February 7th, 2018

Imagine two professional baseball teams.  One team measures every aspect of every player’s performance – the number of at bats; number of hits, walks, and strikeouts; batting averages against right- and left-handed pitchers; slugging averages; and fielding percentages.  They also measure each pitcher’s earned run average, number of base on balls, strikeouts, wild pitches; and so on.  The other team decides it’s too much trouble and keeps no statistics whatsoever.

These two teams will meet each other eighteen times a season.  While well matched in player talent, hustle, and desire, and though each team possesses competent management and coaching, one team dominates the other season after season.  Would anyone be surprised to discover which is the dominant team?

As everyone knows, this example is ludicrous because every baseball team measures players’ performance and uses this information to make crucial game decisions.  What is it that baseball managers understand that some club managers don’t seem to grasp?  The fact that everything in life follows patterns. When patterns are tracked and analyzed, they can be used to predict future performance and set goals.

Benchmarking, the act of measuring and analyzing operating performance, seeks to understand the patterns underlying a club’s operation.  Reasons to benchmark include:

  • Benchmarks can be used to establish performance goals for future operating periods.
  • Benchmarks help identify under-performance and best practices.
  • Benchmarks from past periods can make budgeting for future periods easier and far more accurate.
  • Tracking revenues and comparing them to historical benchmarks allows management to measure member response to products/services and new initiatives.
  • Benchmarks create the measurable accountabilities for each manager’s work plan.

The club’s monthly operating statements provide good basic information, but these summary numbers can mask troubling trends within the operation.  For instance, higher food revenues can be a result of less patronage, but each member spending more because of higher menu prices.  The manager is happy with the higher revenues, but is blissfully ignorant of declining clientele.

Benchmarking is best accomplished by department heads who have bottom line responsibility.  Most performance measures will fall into the following broad categories.

  • Revenues and expenses, both aggregate and by type
  • Inventories
  • Retail sales mix to determine buying patterns of members

Most of the raw data necessary to benchmark comes from point-of-sale (POS) reports.  Much of this lode of daily information gets looked at briefly by department heads or the accounting office and is then filed away, rarely to be seen again.  The real value of this information comes from tracking it over time to determine trends by day of week, week to week, month to month, and year to year.  This makes it necessary for managers to pull the information from POS reports and enter it into spreadsheet software.

A few caveats:

  • There are as many aspects of an operation to measure as time, resources, and ingenuity will allow. Focus on those most critical to one’s operation.
  • Data used in benchmarking must be defined and collected in a consistent manner.
  • When comparing data, always compare like to like.
  • Ensure benchmarks measure events with only one underlying variable.
  • Do not draw conclusions from too small a sample.  The larger the sample, the more accurate the conclusion.
  • When two pieces of data are compared to generate a benchmark, both a small sample size or extreme volatility in one or the other, can skew the resultant benchmark.

Benchmarking is not complicated, but it does require discipline and persistence.  It is best accomplished by setting up routine systems to collect, compile, report, and analyze the information collected.  Like a baseball team, the knowledge gained by benchmarking will bring a club to the top of its game.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This blog comments on and discusses the club 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 club managers throughout the country and around the world.

A Discipline of Planning

January 22nd, 2018

Managing a club without a plan is like driving through a strange land without a road map.  Given the size, complexity, and money invested in making a club successful, why would anyone consider operating it by the seat of one’s pants?  Yet, this is exactly what managers do when they fail to establish a discipline of formal planning.  And make no mistake about it, it is a discipline – requiring managers and supervisors at all levels to conceive and document their plans for upcoming periods and specific events.  It also requires that the General Manager review all planning documents, as well as review progress toward completing those plans on an ongoing basis.

Every enterprise demands a plan.  Without a formal, written plan to focus attention and action upon the completion of specified goals within a specified time period, the club will lack clear direction and purpose.  By putting plans in writing, the responsible manager formally commits to its accomplishment.  Further, there is a common understanding on the part of both the subordinate manager and the General Manager of what will happen and when.  Often, the planning and execution of one department will impact other departments or the club as a whole.  Written plans ensure that all managers and department heads are fully informed about where the club is going and when things are supposed to happen.  Taking all this into account, planning is not a luxury, but a necessity for efficient operations.

Types of Plans.  Planning is necessary on many levels and in many settings.  Formally, the club should have the following:

  • A Club Annual Plan covering a period of 12 months, coinciding with the budgeting cycle.  This plan lays out the specific goals to be accomplished during the year as part of the club’s efforts toward continual improvement.
  • A General Manager’s Work Plan for the 12 months covered by the Club Annual Plan.  This plan lays out measurable accountabilities for the General Manager and is the basis the GM’s performance appraisal.
  • Departmental Plans for the 12 months covered by the Club Annual Plan.  These plans lay out the goals and objectives of each operating department.
  • A Work Plan for each Department Head for the same 12 months.  These plans do the same for the club’s department heads.
  • Plans for major project and events.  These are plans developed for specific major tasks or activities such as purchasing new golf carts, renovating a facility, or preparing for the Member-Guest Tournament.

Planning Tips.   Having gone through the planning process a number of times, I offer the following advice to all General Managers:

  • Start early.  Procrastination results in poor, disjointed planning.
  • Lay out the broad outlines of what the Board or GM wish to accomplish.  These outlines will impact the priorities and initiatives of the club’s operating departments.
  • Involve your staff.  The departmental plans must take into account the broader goals of the club, but will also include the plans and agendas of individual Department Heads.  Further, since no department works in isolation, one department’s plan may affect others – either materially or in the timing of events and accomplishments.
  • Challenge staff.  General Managers should explain the big picture of club direction and progress and then challenge Department Heads to work on specific initiatives within their departments, for example, implementing Benchmarking, setting up Tools to Beat Budget, reviewing departmental training material and plans, Continual Process Improvement.
  • Planning is a process.  No plan is completed after one pass.  Back and forth discussion between the General Manager and Department Heads and among the different departments will further refine plans insuring a well-integrated club plan.
  • Use planning as a team-building exercise.  Given the preceding tips, I encourage General Managers to use the annual planning process as a team-building process.  Call an early planning meeting with all Department Heads to lay out the purpose, process, and planning timeline.  Then establish a series of planning meetings at which each Department Head presents his or her plans to the rest of the management staff for input and feedback.  One Department Head’s ideas may spark others to similar accomplishment.  Encourage critical review of plans and challenge groups of Department Heads to work together to work on larger club or departmental initiatives.

When departmental plans are completed, General Managers must review them and incorporate the more significant items in the Annual Club Plan.  All this should be done in time to allow adequate review and feedback by the Board before the start of the budgeting process.

Lastly, plans must not be a one-time task not to be looked at again.  To be truly useful departmentals and the Club Annual Plan should be reviewed often.  I recommend a brief review of plans and accomplishments during the Monthly Review of Operating Statements.  This ongoing review and discussion of planning will ensure timely completion of tasks and keep the club on target to meet all of its Annual Goals.

Summary.  The importance of disciplined planning cannot be overstated.  Haphazard planning results in haphazard operations and equally haphazard performance.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This blog comments on and discusses the club 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 club managers throughout the country and around the world.

Service the Ritz-Carlton Way

January 7th, 2018

I recently had the opportunity to attend a one-day training seminar at the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center in Chevy Chase, MD, to learn how they provide their “legendary service.”  The seminar was eye-opening and impressive.  The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company is a management company that operates 61 properties worldwide for the Marriott hotel chain.  As most of you know, they serve the international luxury market and are celebrated for their high service levels and attention to detail.

While the instructor provided ample handouts to explain and illustrate the Ritz-Carlton way, I took over fifteen pages of notes.  I shall try to summarize the main elements of how they consistently provide such high level service.

First, Ritz-Carlton has a well-defined corporate culture of service built upon:

  • Mission and Vision statements,
  • Key Success Factors, revised and refined each year, and
  • What they call their “Gold Standards Foundation,” which is made up of the following:  The Credo, The Motto, The Three Steps of Service, The Service Values, and The Employee Promise.

The company culture is so important to Ritz-Carlton that they review aspects of it every day, every shift, in every property worldwide during what they call their “Daily Line Up.”  By this discipline all employees from the CEO and President down to each line employee are constantly reminded of their “reason for being.”

Second, Ritz-Carlton has devised a new hire screening process that focuses on 11 basic talents and every position in the company is indexed on how much of each talent that position needs.  For example, a housekeeper position needs high levels of “exactness” (attention to detail) because there are over 150 items or details that must be checked in every room every day; on the other hand, front desk and guest service employees need high levels of “relationship/engagement” skills to interact and engage guests in a multitude of ways.

The hiring process with Ritz-Carlton can take up to eight separate phone and face-to-face interviews to ensure they hire people with the right set of talents for the positions they seek.  One impressive element of the interview process is that specially-trained line employees conduct the first telephone screening interview to ascertain the candidates “Talent Index.”  If the candidate does not meet certain minimum levels in this interview they are eliminated from consideration.

The success of their screening process can be seen by their employee turnover rate.  When they first started the company in 1983, they experienced a 73% turnover rate.  Last year, it was 23% with 15 of that 23% being voluntary resignations for a variety of reasons.

Third, Ritz-Carlton invests in training.  Each new employee receives a two-day orientation which is heavy on company culture and values, then 20 days of on-the-job skills training for their position.  The trainers of the skills training are line employees who have been trained to train and who derive prestige and a higher compensation level for their role as trainers.

On day 21 of the initial training period, each employee without exception receives a recap of the values and culture, benefits enrollment, training in guest recognition and how to handle difficult guests.  The end of the day is a celebration of their completion of the initial training.  Finally, they are asked to fill out a questionnaire to ensure that the promises made to them at the outset of training have been kept.

Leaders are responsible for ensuring that all employees are certified in their positions.  Employees must be certified within 21 to 30 days of their orientation.  As Ritz-Carlton says, “We never want to practice on our guests.”

Each year, line employees receive 320 hours of ongoing and refresher training.  Leader/Managers receive 250 hours of training per year.

At the end of an employee’s first year, on day 365, each employee has a one-day refresher session designed to “psychologically engage” with employees and “figuratively hire” them all over again.  At the end of this day, they receive their one-year service pins.

Fourth, the company trains and empowers each employee to solve problems.  Any Ritz-Carlton employee can spend up to $2,000 a day per guest to solve problems and, not to just satisfy their guests, but to wow them with outside-the-box service.

Here’s an example:  an international guest at the Ritz-Carlton, Washington DC, checked out and flew to NYC to catch an international flight.  Upon arrival at JFK airport, he realized he had left his overseas flight tickets at the hotel.  He called the Ritz-Carlton in a panic.  The desk clerk with the OK of her supervisor and the hotel GM, took a flight to NY and personally delivered the guest’s tickets in time to catch his plane.

Fifth, Ritz-Carlton is heavily invested in benchmarking all areas of their operation to include conducting random surveys of guests each thirty days.  The results of their ongoing measurements of processes and guest feedback are used for continual improvement of their products and services.

Sixth, Ritz-Carlton has designed a proprietary software and database package called “Mystique,” to record guest preferences.  Each property has two designated individuals, the Mystique Manager and Mystique Coordinator, who have access to this confidential database.  Every employee carries a pad of “Guest Personal Preference Communiques” with them at all times.  Any time an employee notices a personal preference of a guest or overhears a guest mentioning some detail that would enable the company to better serve them, the employee fills out and submits the communiques to the Mystique staff, who enter the information in the database.  This system, designed to better help the company personalize their service to individual guests, is a central part of their building a strong service identity and a loyal base of clientele.

Overall, I was impressed with the thoroughness of the Ritz-Carlton systems; their training, treatment, and empowerment of their employees; and the degree to which everyone from the highest executive to the most recently hired line employee is dedicated to service – not just to their guests, but to each other in the performance of their duties.  As one employee said during our late-afternoon Q&A with line employees from the Washington DC property, “I’ve never worked anyplace where I feel like I’m such an integral part of the team, where my ideas and input matter so much, and where I feel like I’m part of a big, caring family.”

While there are clearly aspects of the Ritz-Carlton way that are beyond our reach in the private club business due to budgetary constraints and economies of scale, there is also much we can learn from them – probably the most important being their absolute dedication to high levels of service and their “will to make it happen.”

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club 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 club managers throughout the country and around the world.


December 25th, 2017

All of us who work in this business understand that club operations are both people intensive and detail intensive. It takes a lot of employees to provide the requisite levels of service in a club and every aspect of service involves countless details. These two facts make detailed, ongoing training an absolute necessity for any successful operation.

Types of Training. There are a wide variety of topics that must be taught to both managers and employees to fully prepare them for their jobs.

1.  Leadership Development Training for managers and supervisors – designed to enhance consistent leadership skills, which are the driving force behind any successful endeavor.

2.  Organizational Systems Training such as HR and Accounting Standards, Policies, and Procedures for managers and supervisors – designed to teach the underlying organization and operational systems that permit the club to operate efficiently.

3.  Club Culture Training for all employees – designed to foster a thorough understanding of the club’s values and service ethic.

4.  Legal Compliance Training for managers, supervisors, and employees – designed to provide all required training in matters with legal implications for the club such as Equal Employment Opportunity, Fair Labor Standards Act, Sexual Harassment, Family Medical Leave, etc.

5.  Liability Abatement Training in such matters as Safety and HR for managers, supervisors, and employees-designed to limit the club’s liability exposure.

6.  Service Technique Training for employees – designed to give each employee the skill set necessary to perform his job and meet the club’s high standards of service.

Items 1 through 5 above should be developed by the club for consistency sake and provided club-wide; item 6 is specific to each department and should be developed and taught by individual department heads.


Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club 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 club managers throughout the country and around the world.

Hospitality Leadership

December 10th, 2017

What does it mean to be a leader?  Much has been written to define what constitutes leadership, the role of the leader, the essential traits of leadership, and the habits of successful leaders.  Though the exercise of leadership is situational, the following traits are essential to any successful leader.

Leadership with vision:  Moving large and complex organizations in a particular direction requires the ability to formulate and articulate a vision of what the organization should be.

Ability to inspire others with a sense of purpose and excitement:  “Selling” the vision requires constant hammering home of easy-to-grasp themes.  Without the “big picture” sense of direction, employees become lost in the day-to-day detail of their jobs.  Leaders must engage with employees on all levels and view such interaction as an opportunity to “spread the gospel.”

Ability to transform vision into day-to-day action:  Long range vision must be broken down into a concrete plan of action for managers and supervisors at all levels.  Performance reviews and goal setting sessions play an important part in establishing and communicating near and long term objectives.

Communication and feedback:  Most organizational failures result from faulty or inadequate communication.  Informed employees are better employees.  Leaders should strive to create an environment that facilitates communication flow; where superiors and subordinates keep each other informed, quality and performance standards are communicated, feedback is constantly given and every employee knows where the organization is going and how it will get there.

Dedicated to needs and desires of members and guests:  The bottom line for any business is customer satisfaction.  Shortsighted policies that have a negative impact on this satisfaction will eventually show up on the bottom line.  The surest way to keep customers satisfied is to know what they want.  Employees at all levels should be required to constantly seek the feedback and input of members and guests.  Further, they should be instilled with a complete dedication to member satisfaction.

Proactive in finding problems:  Every organization has problems and some managers try to hide their problems.  A sure sign that there are problems in an organization is that no one ever talks about them.  Everything goes too smoothly and no one rocks the boat.  It is a simple task to ask questions, to dig a little wherever one goes. Inevitably problems turn up.  Often those most familiar with and vocal about problems are the line employees who deal with them every day.  A significant step in solving problems is to place a major and positive emphasis on problem discovery.  It’s the first step in problem solution.

Every problem has a solution:  Every problem can be solved.  It’s merely a matter of priorities.  Even the most complex problem can be broken down into its smaller solvable components.  Sometimes a solution is the result of compromise or many little steps that contribute to an improvement in the overall situation.  As much as possible, one should look for systems solutions to problems.

Bias toward action:  Accomplish something every day.  There is an insistent time factor in management.  New problems crop up every day.  When problems are not solved, the sheer volume of accumulating problems can paralyze an organization.

Strong organizational team building:  Motivation and morale is built on making every employee part of the team. Organizational loyalty seems to be the strong suit of the Japanese, but it is little more than a corporate version of the military’s esprit de corps.  Much of it goes back to pride and recognition, but it also depends upon building a strong organizational identity and constant communication.

Strong support for employees:  On any level, leaders serve two important constituencies – customers and superiors.  There is, however, a third constituency of major importance – employees.  Without the willing and committed involvement of this group, the organization will never achieve high levels of success or standards of excellence.

Self motivation and self starter:  A leader’s ideas, words, action and example are major determinants in the success of the operation.  No one should need to tell a leader what has to be improved in his or her organization.  He or she should formulate the vision and prepare the action plan to accomplish it.

presentation3-2Personal selling:  Perhaps the greatest marketing tool available is the committed involvement of leadership in the marketing effort.  By becoming actively involved in various organizations and actively selling the property at every opportunity, the leader promotes not only the operation, but himself/herself.  Since many decisions are influenced by personal loyalties, this type of salesmanship is often the most far-reaching and effective.

Strong financial manager:  Benchmarks speak volumes about an operation.  While they are not the complete story, they often point to troubled areas and make it easier to discover the underlying problems.  Month to month and year to year comparisons of income statements, balance sheets, cash flow analyses, key ratios and operating benchmarks are the basis of sound decision making.

Computer literacy:  Large and complex organizations create a mountain of data.  Without the ability to organize, compile and analyze operating data, the leader does not have the resources to make good decisions.  Computers are important tools toward this end.

Attention to detail:  A good leader must have an eye for details.  Much can be learned by observing an operation and a leader must spend a good deal of his or her time “out and about” to know what is going on in an organization.

High standards of quality:  Leaders must establish and disseminate their standards of quality.  When employees are left to decide quality standards for themselves, the best that can be expected is inconsistent and, at worst a complete absence of, quality and service.

A positive attitude that remains upbeat in the face of adversity:  Attitude is all-important in any endeavor.  Employees look to leaders for guidance, reassurance, and example.  A leader must learn to roll with the small ups and downs while keeping an eye on the larger vision.  The proper attitude should also be mixed with an upbeat good cheer that is invariably infectious.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club 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 club managers throughout the country and around the world.

Eight Key Basics to Successfully Operating a Private Club

November 26th, 2017

The club industry is facing difficult times and while we are all facing challenges, each club faces its own particular problems.  As is usually the case when facing difficulties, this is the time to get back to the basics of our business.  Here are 8 things each club should examine:

1.  Leadership.  Clubs need clear-sighted individuals to guide them through tough times – but not just at the top.  They need strong leaders at all levels of operations.  It’s also important that the leadership styles of club leaders at all levels are congruent.  Different leadership approaches can dilute or damage the General Manager’s service message when it’s not reinforced consistently by all managers and supervisors in both word and deed.

2.  Organizational values and culture of service.  Every employee needs to understand what, how, and why you do what you do.  The basics of what you stand for as an enterprise are of absolute importance.  Defining your values is only the first step.  They must be continually and consistently reinforced to all employees.

3.  Planning.  Haphazard planning results in haphazard operations and equally haphazard performance.  Your club should have a 3 – 5 year strategic plan focused on your competitive position in the marketplace.  The club should have an annual plan for what it expects to accomplish and the General Manager and all Department Heads should have detailed annual work plans.  As important, the requirements of work plans must involve measurable performance parameters.  Detailed benchmarking of all areas of the operation is the easiest and best way to do this.

4.  Benchmarks.  You need to understand the variables of business volume and average sale that underlie all of your revenues.  Without this knowledge you may be lulled by historical levels of revenue when they are actually made up of declining volume, but higher prices and fees.  Benchmarking in detail is also an excellent way to listen to what members are saying with their buying habits.

5.  Accountability.  The club business is too demanding not to hold individual managers accountable for results.  The performance of every manager and supervisor must be measured against their annual work plan and there must be consequences for failing to meet goals.  Poor performing managers degrade the efforts of the rest of the team and drive away good employees.

6.  Employee Turnover.  There is a high cost to turnover and it usually related directly to the quality of the club’s leadership at all levels.  It is particularly costly when you do a good job of training your people.  Do not become the minor league training ground for your competitors – both private clubs and local restaurants.

7.  Training.  There is much for employees to know in serving your members.  You cannot expect that your employees will inherently know what to do unless they are systematically and consistently trained.  Training gives your employees the knowledge and confidence they need.  Confident employees are more apt to engage your members and provide higher levels of service.

8.  Member feedback.  You need to understand what your members think about your club, the products and services it provides, and the service your employees render.  Surveys are an excellent tool to do this, but you must act on the information you receive in intelligent and thoughtful ways to make the most cost-effective decisions in satisfying wants and needs.

Getting back to the basics is a sure way to regain your footing during and after the current seismic shift taking place in our industry.  The good news is, and there’s always a silver lining, that the best leaders and their operations will inevitably rise to the top.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club 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 club managers throughout the country and around the world.

Principles of Employee Relations

November 13th, 2017
We have spoken frequently about the importance of well-defined values in club operations.  None is more important that the manner in which we conduct our employee relations.  Here is a sample statement of those values.
1.  All employees will be treated with dignity and respect.

2.  We pledge to conduct our employee relations in an honest and straightforward way.  Any necessary criticism or counseling will be conducted in private in a constructive manner with the intention of instructing and correcting rather than blaming.

3.  Every employee contributes to the overall success of our operation.  The only difference among employees is their level of authority and responsibility.  Every employee is important.

4.  The great majority of people want to do their jobs well and take pride in their work.  When an employee fails, it is often a failure of management to properly train or communicate performance expectations.  In other words, we can’t expect employees to do something properly unless we have properly shown them how to do it.

5.  Employees have no idea what goals management has for them unless those goals are communicated.  They have a need and the right to know how their performance is contributing to the achievement of those goals.  Continuous feedback is essential.

6.  Management must make every practical effort to keep employees informed on matters concerning standards, policy, procedures, long range plans, projects, work conditions, and compensation and benefits.  An informed employee is a better employee.  Supervisors should be available at reasonable times to answer questions and hear employee concerns.

7.  Recognition is important to all of us.  If we have the authority to correct, we also have the responsibility to praise.  We cannot have one without the other.

8.  Every one of us has a responsibility to help our fellow employees.  We do not work alone.  Rather we work together for a common purpose.  We owe it to ourselves and everyone we work with to be personally pleasant and mutually supportive.  One unpleasant personality or negative, non-cooperative attitude can ruin the workplace for all of us.

9.  We must empower our employees through meaningful contribution, while striving to make our workplace interesting, challenging, and rewarding. We can do this only by involving employees in decision-making and continual process improvement.  The ideas and energy of our employees are truly the driving force behind any success we may achieve as an organization.

10.  Our workplace must also be pleasant, enjoyable, and even fun.  Too much of our lives are given to work for it to be viewed as a necessary drudgery.  Each employee is challenged to do everything possible within good taste and reason to make their workplace more enjoyable for us all.

When a leader make it clear to all in her organization how employee relations will be conducted, it reduces the problems created by inappropriate and inconsistent treatment by managers.  Just as children get mixed messages when their parents have different approaches to child rearing and discipline, club employees can suffer when their managers have different ways of dealing with staff.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club 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 club managers throughout the country and around the world.

Value Your People

October 22nd, 2017

In speaking of Employee Empowerment, business consultant Susan M. Heathfield said, “Your regard for people shines through in all of your actions and words. Your facial expression, your body language, and your words express what you are thinking about the people who report to you. Your goal is to demonstrate your appreciation for each person’s unique value.”

So what things should a leader do to demonstrate your regard for people “in all your actions and words”?

Know and use employee names.  Everyone likes to be recognized as an individual and be called by name.  Certainly your members do, and your employees do as well.  Introduce them to members, guests, and visitors, when appropriate.  Failing to do so implies they’re just part of the scenery instead of key contributors to the success of your club.

Learn about employees as individuals.  Get to know them, their life situations, their dreams and plans, their goals in life.  This does not mean you are to become their friends, but it does mean you have enough interest in them as individuals to try to understand their situation, their needs, and motivations.

Greet employees daily.  You should never fail to greet employees when your see them each day.  You don’t like to be ignored as if you were unimportant, and neither do they.

Share your time with employees.  As busy as you are, make time for your employees.  They have questions, concerns, and needs that should never be ignored.  Be open and approachable.  When you are not, when they are afraid to come to you for fear of your reaction, you are kept in the dark about what is really going on in your team.  If any employee is monopolizing your time or is a “high maintenance” employee, do not be shy about letting him know the inappropriateness of this behavior.

Recognize each person’s strengths and weaknesses.  None of us is the perfect employee, manager, server, cart attendant, etc.  Don’t expect your employees to be.  Learn each person’s strengths and weakness.  Capitalize on the strengths and help each person overcome their weaknesses.  The time you invest in helping an employee develop his or her skills and abilities is well worth the effort and will be appreciated far more than you’ll ever realize.

Be involved in the workplace and work processes.  Do not create a hostile work environment by failing to adequately engage with your employees.  Without your ongoing guidance and direction, petty dissensions and friction will grow among the workers of your team as they struggle to figure out who must do what.

Look out for your peoples’ welfare.  Make sure your employees get adequate work breaks, that their workspaces are set up for comfort and efficiency, that they are properly trained and equipped for their jobs, that you adjust work schedules when possible to meet individual needs, that you resolve pay discrepancies quickly, that you get back to them to resolve issues they’ve raised.  Make sure they understand their benefits, taking the time to explain the details to them.

Treat employees as adults.  When you treat employees like children, they will act like children.  Don’t talk down to them or treat them as if they’re immature.  When you give people responsibility, most will reward your trust.  Those that demonstrate they can’t be trusted should be encouraged to move on.

Show respect.  This is critically important in the way you speak, the tone of your voice, your choice of words, and your body language.  Your respect for others cannot be faked.  You must sincerely value people to treat them with respect at all times.

Do not take advantage of people.  Employees are not your servants and should not be expected to perform personal services for you.  If you delegate tasks, make sure there is value in it for them, either in enhanced compensation or a genuine learning opportunity.

Thank employees often.  How easy is it to say “Thank you”?  It costs nothing and it reaps great rewards.  The only requirement is that it must be sincerely given.

Say goodbye at the end of the day or shift.  A farewell is a common courtesy that you would extend to family and friends, if for no other reason than as an acknowledgement of departure.  The members of your work team, who you depend upon for your success, should receive no less a courtesy.  Again, the need for sincerity is absolute.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club 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 club managers throughout the country and around the world.

The Many Ways to “Kill” Employee Empowerment

October 14th, 2017

We have spoken before about the importance of creating a culture that promotes Employee Empowerment at your club.  We quoted from John Tschohl, President of the Service Quality Institute, who said, “Without empowerment, an organization will never be a service leader.”  Mr. Tschohl went on to say that, “Empowerment is the most critical skill an employee can master and a company can drive in order to lure and keep customers.”

quote1-2Given the importance of empowering your employees, it’s helpful to understand the many ways to destroy such empowerment and that none of them are caused by employees.  If your employees do not feel empowered, look no further than your leadership and the way you interact with your people.  In searching for reasons empowerment isn’t working, focus on the following:

You are only paying lip service to empowerment.  Without your sincere commitment to your employees and their success, they will recognize your “empowerment” as a sham and will become more cynical and disaffected the more you try to encourage their “empowerment.”

You don’t really understand what empowerment is.  If you fail to realize that empowerment begins and ends with your leadership, if you think that empowerment is something your employees have to create, expecting your employees to act in empowered ways is a waste of time and energy.

You haven’t provided the “big picture” context of what your organization is trying to achieve.  Your employees need to understand how their contribution furthers the basic aims of the organization.  Defining and sharing your values and goals is a first step.

You’ve failed to give your employees the information and training they need to understand the context and scope of their empowerment.  When you ask them to take on additional responsibilities as empowered employees, they need to understand why and what the benefits are to them as well as to you and the club.  They will also need examples of what empowered behavior is.  Lastly, they will need to know that they will not be blamed or punished for making mistakes.

You’ve given them guidelines, but then micromanage them.  Maybe you’ve done a good job of defining limits, but then micromanage them.  When you do this they will quickly understand that they are not “empowered” and that you will continue to make all the decisions, no matter how trivial.

You second guess the decisions you’ve authorized your employees to make.  After giving your employees the guidelines to make empowered decisions, you second guess and criticize every decision they make.  Put yourself in their shoes; how long would you put up with this before throwing in the towel on “employee empowerment”?

You have failed to give feedback on how your empowered employees are doing.  Feedback, particularly early on, is critical so that employees understand by constant discussion and explanation what they are doing right and what can be improved on.  Once they achieve a critical mass of understanding, they will feel more and more confident of their actions, will need less guidance, and will be looking for more and more ways to contribute.

You have failed to value your employees.  Without the most basic sense that they are valued and recognized as partners in your efforts to provide quality and service to members, they will recognize that your program of “empowerment” is just a way to manipulate them.  People who think they are being manipulated are resentful and will be unresponsive to your continued exhortations to be “empowered.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club 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 club managers throughout the country and around the world.

Service Breakdown: A Failure of Leadership

October 3rd, 2017

After thirty-five plus years in the hospitality business in both hotels and private clubs, I can state categorically that poor service comes from poor leadership.  Show me an operation with poor, shoddy, inconsistent service, and I’ll show you an organization with a failure of leadership.  This observation flows from the understanding that leaders who recognize service problems in their organization will take corrective action.  They will establish a plan of action, set priorities, lead employees to execute the plan, and follow through to completion.

Why, then, is poor service so often the rule rather than the exception?  I have met many competent, hard-working, and professional general managers who voiced a clear and unequivocal service vision for their operations.  They understood the need for well-defined standards, thorough training of employees, and constant reinforcement of service ideals within their organizations.  Yet, they struggle to establish and maintain high standards of service.  While we all recognize the many demands on our time, the challenge of employee turnover, the training burden in a detail-intensive business, time constraints, and ever-present budget pressures, these are not the root problem.

In examining this challenge that never seems to go away, I believe I have discovered the most significant source of the problem – the lack of well developed and consistent leadership skills among subordinate managers, those who direct the day-to-day activities of the operation’s line employees.  While the general manager may clearly understand and articulate the requirements of service, unless that “gospel” is communicated faithfully, consistently, and continuously to line employees by their immediate supervisors, there is a breakdown in the service message.

Throughout my career I have inherited or hired front line supervisors whose background, experience, and education should have prepared them for the challenges they would face daily in our business.  While most had more than adequate technical skills to execute their responsibilities, they were often lacking in a critical aspect of leadership – how to direct and motivate employees to achieve high levels of quality and excellence.

While some front line supervisors demonstrated exceptional leadership skills, many did not.  Often my biggest problems were created by supervisors who did not treat their employees properly, who did not communicate expectations, and who did not seem to understand or follow the most basic requirements of leading or managing people.  These profound failings were crippling to the organization and required many hours of counseling, training, and, in some cases, terminations to remedy.

Over time I realized that any focus on training of line employees to smile and be friendly was a waste of time until I could be assured that supervisors developed basic leadership skills.  From that point on, I focused my efforts on training supervisors.  Regardless of background or education, I wanted them to learn to be effective leaders, to paint and preach a vision of excellence for their staff, establish goals, communicate expectations, provide support and training to their employees, and solve the inevitable problems that arise when people work in a service context.

The training called for a clear vision for hospitality operations and guiding principles that would shape our efforts.  I made it clear to supervisors that our employees were truly our most important resource, and they must be treated with dignity and respect.  Supervisors were told that their primary job was to provide direction, support, and training for their employees and that, based on their experience or education; I held them to a higher standard.  I also provided detailed guidance on how to develop line employees and correctly counsel and discipline when necessary.  Finally, I put a positive emphasis on communication and problem discovery.  In time these concepts were formalized into a leaders’ handbook which was issued to newly-hired supervisors.

How successful was I in achieving my ends?  I would frankly admit that the results were mixed.  While some supervisors responded positively, others seemed incapable or unwilling to grasp basic leadership principles.  These, typically, after much invested time and effort, were encouraged to take their talents elsewhere.  But on the whole, the effort yielded improved employee morale, lower turnover, better two-way communication, and a more upbeat team spirit among all staff.  We still struggled with budget and time constraints on training, but we were far better off than we would have been without the effort.

Consistency and high levels of service will always be a challenge in business.  Without competent and committed leaders at all levels, general managers will always be trying to “do it all.”  In time they will burn out or be forced to compromise their standards.  In either case the result is service breakdown.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club 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 club managers throughout the country and around the world.