“Checklist for a New Manager” first appeared in the March-April 1994 issue of Club Management Magazine. It was my first attempt at writing and I was fortunate to have it published. I had no expectation that it would be included in industry resources and that over twenty years later, managers would still be using it as a reference tool in tackling their new responsibilities. Like those one-hit wonders of the ‘70s and ‘80s, I probably should have just quit while I was ahead.
While much, if not all, of the original content is still relative, I have been asked over the years to update it for today’s challenges. The meaningful content of the original article is included herein, so if you still have a ragtag copy, you can comfortably dispose of it in favor of this one. Hopefully, this will be better than most sequels.
The first checklist was a product of reflection on the first 90 days in a new position. I have had more than my share of those first ninety days, but each one has been rewarding in and of itself. Even my last set was fraught with the wide range of emotions that go along with walking through those new doors for the first time. The excitement of starting the new position, the anxiety of the increased responsibilities and living up to the persona that you established during the search and interview process at times all seem to be in conflict with each other. Despite your training, learning and years of experience, it remains a bit disconcerting, whether it is your next posting as the seasoned chief paid executive or your transition from assistant manager to the role you aspired to have. Whatever the reason that prompted your move, it is human nature to question that decision. “Buyer’s remorse” will lead you to thoughts of why you left the security, familiarity, fit and your own personal standing in your last club, to hit the restart button in unfamiliar surroundings. Take stock of the fact that you were ready for a new challenge, or you wouldn’t have been looking in the first place.
So here are those personal strategies, developed over 35 years and seven clubs, that have helped ease the transition and ensure some measure of success. Updated for the new millennium and the Millennials that came with, they have been just as effective today in securing eight years of tenure at Birmingham Country Club as they were in 1994.
If there is one thing I have learned since the first rendition of this checklist, it is an appreciation for club culture and just how much that differs – and what it means – from club to club. It is the cornerstone of the foundation you will build in your new role. Understanding it, appreciating it, is vital to your success and longevity.
It is a topic of considerable debate. In one of those debates with a venerable long-tenured and well respected manager, his position was that it takes a manager roughly seven years to really fully accomplish both the understanding and appreciation. I would advocate that you have 18-24 months. If you haven’t wrapped your arms around it by then, you’ll be back referring to this checklist and not by your own choice.
The decisions you make will invariably affect that culture, so they should contemplate that effect as part of the vetting process. Your understanding and appreciation will grow with time, but you absolutely cannot make effective decisions and enhancements to the club without consideration of potential collateral damage to the club’s culture. You cannot be expected, nor should you expect it of yourself, to be able to fully grasp this concept upon arrival, or even in your first 90 days. Neither can you wait to gain this understanding before making decisions. You will eventually become the guardian of this culture, but you are not going to get your head around it for several months – even a year or two. Until then you are going to have to develop a support system for vetting your decisions, programs, and initiatives. Thus it is paramount that you find a trustworthy surrogate who can function almost as your conscience. This person can be anyone from the club’s president or search committee chair, to a senior level department head or two with decades of combined experience in the club. But you absolutely must be able to trust them implicitly.
Having a solid communication strategy will be key in the transition. You are going to need to communicate to and with the many constituencies you will have – board directors, committee members, club members, employees, department heads – and the community outside the club as well. Each one is going to require its own structured approach. How often and in what form you communicate with them will in part be driven by both the club’s culture and your management style. Both should carry equal weight. After all, those that hired you no doubt contemplated how the latter would fit in the former.
A well-organized all staff meeting should be high on your list of priorities. This is a critical first step in the introduction of the new manager to the staff. After all, none of the other constituencies noted above will be more critical to your success than this one. Define your leadership qualities in a controlled environment from the onset.
As painstaking as it might seem, meeting with each employee privately after a review of their work history can prove extremely beneficial. In those meetings, individual goals and objectives should be discussed and how they are (or are not) aligned with the organizational goals of the club. You should also seek each team member’s perspective on current challenges and suggested remedies. Some will be frivolous, but never underestimate their importance without contemplation.
Initiate weekly, well-structured senior staff meetings at a regular time if they do not already exist. Distribute written agendas or previous meeting notes in advance so that everyone comes prepared. Use these meetings as a forum to convey your message and club information thoroughly and consistently. It will also be a valuable vehicle in gaining insight into the communication and organizational abilities of your management staff.
Communicate with your board. A weekly written status report with both an “in review” and “look ahead” feature will keep them abreast of organizational activity and issues. Visit each board director in their office and get input and feedback. Establishing good lines of communication should be an early priority and will keep transition problems to a minimum. Don’t forget to meet with each committee early on as well. Some can often be as empowered as the board. Also find out if there are any “renegade” unofficial committees at the club. Difficult situations can be diffused early if you can identify the source of the discontent and are able to address it.
One of the most valuable sources of information about your new assignment carries the same weight today that it always has – circulating through the club. You will gain a unique perspective just by observing others in the club surroundings. Talk with each and every person you encounter – from the bridge ladies to the dishwashers. Get to know your members as quickly as possible. Work the floor every day and introduce yourself to the members you encounter (versus having one of your staff members introduce you). Like management by walking around, visibility isn’t old school – it’s THE school. No one expects you to be the maître d’, but they expect to see you in and around the club. How else are you going to ascertain what is taking place on your watch.
There are two components to your organizational structure – governance and operations. Obviously, you will have a more immediate impact on the operational side. Evaluate the operational structure and determine if it makes sense for what you are trying to achieve. This is where you get the right people in the right seats on the proverbial bus. Identify the club’s weaknesses. For example, if you have a facilities manager that is very strong logistically but enormously weak at housekeeping, unless there are other circumstances that would mandate a change, it may make sense to hire an executive housekeeper to shore up the weak area. More often this will require a reassignment of staff to maintain budget parameters for payroll dollars. Review staff organizational charts for each department and changes to those should be done in concert with your senior manager. They will be the ones that will have to execute your vision. Make certain they have the proper resources to do so.
Establish Your Credibility
And do it early. Outlast everyone on your staff for the first three months. Be the first one in and the last one to leave. In talking with successful managers they will tell you that this remains just as important today as it has ever been. It shows your staff that you care as much as they do. And yes, there is still that smug satisfaction that comes with having your sleeves rolled up and on your second cup of coffee as the staff begins to roll in for the day. Don’t forget to do a thorough inspection of the entire club daily, ensuring that it is ready for the extension of hospitality to your members and their guests.
Unless the situation is a drastic one, don’t rush to implement change. As the new manager, you will see things you want to change immediately, but go slowly at first. Changes made too quickly, or simply for the sake of change itself, can upset the routine and rhythm of the club. The circumstances of the management change that brought you to the club may dictate immediate action. But changes made on impulse will only have short term benefits; long term benefits are the result of careful thought and planning.
You are also going to have to do a lot of research, and that is what the rest of this article is about. Each bullet point represents an area or item worthy of your investigation and review; not only to build your working knowledge of the club’s history, but to assess existing internal controls, processes and the like.
The checklist and this associated narrative are not meant to be an all-encompassing plan, nor an exhaustive resource for your transition. They are intended as a thought-provoking (both strategic and tactical) aid that should assist any manager facing the challenge of managing a new club.
Joseph F. Basso, MCM, CCE
General Manager / Chief Operating Officer
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