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The Board’s Role in Shaping and Sustaining Club Culture

A Strategic Role
An organization’s culture can be defined as the values honored at all levels of the organization. At a private club, its values must be shared and honored by staff and members alike. Clubs are often given labels that reflect their culture: friendly, exclusive, warm, family-focused, hospitable. Simply stated, a club’s culture is its brand. It defines how a club is viewed by both members and prospective members. As such, the shaping and maintaining of a club’s culture is central to its strategy.

As a strategic issue, establishing and maintaining a club’s culture starts with the board, which has the responsibility to articulate and reflect the values it seeks for the club. In lay terms, the board must walk the talk. It must lead the process for developing the value set and provide the leadership by modeling the values it wants used to define the club.

The Board’s Role
There are two ways in which the board superintends the shaping of a club’s culture; first by leading the effort to identify the core values of the club and second, by exercising the leadership to ensure the values are honored at all club levels. Most clubs have a published set of values that typically accompanies their mission and vision statements. The following are examples of values drawn from club documents:

  • Excellence
  • Sense of Community
  • Mutual Respect
  • Financial Health
  • Welcoming
  • Responsible Governance
  • Integrity
  • Transparent Communication
  • Professionalism

Just as developing a club’s mission and vision statement requires concerted effort from the board, club members and club management, so too deciding on a value calls for a broad-based effort to decide what words or expressions should be used to define the club. But overseeing the determination of the club’s core values is only the start for the board. An equally important—and perhaps more challenging—task for the board is providing the leadership needed to ensure the values are ingrained at every level of the staff and respected by the members. This task requires the board to both reinforce and enforce.

Reinforce. Look for opportunities to keep core values on the minds of staff and members. Tie programs and events to the club’s values. For example, include in the weekly newsletter a section dedicated to describing how a club value was honored, such as an employee going the extra mile for a member or a member supporting an employee’s effort to get into a particular school. Too often, core values are relegated to the website or documents like the strategic plan. They need to be bolstered with periodic reminders, so they are known and shared by the staff and members.

Enforce. While it is somewhat easy to reinforce values by highlight-ing praiseworthy events, adopting policies and procedures to enforce values calls for courage and caution; courage in attaching consequences to actions that dishonor the club’s values and caution in handling disciplinary matters with decorum. Anything of value warrants protection and a club’s brand is no exception. A club that is unwilling to enforce its rules dilutes the values it purports to honor and puts its brand at risk. The board is ultimately responsible for ensuring that disci-plinary processes are established, carefully documented, well-known by staff and members, legally reviewed and prudently implemented.

Stewards of the Brand
The general manager (GM) is typically responsible for implementing the policies to reinforce and enforce the club’s values. Even so, the board must develop the policies, communicate them clearly, provide authority to the GM to implement them, support the GM when needed, and hold the GM accountable for ensuring the policies are carried out. Finally, the board can set the standard for the rest of the club by reflecting the club values in its meeting management, its communication with the members, and in its commitment to good governance. The board is the steward of a club’s brand and must reflect it in its actions, protect it in its policies, and expect it from the staff and the members.