Guest Blog: Learning Experiences

Don Vance, CCM, CPC Chief Operating Officer General Manager Hound Ears Club

Don Vance, CCM, CPC Chief Operating Officer General Manager Hound Ears Club

One of my favorite coffee-mug witticisms says that “Everyone is entitled to be stupid from time to time—but some abuse the privilege more than others.”  As club managers, we have all been exasperated by employees to whom this seems to apply, and are often inclined to just write them off as hopeless.

But as Forrest Gump said, “Stupid is as stupid does.”  Many times, by taking a closer, more introspective look, we discover that these “hopeless causes” really reflect inherent problems within our own organizations, often caused by our own less-than-brilliant performance as managers.

We all know there’s a need for ongoing training and development of our employees.  But too often, we get distracted by the day-to-day details of our operations.  To be effective, training must be viewed as a “department,” in the same sense as F&B, golf operations or course maintenance.  Accordingly, GMs and department heads must devote as much time to their roles as “Chief Learning Officers” as they do to being clubhouse managers, golf pros or superintendents.

At the same time, we also need to constantly remind and show our employees that training is a two-way street.  A few years ago, I had a sous-chef come and tell me he was leaving, because he felt he was no longer learning anything in his job.  I asked him what his learning expectations were, and he explained that while he wanted to be an executive chef someday, he felt our current head chef didn’t want to teach him.

I explained to this employee that it was incumbent on him, as much as on his supervisor, to develop his skill sets and position himself to move up.  When I asked him what he had done lately on his own to learn, he was silent.  I challenged him to take more upon himself to advance his culinary education, and told him I would pay for any books that he wanted to purchase, or online training that he might want to pursue.  I also gave him an allowance to take approved management classes.

This employee decided to stay and pursue a “self-directed” learning program in this fashion.  About two years later, our executive chef left, and he earned a promotion to replace him.

School as a Stool

As this example shows, training works best when everyone is involved and committed, from ownership to management and down through the employee ranks.  When all legs of the stool are properly balanced in this fashion, everyone benefits—the organization and management because employees become more skilled, and the employees themselves because they can expand their careers, make connections and find new purpose and motivation in their lives.

If you’re not sure if your efforts are on target from all of these perspectives, a “training needs analysis” can prove to be a very beneficial exercise.  After all, “If we don’t know what road to take, then any road will take us there.”  This analysis can be conducted by the most qualified trainers from within your organization, or you can hire outside talent to come in and evaluate, structure and teach your programs.

Here, too, it can be very beneficial to get employees involved in the process.  Have some of your lead employees work with management to develop training action plans and set clear objectives.  Then firm up the entire process by holding group employee meetings before any training begins, so managers and employees can agree and understand the expectations of the programs.  Too often, we teach without completely explaining why, or what, we are teaching.

Once training efforts are underway, it’s equally critical to make sure they are kept current and innovative.  Are you still using the same employee training handbook you created (or most likely, plagiarized) from a prior operation?  Is your training program truly specific to the needs of your current operation?  Are you teaching your employees the very latest techniques for their jobs?

A good barometer for honest insight into where you are with training is employee turnover.  Like the sous-chef who came to me, a key contributing factor to why many employees leave is when they are not properly trained and therefore feel confused, frustrated, threatened or just unsure about their ability to contribute to the operation.

Valuable History Lessons

In the club and resort business, a well thought-out training plan should also include teaching the history and culture of your property.  It’s easy to overlook this critical part of training as we rush to get to the details of service techniques, but the two are closely related.  By focusing on how members and guests have come to perceive our operations and expect certain levels of service, “culture training” will properly orient employees to “the way it has always been”—and must continue to be.

Remember, too, that while many people like to learn by “doing” or from experience, others learn best “by the book.”  What’s really needed is a balance of both.  While every training program should be formalized enough to include written training plans, handbooks and a classroom setting, my advice would also be to not paralyze it by making it too cumbersome with “book learning.”  Instead, be sure to also include a full dose of interactive and “on the job” education.

I learned this from personal experience a few years ago, when my F&B Director came to me and expressed concern that we were losing qualified employees during the training process.  This prompted us to analyze our entire training program, and we soon saw that it was too formal and intimidating.

We took our four-inch training handbook, removed chapters, and restructured the plan so we would present specific areas of training one at a time, as opposed to the entire book all at once. This had a noticeably positive effect on the success of our training— and led to an equally noticeable reduction in employee turnover.

Article written by: Don E. Vance, CCM, CPC, Chief Operating Officer/General Manager, Hound Ears Club

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

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

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