Archive for the ‘continual process improvement’ Category

Post Mortems: An Essential Tool of Excellence

Monday, April 4th, 2016

There are many disciplines related to excellence in club operations, but there is none so basic as learning from one’s mistakes.  This shouldn’t be news to anyone.  Jim Collins, in his bestselling book on wildly successful companies, distilled the formula for success to the following, “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 (emphasis added) in these.  It’s really just that simple.”

We have written extensively on the necessity of discipline in building a successful club operation, as well as the importance of Continual Process Improvement.  The willingness to routinely and repeatedly review all aspects of operations to ensure an improved level of performance will bring any club to a state of excellence.

A simple and highly effective tool for such review is the use of post mortems.  Originally a medical term for an autopsy to determine the cause of death, in common practice post mortem has come to take on the broader meaning of examining any action or event after the fact to determine cause(s) and/or means of improvement.  The military has a similar purpose in the use of “after action” reports to review plans, execution of orders, and battles.

Any club embracing a vision of excellence would do well to establish organization-wide post mortems as an essential discipline of learning from mistakes and improving future performance.  But what sort of things demand such review and how best to do them?

Most important is any action or event designed to entertain or delight members such as entertainment, food service, golf, and sports/fitness activities.  Each of these directly impact perceptions of the club’s quality, service, and member satisfaction and are expected to be well-conceived, organized, and executed.  Ongoing reviews to improve such activities will avoid past weaknesses or missteps, while continually striving for better and more enjoyable events.  Use of the Event Review, HRI Form 807, or some similar means of recording post-event ideas and suggestions is a simple way to institute consistent and continual improvement.

Beyond these are the ongoing reviews of systems, processes, standards, policies, procedures, training materials and methods, and any other significant function of club operations.  Each department head should have both the mindset and focus to continually think and say, “What can we do better, faster, more efficiently, at less cost, and with higher levels of member service?”  Employees must be made to understand that their ideas and suggestions are always welcomed and, when appropriate, acted upon to improve the organization.

Tips for maximizing the effectiveness of reviews:

  • Conduct the post mortem as soon after the event or activity as possible, while everything is fresh in everyone’s mind.
  • Make sure all parties know in advance that a review will be done so they may be alert for ideas and suggested improvements.
  • Include all major players involved in planning and executing the event.
  • Make ongoing review of activities and events part of each department head’s job description and performance review.
  • Ensure that each department head has established an appropriate filing system so that post mortem documentation for any and all events can be quickly found and used in future planning.
  • Ensure that the post mortem files of departing managers are retained by the club and available to replacements.
  • Seek the input of the line employees involved in servicing the event – activity, food service, and golf staffs – as they know better than anyone what worked and didn’t work.  Given their crucial input and the fact that they might not be available for a more formal review meeting in the days following the event, get their feedback prior to leaving the club at the end of the event shift.
  • Consider establishing a recognition and rewards system for line staff when their ideas are accepted and implemented.  Managers are expected as part of their jobs to improve operations, but line employees may need incentives.

Undoubtedly, many clubs and managers informally review their operations for improvement, but greater and more consistent results will be achieved if every employee, managers and line, buys into a formal, effort to review and improve the club.  Post mortems may be performed on cadavers, but a robust, club-wide process of continual improvement, encouraged and supported by the club’s leadership, will breathe new life into any operation.

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.

Hospitality Resources International – Management Resources for Hospitality Operators!


Structure for “the Groove” and Avoid “the Rut”

Monday, February 10th, 2014

Every new General Manager has tackled the challenges of their position with vision, vigor, and enthusiasm to address the expressed concerns of the board or owners and the perceived needs of customers/guests/members.  It’s something we’ve all experienced – analyzing the operation, discovering the problems, formulating a plan of action, winning the support of employees for the new agenda, and executing to completion.

While there are few things as satisfying as overcoming obstacles to improve a hospitality operation, the larger challenge that never goes away is how to keep the spirit of renewal alive over time.  This is so because it seems that despite whatever progress is made, things still fall apart, old habits die hard and new initiatives, no matter how exciting, grow stale and uninspiring in short order.  It is just too easy for your “in-the-groove” operation to backslide into that same ol’, same ol’ rut.

So what is the conscientious manager to do to break through the seemingly endless cycle of groove and rut?  The simple answer is to instill a strong sense of constant renewal in the enterprise’s culture.  While this is easily said, the reality of making it happen is far more complex and challenging requiring a significant degree of organizational structure and focus.  Here are some things to consider:

  • Make ongoing renewal a priority in departmental expectations and departmental plans, ensuring that department heads spell out goals and specific steps to keep each operation’s events and activities fresh and compelling.  Tools:  Annual club planning, individual work plans, measureable accountabilities, and accountability for performance.
  • Focus on the fundamentals of service and service delivery with ongoing reminders to managers and employees alike.  As Mac Anderson says, “The three keys to inspiring . . . service – Reinforce, Reinforce, Reinforce.”  Tools:  On the Go Training, Daily Huddles, Notable Quotables
  • In each department encourage employee feedback on what works and what doesn’t.  As prominent technology and entrepreneur blogger Bill Robinson says, “To be able to regularly solicit, capture and execute upon the strong ideas of those on the front lines who really know what the customers want will be the panacea for the 21st century business world.”  Act on the information your employees bring you to continually improve all aspects of the operation – organization, planning, execution, training, service, and service delivery.  Tools:  Continual Process Improvement
  • Using the principles of Service-Based Leadership, work continually toward the power of employee empowerment.  An entire staff that understands what must be done, how to do it, and acts without fear of making mistakes and repercussions will bring far more to bear on success and renewal than the efforts of a handful of managers and supervisors.  Tools:  Leadership on the Line, The Power of Employee Empowerment
  • Use every opportunity of interaction with employees to reinforce organizational values and the culture of service.  Whether it’s pre-shift meetings, the habit of daily huddles, or casual conversations and direction throughout the workday, managers must constantly “spread the gospel” by word AND deed.  While the message is important, there is no substitute for example – not only in how leaders interact with customers/guests/members, but more importantly how they interact with their employees.  There is no substitute for the example of leadership.  “A leader leads by example, whether he intends to or not.”  Tools:  The Bully Pulpit, Daily Huddles, Notable Quotables, Service-Based Leadership
  • Seek the feedback of your customers/guests/members.  Ultimately it’s their perception of your operation that guarantees success.  Feedback comes in many forms – formal surveys, departmental comment cards, personal interactions, AND benchmarking customer spending habits within each department.  All of these will clearly point to customer boredom or dissatisfaction with your operation.  Tools:  Surveys, scored and benchmarked comment cards, daily interactions, monitoring and analyzing spending habits.
  • Take time for analysis, exploration, and reflection.  Most managers stay busy all the time.  Many simply react to daily and weekly crises.  Some only give infrequent and passing thought to the strategic direction of their operations as if everything runs well enough on auto-pilot.  Without blocks of time set aside on a regular basis to consider their operations and the ongoing or dominant issues that impact their business; to analyze the ebb and flow of their business; to read, research, and reflect on operational ideas and best practices; and to work continually to improve all aspects of what they do, the enterprise will reflect in systemic ways their disinterest and neglect.  Ongoing reflection, analysis, and engagement are essential.  Tools:  Benchmarking and review; structured set-aside time; professional reading lists; ongoing review of trade journals and other publications; adequate time off property for perspective; relationships developed with other managers to discuss, compare, and brainstorm issues and solutions.
  • Make wow factors a significant part of your team’s effort.  It stimulates the creative juices, breaks the tedium of habit, and can be fun for your staff while thrilling to your customers.  Tools:  Wow Factors – read What Have You Done for Me Lately?
  • Make time for constant renewal – Arrange and organize your operation to handle the fundamentals routinely.  The less effort you and your staff have to spend to execute the basics, the more time and focus you’ll have to conceive and execute the extraordinary.  Follow the Pareto Principle to organize your operation so that 80% (the fundamentals) happens routinely, allowing you and your staff to focus on the critical 20% of customer service and satisfaction.  Tools:  read The Quest for Remarkable Service

Bottom Line:  Get your operation “in the groove” with organization and structure.  Then focus on ongoing renewal with continual process improvement and wow factors to avoid being “in the rut” of stale, uninspired programming, service, and service delivery.

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!

Lists of Tens – Uncovering Your Issues and Opportunities

Monday, January 21st, 2013

David Letterman is famous for the Late Show Top Ten, a humorous compilation of 10 items usually relating to some prominent topic of the day.

Club managers can also use lists of ten to uncover issues and opportunities as part of a process of continual improvement in club operations.  It’s a simple matter of asking employees to list their top ten “whatevers.”  Recognizing that employees are often the people most familiar with a club’s challenges due to their intensive laboring in the details of the operation, I have found that asking for anonymous submissions will yield the most truthful and helpful information about what needs fixing or improved.

Managers must make it clear that it’s not required to list 10 items.  The purpose is not quantity, it’s to get answers regarding what’s troubling staff or members.  Here are some list of ten examples:

  • Ask dining room servers for a list of their top ten complaints from members.
  • Ask housekeeping and maintenance staff for their top ten obstacles to completing their tasks efficiently.
  • Ask the bag, range, and cart attendants for their top ten ideas to provide better or higher levels of service to golfing members and guests.
  • Ask all employees for their top ten frustrations about working at the club.
  • Ask employees for their top ten ideas to wow members.
  • Ask turn house and beverage cart attendants for the top ten snack items requested by golfers that aren’t carried in inventory.
  • Ask the accounting and HR staffs for their top ten frustrations with employee work and departmental submissions.

As can be seen, the list of ten questions can be far-ranging and cover any aspect of employees’ jobs and the challenges of service and service delivery.  The real benefit in posing such periodic questions to employees is that they often reveal unspoken issues and obstacles that make their jobs more frustrating.  It’s a simple matter to take the submitted lists, collate the results, and review for any consensus of opinions.  Often some of the issues raised are easily solved by a change in policy and procedures or some minor purchase.

Managers must always thank employees for their input and get back to them about any proposed action to address issues raised or ideas given.  It’s also important to let employees know if any of the issues will not or cannot be resolved and give the reasons why.

The ultimate purpose of the list of tens is to discover issues and opportunities in the operation.  Using periodic lists of ten and acting on the responses sends a powerful message to employees that their ideas and concerns will be listened to and, if possible, addressed.

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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Active and Engaged Management

Monday, August 13th, 2012

If you are interested in advancing your career, the easiest and quickest way to do so is to add value to your employer.  When you consistently demonstrate your ability to take initiative, solve problems, and make your boss’ job easier, you will be recognized as one who adds value to the organization.  The following principles, embodied in the concept of “Active and Engaged Management,” will allow you to stand head and shoulders above your peers and will ultimately lead to greater and greater successes in life.

Reject the Status Quo

Every organization has its way of doing things.  Often its methods are a result of stopgap measures implemented over time to deal with various problems that arose.  Seldom are its policies and procedures formalized in writing; and even less often are they well-thought out from a big picture standpoint.  Despite the haphazard nature of most methods, they are considered sacred and untouchable by employees because “we’ve always done it that way.”

An Active and Engaged Manager, however, does not accept this status quo.  He or she shines the fresh light of reason on the organization; continually asking questions – Is there a better way to do this?  Does this make sense?  Does this really serve our members’ interests?  Can I do this more efficiently another way?

This willingness to look for new ways to do things allows the Active and Engaged Manager to realize the next principle . . .

Seek Constant Improvement

Every aspect of an operation – from product and services to standards, policies, procedures, work methods, and training material – should be analyzed for ways to do them better, faster, more efficiently, and with higher levels of service.

When a manager is dedicated to constant improvement and seeks the input of his or her employees, the entire department becomes energized with ideas, innovation, and enthusiasm.  And while the organization as a whole and its members benefit from the improvements, the employees gain the greatest benefit – knowing that their efforts contribute in a meaningful way to the success of the organization.

Be Proactive

Managers should also be looking ahead to ensure his or her department is ready for any contingency.  While most businesses have a seasonal routine, the Active and Engaged Manager reviews past activity for ways to improve (Continual Process Improvement) and continually seeks new ideas, events, and activities to keep the club interesting and fresh for its members.

Managers should always be looking ahead – at least three months for routine operations, and further for major club activities, events, or projects.  This continually advancing planning horizon allows all planning requirements to be completed in a timely manner and allows sufficient time to order all supplies and materials while putting advance notice of the activity in the club newsletter.

Have a Plan

Every event, activity, project, or initiative demands a plan.  Without a proper plan you approach everything helter-skelter, waste valuable resources and time, and subject your employees to your own disorganization and lack of discipline.

By putting your plan in writing – even as simple as a one page outline of timing and responsibilities – you are better able to communicate your plan to your employees and to other affected departments.  Such a written plan also broadcasts your competence and abilities to everyone who sees it.

The Army had a phrase to express the need for planning.  The sanitized version of the six P’s is:

“Prior Planning Prevents P. . .-Poor Performance”

Follow Through and Follow Up

Whatever he or she undertakes, the Active and Engaged Manager will follow through to ensure that all details are covered and all actions completed.  Often follow through requires modification in the original plan when unexpected situations arise.

Lastly, the Active and Engaged Manager will follow up on all completed actions or projects to learn from mistakes and to ensure that the initiative met the expectations of members, other managers, and employees.

In Closing

Being an Active and Engaged Manager is more of a mindset than possessing specific skills.  It involves the willingness to tackle any problem, the understanding that every problem has a solution, and the realization that problems are opportunities in disguise.

The choice to be an Active and Engaged Manager is up to you.  On the one hand, you’ll add value to your organization and ensure your future success; on the other, you’ll tread water and wonder why your career isn’t going anywhere.

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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Continual Process Improvement

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

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

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

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

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

Examples of Continual Process Improvement

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

Methodologies for Continual Process Improvement include:

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the 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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