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What role do core values play in developing a club’s strategic plan?

The first phase of the strategic planning process should begin with identifying the core values of the club. Once adopted, this critical foundation will help to drive future decisions.

The core values among private clubs might seem amazingly similar—including words such as honesty, integrity, transparency, respect, quality, community and camaraderie—so it might be tempting for a board to create the club’s core values on behalf of the membership. However, whether gathering feedback via online survey or in-person using a white board and Post-It Notes, it is far more effective to facilitate a collaborative collection of feedback so that the resulting values truly reflect the nuances of the club and its unique experience.

Let’s look at how a defined set of core values can provide direction in a few scenarios that are typically challenging to maneuver:

  • Policy – Imagine a club that has adopted a set of core values but has no defined policy for leaves of absence. A beloved member undergoes an unplanned surgery that leaves him unable to utilize the club for an undetermined amount of time. Because he isn’t ready to resign, he asks that he be granted a leave of absence. The board discusses and debates the emotionally charged topic but ultimately declines the request, because one of their established core values is “equitable.” To excuse one member from paying dues for any reason is actually inequitable for all the other members. Had the board approved the request, it would have created a snowball of future issues. While subsequent requests would require them to weigh which personal problems are more deserving than others, the club could quickly find itself in the perilous position of having 30 members out on leave and not paying dues.
  • Personnel – Because setting the expectations for future leaders of the club is critical, the hiring process for the general manager and chief operational officer is one of the most important decisions a club can make. Before a club can hire the best leader for the job, they must be able to understand who they are first. Without core values, the interview and hiring process to fill a role of this magnitude might be left to personality, alma mater, salary requirements or place of residence. However, a club that lists “community” as a core value could require that any future general manager must have a unique ability to develop and nurture relationships among its members. The selection criteria in this instance would include proof of experience in strategic programming that unites both the club’s informal cliques as well the tribe as a whole, such as optimization of the social calendar as a hub that leverages amenities and provides a viable and easy way to gather.
  • Communications – The value of “transparency” can live in a club’s communications strategy. In this example, a quarterly letter to members from the club’s treasurer would reflect both the good and not-so-good news on the current financial state of the club, and result in a greater degree of trust.

Traditionally one of the most difficult things to characterize, culture “eats strategy for breakfast,” according to Peter Drucker. Since culture is demonstrated through the behaviors, attitudes and actions of the members themselves, core values that are aligned with these behaviors, attitudes and actions will act as the flywheel that propels the club forward to every member’s benefit, long after they are adopted. The culture that exists at any club will have its nuances, but when the board, committee members and staff all truly live and own the core values, these stakeholders will have the clarity and focus necessary to successfully navigate the future.

Phillip Martin is senior vice president at Troon Privé.