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What is the winning formula to achieve operational success in the current environment?

While the goals of financial sustainability, engaged staff and increasingly satisfied members remain the targets of every private club, the formula to achieve such a trifecta has changed in recent years. Because so little remains the same, how can a general manager best ensure their club remains competitive, yet be prudent in the ever-changing labor landscape—especially as member expectations increase exponentially with initiation fee and dues increases? What is the right way to maintain a motivated and cohesively driven staff while adjusting to an enhanced volume of socially starved members now afforded the freedom of hybrid work schedules? As a result of these competing complexities, a private club GM must eagerly entertain fresh and creative approaches. We simply cannot pull from the file of yesteryear, institute the same pre-pandemic game plan and expect applauded outcomes. Rather, we must work to identify the elements of a new formula that will deliver on the stewardship we have been entrusted with to lead our clubs. How do we begin? 

First, recognize the task and challenge at hand. To help solve this new puzzle we have been given, the GM must get department heads excited about the opportunity to redefine the process and approach to prosperity. This is the time for the management team to shine by demonstrating not just a plan but also the worthy destination. 

Second, paint the picture and promote the path. This means clearly identifying and defining the desired outcomes and experiences that will create a common purpose.  Assembling a 1,000-piece puzzle is much more efficient and enjoyable when you can reference the picture on the box. Without a clear reference point to rely upon, it’s likely that the process slows, confusion reigns, interest fades and the puzzle is eventually left unfinished. The management team should know what puzzle they’re putting together and that each piece—assignment, process, protocols, duty and experience—has its place. The new formula will be different for every club and may include a different labor or management structure, revised hours of operation or a more labor-efficient model to streamline resources; an edited approach to outside catering that allows for enhanced attention to member dining and events; or reimagined menus, programming and amenities. Common purpose creates collective passion, and collective passion begets a culture of accomplishment and pride for the members and the team. 

Third, define how these formula changes will be accomplished, who will champion the required actions, and when they will be completed or instituted. Establish a plan to train and sustain these newly adopted ideas and ground the vision with energy and accountability. Begin with the initiatives that will have the biggest effect and then, once those are adopted, add the next piece or two. Before long, the vision described at the outset will begin to reveal itself in real time, and motivation to participate and complete the puzzle will be contagious. 

In this new world of private club operation, the need for a fresh look and creative plan simply cannot be overstated. To keep the member-to-club relationship alive, we must shake off the blinders that might be clouding our vision and don the glasses that will provide a renewed perspective. Only then can we truly be innovators within this new environment.

Ryan Whitney is vice president of operations at Troon. He can be reached at [email protected].