets their specialty ice cream treat and you pay the bill.
  • Flowers for all the ladies dining on some non-special night just for the surprise effect.  Google search “special days” for calendars of unusual celebrations and holidays.
  • Have the General Manager act as the club “doorman” on a random evening to greet each member and guest as they arrive.
  • A giveaway of a sleeve of golf balls to each golfer on a busy Saturday morning.  Handed out by the Head Golf Professional on the first tee for maximum effect.
  • Free mini-pizzas in the lounge on an unexpected evening.
  • A themed ice carving for a ladies luncheon.
  • Complimentary and unusual hors d’oeuvres for the weekly card game in the men’s lounge.
  • Face painting or a clown or a balloon artist at your next children’s event.
  • Complimentary wine for no special reason.  A great way to clear out dead stock or showcase new wines.

Again, the key to the wow factor is its unusual nature and unexpectedness.  Several tips:

  • Execute your wow factors where they will have the most effect – food and beverage areas, golf areas, locker rooms, special events, activities, aquatics, tennis.
  • Plan, budget, and schedule.  Formalize your program enough so that the wow factors are spread out and spread around.  Always have a budget.  Say you budget $1,000 per month for club-wide wow factors.  The cost to the club is $12,000 per year – not an inconsequential amount, but think of the benefit to member pleasure and even employee morale.
  • Wow factor ideas are everywhere.  Borrow from other establishments or something you saw on vacation.  The Internet is a treasure trove of ideas.  Google search words or phrases such as “Fun,” “Fun Ideas,” “Fun Activities,” “Fun Recreational Activities,” and “Inexpensive Activity Ideas” and you’ll get a sense for how many resources are out there.
  • To keep your costs down, get together with vendors for freebies.  Many would be thrilled to get some exposure to your members for their products and services.  Just make sure you prominently give them credit for their donations.
  • Once you’ve used a particular wow factor, save the concept for some future time.  Avoiding routine doesn’t mean never doing it again, just doing it again when unexpected.  Over time, you’ll develop an extensive list of wow factors that can be deployed for maximum effect at some future moment.
  • Keep your wow factor strategy, plans, and schedule under tight wrap.  Don’t ruin the surprise with “loose lips.”
  • Let your members do the talking about the wow factor, not you or your staff.  Act like nothing special is going on, while the members “buzz” about the unusual and unexpected.  Certainly, you may acknowledge a wow factor when asked about it, but act like it’s no deal, just some little thing that happened “spontaneously.”

There are hundreds of websites offering unusual and fun ideas.  Get your department heads and staff excited by searching out the most unusual activities, events, or ideas.  Your members will still ask, “What have you done for me lately?” but they’ll be delighted by the unexpected moments and your staff will be energized by the fun of “giving” these special gifts to your membership.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the hospitality industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking managers throughout the country and around the world.

Attending to the Basics in an Organized and Disciplined Way

July 8th, 2018

I received a phone call a couple of weeks back from an industry colleague who belongs to a private club.  He said he was serving on a committee to look for ways to increase membership and revenues, while cutting costs.  While I mentioned a couple of ideas, I launched into my familiar pitch that almost any club could benefit from attending to the basics of the business in an organized and disciplined way.

Most of us recognize that our business is not rocket science.  The basics of what we do are well-known to any club professional.  What makes our jobs so challenging is the sheer volume of things that must be attended to daily in a detail and people-intensive business.  Unless a club operation is well-organized and its managers highly disciplined, it operates in a state of barely-controlled chaos interspersed with periods of downtime.  The challenge for all is to transition quickly from storm to calm back to storm while remaining focused on long term goals, ongoing projects, and continual process improvement.  The solution is to organize the club so that most things happen routinely and that managers at all levels be highly disciplined in approaching their duties and efforts to improve the operation.

The great majority of private clubs suffer from similar problems rooted in the same underlying causes:

  1. Standalone operations with limited resources and few economies of scale.
  2. Clubs operate multiple businesses – food and beverage, golf, tennis, aquatics, retail, recreation, and the major maintenance effort involved in golf course operations.  The knowledge and skill set to operate clubs efficiently is large and complex, and especially challenging for lean management teams working long hours and weeks.
  3. The club business is both labor and detail-intensive requiring significant ongoing training, yet without the necessary resources to adequately provide it.  As a result most clubs operate from oral tradition and service complaints are a continuing issue.
  4. Most clubs operate without a written operations plan made up of detailed standards, policies, and procedures which, as Jim Muehlhausen says in his book, The 51 Fatal Business Errors, requires managers to reinvent the wheel every day.
  5. The hospitality industry as a whole and clubs in particularly offer relatively low wage jobs, limited benefits, and challenging working conditions.  As a result high levels of staff turnover are common, particularly among line employees.
  6. Older clubs with aging memberships and outdated facilities find it challenging to find the right mix of facilities and activities to attract new members.
  7. In most markets, there is ample competition for the members’ discretionary spending – and often from operations that offer limited well-designed and executed products or services; whereas clubs must be all things to all members.
  8. In a sense, club members are a “captive” audience and can quickly grow bored or dissatisfied with the same old events and activities.  A club staff, without the ability or resources to provide frequently changing “wow” factor events, will often hear the comment, “What have you done for me lately?”
  9. In some clubs ever-changing boards offer little continuity of direction.

Given these and other specific challenges that vary from club to club, it is absolutely imperative that club managers organize their operations in detail.  My own list of requirements includes:

  1. Leadership and management training for all managers and supervisors with an aim of having consistent and disciplined, service-based leaders taking disciplined actions (the benefits of which are discussed by Jim Collins in Good to Great, Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don’t).
  2. Well-defined and consistently reinforced organizational values and culture of service.
  3. A written operations plan made up of standards, policies, and procedures – absolutely critical for human resources and accounting, and fostering organization and discipline in club departments.
  4. Communicate thoroughly with members through a variety of tools and techniques, including newsletter, members only website, management calling programs, and General Manager’s letters.  Understand members’ wants and preferences by taking the pulse of the membership with an annual online survey and monthly surveys of smaller subsets of members.  Analyze member spending habits and purchases to determine individual likes and dislikes, as well as popular and unpopular club initiatives and offerings.
  5. Provide ongoing, thorough training of managers and employees.  This coupled with service-based leadership and a constantly reinforced culture of service will foster employee empowerment, and as John Tschohl, President of the Service Quality Institute says, “Without empowerment, an organization will never be a service leader.  Empowerment is the most critical skill an employee can master and a company can drive in order to lure and keep customers.”
  6. Use Real Time Accounting of revenues, payroll, and other expenses to quickly spot and intervene to correct operational under-performance.
  7. Benchmarking of all areas of the operation to establish the norms of the operation.  The value of benchmarks tracked over time is immense and includes establishing realistic goals for future periods, establishing measurable accountabilities for managers, and easing the preparation and improving the accuracy of future budgets.
  8. Detailed planning, both strategic and tactical, at all levels of the operation and a habit of Continual Process Improvement.
  9. Thorough work planning and performance reviews, coupled with a policy of strict accountability for performance.  This requires developing measurable performance criteria for all managerial positions.
  10. A membership marketing plan based upon the realities of the marketplace and requiring weekly call and action reports from the membership director.  Recognizing that satisfied members are the best recruiters of new members, involve hand-picked members in the membership sales effort.

Each of these necessities, while challenging, will improve the organization and discipline of the club while fostering consistently higher levels of service.  The resulting efficiency and service of a well-run club will make it easier to attract members, which improves dues and revenues and ultimately better positions the club in the marketplace.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the hospitality industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking managers throughout the country and around the world.

The Hierarchy of Service

June 25th, 2018

While Service-Based Leadership stresses that the leader must serve the needs of his or her constituencies, not all constituent needs have equal weight or importance.

Owners or shareholders are usually the smallest constituent group in numbers, but their needs are paramount.  Why?  Because it is their capital that has been invested in the enterprise and their need for return on investment that permits the continuation of the business.  If it is not making a profit, if it cannot gain credit based on a potential for future profit, if it cannot meet its cash needs for payroll or to pay vendors, it will quickly go out of business and the needs of all other constituencies will become irrelevant.

Obviously, a return on investment is important.  Consider why an owner would want to earn 2% in a business when he could invest his money in a less risky investment and earn a better return.  While there may be other reasons for continuing to own a business such as prestige; a sense of obligation to family, community, or employees; or the expectation of improved future performance over the long haul owners will not be willing to risk their capital on a poor-performing venture.

Next in order of importance are the needs of customers.  Without sufficient customers  patronizing the business, it will not be profitable or viable.  If not viable, it will not last long-and all constituencies lose.

Ultimately, customers are attracted by price and the quality of products and services.  Taken together, quality and price create a sense of value the value perceived by customers.  If enough customers perceive value, they will frequent the enterprise to spend their money and will make it successful.  If not, the business will ultimately fail.

This statement brings us to our third constituency the employees.  They are the ones who execute the owners’ vision for quality of product and service.  They are the ones whose daily interaction with customers creates the value customers seek.  Properly led, valued, and supported, employees will enthusiastically commit to serving the business’ customers thereby fostering levels of business that enable it to thrive.

Organizational Models

org-chrt-traditional-41The basis for the traditional hierarchical organizational model is the military concept of “chain of command.”  In this model, management is represented as the sequence of authority in executing the will of the owners and certainly management plays that essential role.  But in addition to not representing the importance of customers, it also places the employees at the bottom of the chain thereby visually relegating them to the position of least consequence.

pyramid3-2The Service-Based Organizational model depicts the importance of satisfying customers, as well as the important role of employees.  The organization’s leaders are placed at the bottom, clearly emphasizing their role in serving the needs of all constituencies.

Excerpted from Leadership on the Line – The Workbook.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the Hospitality industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking managers throughout the country and around the world.