14 Mar

Perspectives from the Other Side

Six Key Takeaways from CMAA’s 2018 Conference


As I regularly say in my column, sharing knowledge is an essential part of ensuring our success as club managers and as an industry. This is why attending CMAA World Conference is always an essential part of my year. It’s all about being exposed to new ideas—either through speakers, education sessions, or conversations among peers. Of course, many people don’t have the opportunity to experience Conference and if you attend, you can’t possibly see and do everything. With this is mind, I want to share six key themes that defined Conference for me this year. This month’s column is a bit longer than my usual…but I have so much to share!


1. Pursue Passion and Vision

As opening speaker for the business section of Conference, Issac Lidsky didn’t disappoint. Lidsky is an accomplished entrepreneur and author despite his degenerative eye disease, but his talk wasn’t just about achieving success in the face of disability—it was about seeking out your passion and thriving against all obstacles. In a world that often venerates passion in theory but convention in practice, it was refreshing to hear Lidsky express the significance of having and pursuing a vision in an authentic way. He emphasized that fear itself can be truly disabling—a piece of universal wisdom that just about anyone can use. However, it rings especially true in the private club industry, which must honor tradition while adapting to the needs of today’s members. Lidsky’s focus on cultivating vision was a great primer for the upcoming education sessions and allowed me to focus on how Conference could help refine my own visions of the future.


2. Speak Your Members’ Language

Club branding and member communications have always been a hot topic at Conference, but specializing these communications was a point of emphasis this year. Identifying niches within your membership has become increasingly important as memberships across the country become more multi-generational and multi-cultural. And developing technologies play a large role in this trend, as they have provided access to more refined data about our audiences.

Shannon Herschbach and Michael Phelps of Pipeline Golf Marketing’s education session “Club Brands: Why Different Is Better Than Better” discussed this in great depth. The session emphasized the importance of not only understanding your club’s value proposition, but also how this proposition varies depending on your audience. Pinpointing all of these niches, the differences between them, and translating these findings into effective communications that reflect the way that specific audience communicates is key. The message was clear: It’s not just about understanding who you are as a club — it’s about effectively conveying who you are to current and prospective members.


3. Merge Club Governance with Member Strengths

Building a strong foundation for your club through governance is a crucial aspect of creating a first-class club experience for members. However, club management and boards are not alone in this endeavor. Many clubs don’t fully utilize their members to support a high-functioning club government. I attended several education sessions that touched on this point, including talks by Club, Resort, and Hospitality Consulting’s Kathleen O’Neal and The Club at Rolling Hills’ General Manager Rachel Ego, CCM.

These sessions placed focus on channeling your members’ strengths, particularly through committees. In an ideal world, the committee’s role at the club is to make educated recommendations and serve as a conduit of information from the membership to the board and management. What’s the key to ensuring that committees are enhancing the efficiency of your club’s governance? Making sure the committee members fully understand their role in the decision-making process. Having a well-defined structure, purpose, and goal for each committee allows them to have clear responsibilities and a mission to work toward.

After the committee has done its work, it’s also important to create a sense of accountability and accomplishment by communicating outcomes to your board, membership, and other key stakeholders. The prospect of creating a charter for every committee might seem daunting, for larger clubs especially. Keeping this in mind, it’s important to budget your time intelligently by recognizing which committees are essential for building a great club governance—namely the nominating committee, membership committee, and finance committee.


4. Create a Better Work Environment

Considering recent headlines, it may come as no surprise that cultivating a safe work environment was a common theme during this year’s Conference. Insperity’s Aisha Thompkins faced this topic head on in her session “No More Secrets – Sexual Harassment in The Workplace.” To me, the key points of this session apply far beyond instances of sexual harassment (though that’s certainly important too). Ultimately, your employees should feel good about the work they do and feel like they can perform their best. There’s no place in any operation for hostility and toxicity. Not only does it stifle your employees, but it also impacts the overall member experience. Today’s multi-generational workforces are dynamic and comprehensive, creating opportunities for collaboration that can help clubs generate a safe environment where employees can not only “survive,” but thrive and do great work.

This doesn’t just apply to employer-employee or employee-employee relationships, but also to member-employee relationships. The best way to ensure that you can maintain a healthy work environment? Have the proper policies and procedures in place. Work with your employees and club governance to forge policies that address these issues. Once these have been established, host training sessions with your employees so they understand what avenues they can take if something goes awry. You should also communicate these policies to your members. You can’t control what other people say and do, but you can always discourage bad behavior and be prepared to handle conflict if it arises. This will keep your employees happy, productive, and, most importantly, safe.


5. Challenge Convention (Within Reason)

Chip Conley, founder of Joie de Vivre Hospitality and Airbnb’s Head of Global Hospitality and Strategy, was the closing speaker for conference. Conley asked a very important question that stuck with me: Can you drill down and get to what your business is really about? The average private club manager might say “We’re in the golf business.” Another manager might think a little more abstractly, saying “We’re in the golf experience business.” But when you drill down to what our business is really about—it’s about creating lasting memories and an enduring member experience. We just happen to use golf, or dining, or recreational activities to help do so.

When you ask these tough questions, you’re challenging yourself and others to think about your club outside of convention, outside of day-to-day operations. It helps you better understand what makes your club different from the rest and how you can leverage your strengths and amenities to provide a better, more relevant experience for your members. Continually asking this question and challenging the status-quo (within reason) to reach the answer is essential. Being a tactful disrupter in your organization sets up the club—and yourself—for continual growth and success. All in all, Conley’s talk was the perfect inspiration to bring what you learned at Conference back home to your club—even if it means challenging the norm.


6. Present Your Ideas Eloquently

Conley may have provided the perfect close to Conference, but I’m not finished just yet! You may have a vision for your club’s future that has been brought into focus by attending education sessions, chatting with colleagues, and meeting new professionals in the industry. This is great, but it’s all for naught if you can’t execute and pursue this vision when you return to work. HospitalityLawyer.com’s Stephen Barth’s “Enhance Your Presentation Effectiveness” delved into this topic beautifully.

It’s one thing to have ideas and want to implement change, but you also need to know how to present your ideas eloquently to get buy-in from key stakeholders. You can accomplish this by creating a story, positioning your ideas in the best light, and demonstrating how to execute these ideas. Practice and presenting often is also an important part of perfecting this skill. Inspired by some ideas that you heard at conference and want to implement them? Present the idea to your committees, your employees, your board. Sell them your vision. Get their feedback and make that vision even clearer, even better. After all, your vision will remain only a distant dream unless you have the support of your board and your membership.


Another Year in the Books

Though every World Conference is special, this year’s themes especially resonated with me. I’m keeping in mind the importance of having a vision and pursuing opportunities outside of my comfort zone. And I feel energized and optimistic about the future after hearing such great ideas from Conference speakers and all of the great conversations I had with friends old and new. Thank you to everyone who stopped by to chat. Stay tuned for more insights throughout the year—and as always, let me know if there is anything I can do to help you or your club!

What were some of your key takeaways from Conference this year? Share in the comments below or send me an email.


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