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Employee Connections: Engaging Staff Through Strategic Communications

Editor’s note: This article is adapted from NCA’s upcoming publication, HR Management: Best Practices for Private Clubs, to be released this spring. See our website at for more details about this new resource.

One of the most essential, effective and overlooked elements of club operations is also one that all club employees engage in every day: communications. From the time colleagues greet each other in the morning and receive directions from their supervisors to the time they bid the last member goodnight and begin collaborating to prepare for the next day, club employees are constantly communicating with each other. Successful communications are a vital part of keeping a club running smoothly, fostering employee engagement, and maintaining a strong, positive workplace culture.

In the face of a shortage of capable workers and the potential for economic turnaround in the job market, ensuring employee satisfaction and engagement is crucial to club success. Now, as private club managers work to hold on to valuable employees, many are focusing on the importance of strategic communications in employee satisfaction and retention.

The Payoff of Employee Satisfaction and Engagement

Research shows that one of the best ways to increase employee engagement is through clear and effective internal employee communications. With recent research from Gallup reporting that 69 percent of employees are either not engaged with or are actively disengaged from their jobs—resulting in annual productivity losses totaling more than $300 million—developing a strong internal communication strategy can be critical to increasing both employee retention and productivity.

According to several employee satisfaction surveys, there is a significant connection between what makes employees happy and how satisfied they are with their jobs. Opportunities to use skills, job security, relationships with supervisors, recognition for their work and benefits top the list of employee priorities. When employees feel that these needs are met, they are more engaged in the workplace and more satisfied in their positions.

“Employees need to feel comfortable at the club. They need an opportunity to talk to the managers and interact with them,” advises Joe Krenn, General Manager/COO at Farmington Country Club. “If the management goes out of its way to engage employees in conversation, they will continue to feel connected to and invested in the club’s success.”

Strategic Employee Communication Plan

Today’s workers—both younger and older—are looking for a connection to their employers and a feeling that what they do makes a difference. Recent surveys show that employees most frequently resign from positions due to poor communication, a lack of feedback, a lack of perceived value and recognition, or a lack of confidence and trust in the organization’s leaders. Since heavy employee turnover affects club morale and the bottom line, updating employee communication tools and methods can spur new opportunities for growth and encourage stronger employee-manager relationships.

Employee engagement begins with a strong employee communication plan. When managers make employee communications more than just a vehicle for conveying rules and regulations, communications can become a two-way mechanism for employees to engage with the club.

By taking the time to recognize employees’ contributions and remind them of the important role they play in achieving club success, employees are made to feel like their efforts are worth more than just a paycheck—increasing engagement and job satisfaction. Employees, in turn, have an opportunity to voice their ideas and opinions, affecting the overall atmosphere of the club, boosting morale, and fostering a sense of loyalty among the workforce.

How to Develop an Employee Communication Plan

The first step to refining strategic employee communications is to develop a communication plan. When developing an employee communication plan, a club should:

1.  Assess the current state of club communications and information sharing with staff

2.  Establish an ideal vision of employee communications within the club

3.  Align communication activities with the club’s mission to reflect club goals

4.  Determine the key messages that the club wants to convey to its employees

5.  Use the club’s knowledge of current employees to divide them into target groups with like interests or responsibilities

6.  Identify the best methods for reaching each group (i.e., staff meeting, employee intranet, e-mail, etc.), including which groups will receive which messages and through which media those message will be conveyed

7.  Create a mechanism to encourage two-way communication

8.  Integrate the plan into club operations

9.  Develop a method to evaluate the club’s success in reaching various employee groups

10. Conduct regular employee satisfaction surveys to understand employee engagement, satisfaction and needs, as well as the success of the communication plan

11. Make improvements to the communication plan, as appropriate


Just as a club creates a marketing or communication plan before reaching out to prospects or members, a club should take the same care when planning employee communications. A thorough audit of the club’s internal communications can help assess how well the club is managing current communication efforts and identify changes that need to be made for the club to better achieve its employee communications goals.


After the communication audit, the club should be better able to see where the club’s internal communication mechanisms fail to meet employee and club needs, as well as identify opportunities to improve and expand communication efforts. Through a process similar to the overall strategic planning process, the club should identify an ideal vision of how club communications should work and develop a strategic communication plan for achieving that vision.

An ideal for internal communications should focus on making sure that every employee has the information they need when they need it, so that they feel like the club is making an effort to connect with them. The communications mechanism should also have options for two-way communications built in, to ensure employees’ needs are being met and to provide opportunities for employee questions, input and feedback.

At Farmington, a good example of an ideal communication system in action is the club’s approach to employee handbook updates. The club just updated the handbook for 2013, and in addition to making sure that all new employees receive a copy, announcements are made club-wide in the form of e-mails, flyers and posters. Each manager also receives an updated copy with a summary of all relevant changes that should be passed on to all employees. The club also holds meetings to ensure everyone is aware of important changes and to provide employees with opportunities to voice any questions they might have.

Farmington’s process is planned in advance and coordinated among all involved parties—from the HR director and handbook printer to the department managers and employees. Furthermore, the use of several media channels to convey information ensures employees are touched through varied and integrated communications and have the chance to ask questions and discuss the changes in person.


The ultimate goal of improving communication is to increase employee engagement and satisfaction; therefore, it is vital to cultivate a sense of investment on the part of each employee in the club’s overall success. Conveying messages that indicate the employee is an integral part of the club community and culture can do this. The overall messaging strategy should focus on showing how each employee’s contributions directly support the club’s mission and help the club achieve its vision and goals.

Another aspect to consider when determining key messages is the emphasis clubs place on conveying information that is personally important to employees. When clubs make an extra effort to communicate messages of particular importance or relevance to employees, they feel that the club is responding to their needs and taking an active interest in their wellbeing.

At Farmington, with each year’s changes to its employee benefits plan, the club makes an extra effort to provide employees with the best information and access to professionals who can answer their questions. Not only does the club update the employee handbook with a summary of any benefits changes, but if the changes are significant, the club also holds meetings with every department at which a plan service provider is present to help employees understand the implications of the changes and give employees the opportunity to ask questions.

Farmington also hosts a yearly club-wide benefits and wellness fair for employees and their spouses at the start of their open enrollment period. The club has all of its service providers (including health insurance providers, fitness centers that offer employee discounts, Employee Assistance Program (EAP) providers, and retirement plan providers) set up tables in the club’s ballroom, so that employees can learn about the services offered and their options. This shows employees that the club cares about its workers and wants to make sure they have the information they need to make important decisions.


As mentioned earlier, in order to encourage employee engagement, the club should be sure to actively solicit employee feedback, comments and input through regular employee satisfaction surveys, the performance management process, well-promoted open door policies, and regular staff and team meetings. If employees feel that the club values their input, they are far more likely to believe that they are valued employees.

One way to create a mechanism for two-way communication is to incorporate it into the performance management process. Including self-review and individual goal-setting components into the performance review process can help formalize reciprocal communication and bring a more holistic perspective to employee reviews.

“At Farmington Country Club, managers have the opportunity to prepare performance reviews and individual goals for each of their employees,” says Farmington Clubhouse Manager Tyler Pickens. “What makes the program truly special is that every employee also prepares a self-review and individual goals. A day or two before the scheduled performance review meeting, we exchange our reviews and goals. This way, we both have a better idea of what the other person is thinking before we go into the review meeting.

“In the performance review meeting itself, we compare our reviews of the employee’s performance and goals. It gives us an opportunity to discuss our differences and clarify our expectations. As a result, I also have the ability to modify my review or the employee’s future goals, or both. Hearing my employees’ perspectives really helps me to better understand where they are coming from and how they view their work at the club. It’s also a great way to engage them in the review process so that it’s a collaboration, rather than just a top-down approach. I’ve found that ability to play such an active role—especially in the goal-setting process—really increases their investment in their work and their commitment to club success.”


Once the club establishes a strategic, integrated communication plan, it should incorporate the plan into operations, making sure that the club board and management are invested in the plan’s purpose and goals. Each level of leadership is responsible for conveying messages from the top-down and from the bottom-up, as well as laterally across each level of the club organization. A lapse in communication at any one point could undermine the plan’s success.

For example, if an employee has a concern about operations in a particular area and brings it to his or her supervisor’s attention, the issue may never be addressed if the supervisor forgets to mention it to the department head. As a result, the employee will see that the problem still persists and will feel that his or her input was ignored, which could result in dissatisfaction and eventual disengagement. That employee also may not identify future problems or issues, believing that no action will be taken.


Employee satisfaction surveys are a tool that should be used regularly to continue to monitor the success of the club’s communication efforts, as well as general changes in employee needs, attitudes and beliefs. Keeping close watch on employee engagement can help the club adapt to shifting situations and respond to changes before major problems arise.

Two-Way Communication in Action

Keeping open channels of communication between employees and managers requires more than just intent; it takes thoughtful planning and widespread support of a club culture that respects staff and their input. Here are some simple ways to engage employees in the conversation.


Conducting regular staff meetings are an easy way to make sure that staff and managers stay on the same page. Clubs can use these meetings to cultivate an inclusive atmosphere that involves employees in a conversation. Meetings should be viewed as an opportunity for collaborative planning and discussion, rather than as a mechanism for activity reporting.

At Farmington Country Club, a standing agenda item at General Manager/ COO Joe Krenn’s meetings is “Heard Around the Club.” Krenn asks managers and employees to share comments they have recently heard from members and co-workers. He’s integrated this activity into each one of his staff meetings and asked that all department managers do the same. “By discussing questions, issues and even misconceptions that are being circulated at the club, we can figure out how to address them in a consistent and productive way,” he says.

“In a large organization like Farmington, getting feedback is important, and this is one more way of ‘putting our finger on the pulse’ of the club,” says Krenn. “It helps me, as a manager, to stay connected to my employees on the floor. It stimulates conversation about things that might not otherwise cross our minds—giving each employee (myself included) the opportunity to think and learn about how to react and respond to different situations and member requests. As a whole, it can help the staff address different issues that might not have come to our attention during the course of our daily business in other areas of the club.”

Krenn’s meetings and discussions also provide an opportunity for recognition and appreciation of employees’ work. His goal is to create a club culture in which employee communications are meaningful, positive and two-way— enabling both management and employees to engage with each other and benefit from their interactions.


Whether physical or digital, bulletin boards create an easily accessible platform for conveying important information. New policies, changes in procedure, job vacancies and special events are standard posting topics, but clubs can further engage employees by using boards to recognize outstanding employee performance, run contests or post employee updates, such as weddings and babies. Showing employees that the club cares about their lives and accomplishments can help bolster employee loyalty.


Employee input and suggestions are valuable tools for improving club operations. Encouraging employees to share their thoughts and ideas about improving services and better responding to member needs can not only provide important insight into daily club activities, but also illustrate tangible employee impact on the club’s success.

“We always try to encourage employees to speak to their managers, to mention their ideas in employee meetings, or to write their thoughts down and put them in one of the suggestion boxes that we keep in all of our employee break rooms,” says Krenn. “I check the suggestion boxes regularly, and I always make sure to personally respond to each employee who contributed. It lets my employees know that I’m listening, and I appreciate that they put the time and thought into finding ways to improve the club.”


Clubs can build a culture of open, inclusive and responsive communications throughout all club operations. Fostering two-way communication provides multiple benefits for management and staff: employee engagement, job satisfaction, better awareness of club operations, and opportunities to create a cohesive employee culture. Most importantly, communication channels that move information up, down and across the club as a vital part of daily employee interactions contribute to the overall success of the entire club.

Jackie Abrams is NCA’s senior editorial manager. Allyn Gutauskas is the human resource manager for Farmington Country Club in Charlottesville, Virginia. She can be reached at [email protected].

The Communications Audit: Key Topics for Planning

A well-structured communication audit will help establish:

  • How the club has approached past communications
  • Key employee audience segments, how they currently receive information, what information they want and need, and their preferred communication channels
  • Factors influencing perceptions of current internal communications
  • Strengths and weaknesses in the current communication mechanisms and plan
  • Opportunities to improve future communications

When approaching a communication audit, it’s important to address:

  • The club’s goals and objectives for employee communications
  • The effectiveness of the club’s current employee communication plan and mechanisms
  • Consistency in messaging across different employee groups, regardless of method of message delivery
  • The impact and effects of messaging and communications on employee actions and perceptions
  • Employees’ thoughts and preferences about the club’s current employee communication efforts
  • Whether or not communication methods support the club’s strategic plan and goals
  • Ways to improve internal communications and make them more open, accessible and effective
  • Missed opportunities to improve employee engagement through communication efforts

Communication Tools

A large part of implementing an integrated strategic communication plan is developing the materials and tools to help the club convey important messages to its employees. Some of the most important tools a club has for employee communications are the employee handbook, club intranet and the employee newsletter.


An employee handbook is a fundamental communication resource for the employer and the employee. It provides guidance and information related to the club’s policies, procedures and benefits in a written format. It is also viewed as a means of protecting the club against discrimination or unfair treatment claims. It is an easily accessible guide to the club’s policies and practices, as well as an overview of the expectations of management.

  • Handbooks should provide information about working conditions, benefits and employment policies.
  • Handbooks should clearly communicate the club standards and expectations for performance and behavior.
  • Handbooks should act as a communication tool in regard to legal compliance, the club’s cultural policies and employee interaction.
  • The policies and expectations outlined in the handbook should be applied fairly and consistently to all club employees.

Since employee handbooks are often new workers’ first introduction to the club and its culture, they can also help set the tone for the relationship between the employee and the club. Farmington Country Club clearly establishes the value they place on their employee communications upfront by outlining a clear communication policy:

We believe that communication should be two-way between employees and managers. We want you to understand the reasons for various rules, procedures or changes in methods of operation. We also want to hear your ideas and suggestions about how we can improve service to our members and guests.

The club stresses its commitment to communications through its inclusion of meetings in the Farmington employee handbook, which helps solidify the culture of open communication within the club. Farmington Country Club regularly holds employee meetings to provide an opportunity for discussion between employees and managers about club operations, recent club developments, and issues of common interest. To maximize employee participation, the meetings are announced well in advance, and each meeting is held twice in the same week: once in the morning and once in the afternoon on two different days.


Rapid technological expansion and the increasing adoption of computers and digital communication among all generations provide distinct opportunities for clubs. All generations use cell phones, tablets and computers for everything from Skype, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook to taking online classes and checking the weather, so it makes sense to utilize a club intranet for employee human resources information.

Similar to member access to the private side of the club website for reservations and new information about events and activities, many employees can now access human resources information, schedules, newsletters, forms and other employee news on club intranets. For clubs without a dedicated human resource manager, an intranet can save time, money and offer improved services to employees.

Here are some ways clubs are utilizing an intranet for employees:

  • Employee Handbook and Policy Manuals Online
  • Frequently Asked Questions n Employee Activity Calendars n Forms
  • Payroll
  • Job Openings
  • Education and Training
  • Reward/Recognition Programs