Archive for May, 2010

Implementing Employee Empowerment

Monday, May 31st, 2010

There are three principal areas where empowered employees can contribute significantly to improved club operations.

  1. Resolving member issues.
  2. Helping improve work processes as part of Continual Process Improvement.
  3. Taking on certain delegated management functions.

Resolving Member Issues

Employees who deal most directly with members on a day-to-day basis are in the best position to solve service issues and resolve member complaints in a timely fashion or before they escalate into larger issues.  Unfortunately, in some clubs front line employees are seen as the first line of defense in saying “no” to members.  Only when the member gets sufficiently angry and demands to see the manager, can the problem be solved.  Yet this approach sends two very wrong messages – one to the member that says we don’t trust you and we don’t mind wasting more of your time as you explain the problem again to a manager; and the other to employees that says that we won’t let you say “yes,” but we, the managers, often will, thereby contradicting you and making you look bad.

Since the bottom line in all our dealings with members is to say “yes,” there is no reason to put either the member or the employee in the situation described above.  A far better solution is to provide useful guidance to employees and give them both the responsibility and the resources to solve service issues.  A good start would be to allow employees to decide on their own how to resolve any issue by “spending” up to a certain amount to fix the problem – either by “comping” a meal, sending a token of apology, or doing something special for the member.

Without a doubt the cost is insignificant compared to the loss of member goodwill and patronage and is a small price to pay if a lesson can be learned or a work process improved.

And herein is the important point, every time employees use their authority and spend money to solve a problem, they must fill out a Service Issue Resolution, CRI Form 180, explaining in detail what went wrong and what could be done differently in the future.

When employees gain more confidence in their abilities to resolve issues and as management continually improves work processes based upon reports of problems, a culture of quality service will gain momentum.  Employees will feed off each other’s successes and take the initiative to solve a host of little service issues as they take more pride in their work and their contribution to the overall effort.

Helping Improve Work Processes

Part of your club’s culture should be to foster a process of Continual Improvement in all aspects of your operations.  This means that you should review systems, standards, policies, procedures, programming, training, and work processes to continually improve the way you do business and provide service.  While managers typically have broad industry experience and the big picture of what is necessary to succeed, it is the line employee who is most closely connected with the member and the details of service.  Who, then, would be in a better position to recommend improved work processes than the person who works most closely with service and service delivery?

As we have often said before, in our business the devil is in the detail.  When you make a commitment to involve your employees in designing and improving work processes, they become energized by the involvement and look for more and more ways to contribute.  The more involved they become in contributing to the success of the organization, the more responsibility they will assume for ensuring that success.

Taking on Delegated Functions

As empowered employees take on more responsibility, managers can select individuals, who show both the motivation and aptitude, to take on some of the management functions of the organization.  An excellent example is provided again by the Ritz-Carlton Company.  They select and train certain individuals to conduct initial screening interviews with prospective employees.  These empowered employees relish the task and see themselves as the gatekeepers in keeping the company’s hiring standards as high as possible.  They get paid slightly more for their additional duty and derive prestige in being given this important task.

Necessities for Empowerment

Having reviewed the benefits of empowering employees, we again state what is necessary for a club to provide this empowerment.

First and foremost, strong leadership is an absolute necessity.  Leaders must:

  • Embrace the principles of Service-Based Leadership.
  • Be open with their employees.
  • Be trusting and trusted.
  • Be secure in themselves, their position, and their knowledge; not threatened by knowledgeable employees or those who show initiative.
  • Be willing to share praise and shoulder blame.
  • Be good communicators.
  • Intrinsically understand and value the important role of line employees in the organization.
  • Place a positive emphasis on problem discovery and solution.
  • Allow their employees to demonstrate initiative and innovation, while giving them the “freedom to fail” without repercussions.

Secondly, the necessary disciplines and systems must be established to continually review work processes while involving employees.  It’s also important that procedures be in place to keep the General Manager and other Department Heads fully informed of any resulting changes.

Next, the club must be committed to and deliver extensive, ongoing training to its employees.  Untrained employees cause confusion and the resulting chaos will drive good employees away.

Employees must also be recognized for their accomplishments and contributions.  This recognition will further cement the partnership.

There must be opportunities for employees to grow personally and professionally.  When employees know that the club is also committed to their advancement, they will more willingly participate in making it successful.

Lastly, employees must respect their leaders and willingly follow them.  They will only do this when they see their leaders’ passion for excellence and personal commitment to success.  There can be no substitute for this example.


Empowering employees is a requirement in any effort to provide remarkable service.  Busy managers cannot do it all and need the help of their willing, committed, and empowered employees.  While it takes time and effort to establish a culture of empowerment at a club, the resulting improvement in operations, efficiency, and service levels make it well worth the effort.

Excerpted from Employee Empowerment.

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.

Club Resources International – Management Resources for Clubs!

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Leadership Consistency

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Management teams can be dysfunctional for a host of reasons, but there is none so basic as a variety of competing leadership styles.  To expect that any group of managers, each with his or her own background, training, and experience, will have a similar and effective leadership style is unrealistic in the extreme.

Yet as with so many other aspects of management, consistency is essential to faithfully communicate and reinforce the club’s culture, service ethic, and environment for employee empowerment.  Without leadership consistency, employees get a mixed service message, and their morale and commitment varies from manager to manager and department to department.

Imagine a management team made up of department heads with the following leadership styles:

  • Military – with its requirement of absolute, immediate, and unquestioned obedience,
  • Democratic – where decisions are only made after lengthy discussion and debate,
  • Gunslinger – with its emphasis on shoot first, aim later,
  • Absent – where the leader is never around or is hiding in his office,
  • Aloof – while he is there, he never interacts with or engages his followers,
  • Uncommunicative – where the leader gives everyone the silent treatment,
  • Pissed off – where the manager is angry all the time at everyone,
  • Screamer – where he assumes everyone is deaf and yells at everybody,
  • Political – where the manager believes his only function is to suck up to members,
  • From another planet – where the leader expects that everyone will know what to do and will do it without being told,
  • Fear-based – where the leader rules with an iron hand and scares the heck out of everyone, and
  • Service-based – where the attitude and primary motivation of the leader is service to others – to members, to employees, to shareholders.

Clearly, such a jumble of leadership styles will lead to a confusing and contradictory example and message for employees, as well as create barriers to cooperation and teamwork between departments.

The solution to such a fragmented workplace is for the General Manager 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.  Given the uneven comprehension of leadership issues among any group of managers, the benefits of a uniform understanding and application of leadership will bring club operations to a uniformly high state of performance.

Tip:  Use Leadership on the Line:  A Guide for Front Line Supervisors, Business Owners and Emerging Leaders and Leadership on the Line – The Workbook to teach Service-Based Leadership to your management team.

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.

Club Resources International – Management Resources for Clubs!

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Spelling Out Your Disciplinary Process

Monday, May 17th, 2010

Discipline is necessary to maintain the direction and focus of any organization and to establish and maintain standards of quality and service.  The desire is to achieve excellence and success and supervisors should understand that these goals are dependent upon the quality and commitment of employees.

Unfortunately, in every group of employees, there are some who have attitude problems, lack commitment, or are not capable of meeting standards.  When confronted with such a problem employee, it is the responsibility of supervisors to deal quickly and effectively with the situation before it degrades the efforts of the rest of the staff.

The following are suggested guidelines for a club’s disciplinary process:

Supervisor’s Responsibility.  It does no good to have rules, regulations, and policies spelled out, if they are not going to be enforced by all supervisors.  Whenever a supervisor overlooks an infraction, he encourages others to similar violations.  A lax supervisor can be more damaging than no supervisor at all.  Further, supervisors are expected to actively confront any problem employee in their departments with the aim of correcting the problem.  If it cannot be corrected in a reasonable period of time, supervisors are expected to discharge the individual while following established termination policies.

Good Communication.  Good communication is important when working with a problem employee.  Some supervisors do not like to confront staff on seemingly “small” issues.  As a result, many small problems build up until the supervisor finally blows his top and is ready to fire the employee.  However, termination is inappropriate because the supervisor has not previously discussed the problems with the employee, warned him of the consequences of continued problems, or offered any help to correct the problem.  Good communication would prevent this situation.  If the supervisor talks frequently with employees, points out minor problems as they occur, and addresses continuing problems in a proactive and formal way, an employee will never be surprised should he be discharged.

Disciplinary Philosophy.  The club subscribes to the “Hot Stove” approach to discipline.  Employees are told what is expected of them and what the consequences are of ignoring rules, requirements, policy, and procedure.  If they then touch the hot stove, they get burned.  The rationale behind this philosophy is that supervisors want to deal with staff as adults who are responsible for their own actions and they want to avoid inconsistency in applying rules, requirements, policies, and procedures.

Rules, Requirements, Policies, and Procedures.  This philosophy requires that supervisors tell staff what is expected of them.  First, do this by spelling out in detail what the club’s rules, requirements, policies, and procedures are.  The Employee Handbook contains many club-wide rules for employees.  Second, expend some effort through orientations and formal training to make staff fully aware of their responsibilities and the club’s expectations.

Fairness and Consistency.  A club’s disciplinary process must be fair and consistent.  This will follow naturally from rules, requirements, policies, and procedures being applied fairly and consistently to all employees.  Supervisors who are not fair and consistent will create major problems within their departments.  There is no quicker way to destroy departmental morale and trust than to play favorites.  Often the perception of fairness is as important as the reality.  Supervisors should not only be fair, but also give all appearances of being fair.

Constructive and Progressive.  The club’s disciplinary process is designed to be both constructive and progressive.  By this it is meant that all disciplinary actions are aimed at correcting erroneous or inappropriate behavior and successive disciplinary actions will be progressively more severe.  These two aspects are, in reality, part of the same philosophy.  While the club wants to help employees overcome their problems, when the problems continue, it wants to get the employee’s attention with progressively more severe consequences.

Higher Standard for Supervisors.  Because of a supervisor’s position, experience, training, education, and other factors that led to hiring, they are held to a higher standard of conduct and performance than line staff.  In disputes between staff and supervisors, it is expected that supervisors will have solidly documented cases showing thorough investigation of any incident.  While supervisors will always be supported when in the right, line employees will be given the benefit of the doubt when there is insufficient evidence or the absence of a thorough investigation.  The best way for a supervisor to ensure that he is supported in his decisions is to have all his facts together before taking disciplinary action.

Summary.  Given the many potential pitfalls in discharging problematic employees, all managers and supervisors must have a thorough understanding of a club’s disciplinary process.  Spelling out the key elements of that process is an important first step.

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.

Club Resources International – Management Resources for Clubs!

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Adding Value – The Club Controller

Monday, May 10th, 2010

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 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.

Club Resources International – Management Resources for Clubs!

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10 Disciplines that Will Transform Your Club

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

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. Tools to Beat Budget.  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 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.

Club Resources International – Management Resources for Clubs!

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