Archive for September, 2010

The Essence of Leadership – Building Strong Relationships

Monday, September 27th, 2010

“In organizations, real power and energy is generated through relationships. The pattern of relationships and the capacities to form them are more important than tasks, functions, roles, and positions.”

Margaret Wheatly

Maggie was a retired schoolteacher starting a second career.  She applied for a sales associate position with a well-known hotel and conference center.  While she had no sales experience, her maturity, calm demeanor, and articulate style impressed the Director of Sales.

The position of sales associate is challenging.  In addition to selling the facility and its services to the local community and industry, it is important to have a good working relationship with the hotel’s operating departments.  Ultimately, they are the ones who must execute the promises of the sales staff.

In short order, Maggie proved adept at winning new business for the hotel.  She had a knack for meeting new people and establishing a sense of trust.  Much of it came from her genuine, down-to-earth nature.  She was short on hype and easy promises, but long on establishing meaningful relationships built upon commitment, confidence, and trust.  Her clients knew that she was true to her word.

But as strong as she was in finding new business, she was even stronger at building those key relationships with hotel department heads and line employees enabling her to ensure that promises were kept and expectations met.  Inevitably things would fall through the cracks and some meeting room was not set up properly for one of her clients.  Maggie, because she always double-checked arrangements, would find the problem and seek help to correct it.  Because she had taken the time to develop good working relations with the housekeeping, maintenance, and banquet staffs, she never had problems finding someone willing to help.  As one porter said of her, “She always asks so nicely, there is no way to say no.”

Maggie was an outstanding success as a sales associate.  In two years she increased her hotel bookings by 18.3%, and more importantly, trend lines promised even more future business from her many satisfied clients.  Not surprisingly, when the Director of Sales was transferred to another property out of state, Maggie was asked by her General Manager to take over the position.

Your success in balancing the needs of those you serve lies in ensuring that you build strong relationships with individuals.  How do you do this?  Begin by:

  • Treating everyone you meet with courtesy, respect, and good cheer.
  • Focusing on each person you deal with as if he or she were the most important person in the world.
  • Taking the time to get to know people; sharing your time and attention with them.
  • Learning about other people’s jobs and the challenges and difficulties they face.
  • Keeping promises and following through on commitments.
  • Being principled, showing fairness, and demonstrating integrity.
  • Recognizing the ultimate value of people in all you do.

Relationships depend upon how you view yourself in relation to others.  If you see yourself as separate and apart from your constituencies, if you view others as the means to your end, if your vision and goals lack a broader purpose than your own needs and ambitions, establishing meaningful relationships will be impossible.  On the other hand, when you see yourself as part of a team with a shared mission, then a sense of service will be an intrinsic part of your service team relationships.

The difference is your attitude, your motives, and your approach to dealing with others.  Since all of these things are within your power to change, establishing a service-based approach to leadership by building strong relationships is totally up to you.

Excerpted from Leadership on the Line:  A Guide for Front Line Supervisors, Business Owners and Emerging Leaders, Ed Rehkopf, Clarity Publications, 2006

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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The Soft Stuff

Monday, September 20th, 2010

Roger Enrico, former chairman at Pepsico, famously said, “The soft stuff is always harder than the hard stuff.”  As one who has worked in hospitality leadership roles for over thirty-five years, I would say that truer words were never spoken.  In the detail and people rich environment of the hospitality business, it is the absence of well-developed “soft” skills at all levels of organizations that create our greatest challenges.

So what are we really talking about when we speak of the soft stuff?  In short, it’s the people skills – those aptitudes and abilities used to get the most out of our human assets.  It encompasses all of those things we talk about when discussing leadership – the highly nuanced interactions with a diverse workforce that result in motivation, morale, enthusiasm, focus, commitment, initiative, productivity, teamwork, organizational cohesiveness, and group success.

What makes it all so hard is the complexity of human psychology.  People are complex and struggle with the unique and sometimes overwhelming challenges of their lives.  Put together in a group dynamic with any number of other people coping with their own daily difficulties, both real and imagined, and it’s a mind-boggling challenge for any leader.

So what are some very real things that you can do to improve the soft stuff at your club?  Here are three basics:

Leadership training for all managers to ensure they understand the absolute importance of leadership in all they do.  My own experience points to a service-based style of leadership and the importance of building a unified and consistent approach to leadership on the part of all managers and supervisors within an organization.  The ongoing example and performance of your leadership team is THE most important driver of your club’s success.

Well-defined organizational values and constantly reinforced culture of service are an absolute must.  Don’t expect that all your managers and employees will understand your vision, values, or even how to go about providing service to your members.  Without clearly articulated values and club culture, your efforts to provide high levels of service to your membership will certainly fail.

Training, training, and more training is a bedrock requirement in the hospitality industry.  There’s just too much that needs to be done right every day by everyone on your staff to leave the details to chance.  Without training for managers and line staff, it’s a hit or miss proposition and you spend all your time responding to complaints from members, dealing with staff issues, and struggling with high levels of employee turnover.  Given the cost and effort of thorough, ongoing training, you must commit to the development and discipline of “on the go” training for all areas of your operation so you can take advantage of the spare moments during every shift.

The “hard stuff” – the buildings, golf course, and other amenities are certainly important to a successful club experience.  But without the soft stuff they are just expensive shells and monuments, lacking in the reassuring warmth and human touch that is the heart of hospitality and service.

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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Guest Blog: Enron & Madoff are Stealing from Your Club!

Monday, September 13th, 2010

Before you close the bank accounts and padlock the doors, we propose that these financial scandals have led to unprecedented scrutiny of your club’s financial wellness.  In a “normal” economy, an equity investment in club membership for most members and prospects is a large commitment and important financial decision.  Particularly the case if your member is a resident in the adjacent or “bundled” community.  In the current economy, amid corporate collapses and failing golf and country clubs, any unexpected increases in dues, fees and operating or capital assessments are devastating to the club’s creditability and growth potential.  Your proactive response as club leaders and management must be a commitment to superior governance practices.

GOVERNANCE MATTERS

The Enron scandal, revealed in October 2001, led to the largest bankruptcy reorganization in American history at that time.  WorldCom, Lehman Brothers and three others have since filed even larger bankruptcies.  Enron is undoubtedly the largest audit failure and led to the dismantling of the once highly credible Arthur Anderson CPA firm.  In July 2002, the federal government responded with what is commonly known as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act requiring the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to regulate corporate governance for investor protection.

While Sarbanes-Oxley has not mandated reforms for non-profit organizations such as private clubs, it has raised the bar for the financial governance practices of all organizations.  In June 2007, the IRS released a new Form 990 that requires significant disclosures on governance and boards of directors.  The Form 990 disclosures do not require but strongly encourage nonprofit boards to adopt a variety of board policies regarding governance practices.  These suggestions go beyond Sarbanes-Oxley requirements for nonprofits to adopt whistleblower and document retention policies.  The IRS has indicated they will use the Form 990 as an enforcement tool, particularly regarding executive compensation.  Sarbanes-Oxley has had a considerable impact by modernizing terms such as whistleblower, fiduciary responsibility, accountability, transparency and independence.  Despite this, the Madoff scandal broke in December 2008 and is widely considered the financial crime of the century.  Madoff serves as a grand wake-up call to the SEC and IRS that watchdog controls are not yet and may not ever be completely effective.

Good governance policy is not only best practice but a required foundation of a club’s creditability.  Club leaders and management must focus on defining their risk tolerance and achieve a balance between strategy, operations, and controls.

YOUR CHALLENGES

  • Financial and other reporting in a complex regulatory environment
  • Fiduciary responsibilities and risk management
  • Internal control design and testing
  • Protecting business information and computer systems against security threats
  • Business critical event identification and establishing responses
  • Growth in membership and ancillary income in a competitive environment
  • Effective and efficient use of resources

Effective club governance goes beyond establishing an audit committee and obtaining an independent financial statement audit.  To address member concerns about financial risk, as club leaders and club managers you must demonstrate an on-going commitment to risk assessment, internal control development and testing, long-range planning and adherence to a comprehensive code of conduct for board members and staff.

By the way, do consider periodically changing your bank account and door locks as a good governance measure.

Mark Alviano, Americlub Financial

Mark Alviano is a leading financial advisor to America’s private clubs.  His expertise helps club leaders overcome financial challenges on the path to prosperity.  He is the Managing Partner of Americlub Financial, a boutique club advisory firm with national headquarters in Raleigh, NC.  Based on an expertise in finance, accounting, HR, technology and regulatory compliance, Americlub’s products, services, and solutions create opportunities for cash flow improvement and sustainable financial growth.  Find out more about Mark at www.americlubfinancial.com/mark-alviano.

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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The Hospitality Challenge

Monday, September 6th, 2010

I’ve learned a lot about the hospitality business since my first position as General Manager of an historic hotel in the late 70s.  In a variety of positions in hotels, resorts, and private clubs – in startups, turnarounds, and repositionings, I’ve learned a number of key lessons from my efforts to deliver high levels of service.  Here they are:

The customer is King.  The only perception of quality, service, and value is the customer’s.  Hospitality managers must learn as much as possible about their customers in order to meet their needs and wants – where they come from, why they come to your establishment, what are their expectations, what do they like or dislike about your property, what are their complaints, what would they like improved?

The hospitality business is detail and people-intensive.  It takes a lot of people doing all the right things everyday to deliver consistent, quality service.  Therefore:

  • Written standards, policies, and procedures ensure every employee knows what to do and how to do it; help develop specific training materials; and ensure consistency and continuity in the operation.
  • Formal training is a necessity.  Operational processes cannot be left to oral history or chance.
  • Continuous process improvement is a must.  We can never rest on yesterday’s accomplishments.
  • Thorough benchmarking of all areas of the operation ensures that we know what is going on and what our customers are telling us by their spending habits.

“The soft stuff is always harder than the hard stuff.”

  • Consistent, property-wide leadership is a must.  Disparate and competing leadership styles confound the staff and sow divisions in the team.
  • Values and behaviors must be spelled out in detail and reinforced continually.
  • Excessive employee turnover is damaging to an organization in continuity, lost time, and cost.  Except in extreme cases our first impulse (especially in difficult labor markets) is not to fire, but to examine causes; improve processes, organization, disciplines, and training; and instruct, counsel, and coach employees.
  • Employees must be empowered to think and act in alignment with organization values, the property’s mission and vision, and carefully defined management guidelines.  “Without empowerment an organization will never be a service leader.”  Why?  Because there is far more to do and monitor on a daily basis than any management team can possible handle.  Authority for service and service delivery must be pushed down to the lowest levels of the organization – where it takes place.

Work planning and ongoing performance review are essential to holding managers accountable for their performance and the performance of their departments or work teams.  Without accountability only the General Manager is accountable and he or she will fail or burnout trying to succeed.

Leadership is key at all levels of the organization:

  • To set an unimpeachable example for employees.
  • To uncover, analyze, and solve problems.
  • To thoroughly communicate standards, policies, procedures, information, and training.
  • To engage customers and staff continuously.

All of the foregoing requirements must be institutionalized so that the operation continues undisturbed in the face of any turnover and 80% of the operation functions routinely – allowing management to focus on strategic issues, planning, execution, problem-solving, and customer interface.

These lessons learned have led me to formulate a plan to create and deliver high levels of service.  This plan can be found in a white paper I’ve written entitled The Quest for Remarkable Service.

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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