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Private Club Executive Search & Consulting:
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Club Executive Hiring and Retention

Search America

By Mark J. Weiner, Partner 
Search America®

Informed clubs, prior to hiring their new manager, commit to a retention and assimilation program before the first interview.

Most effective hiring and retention systems follow an experience-based process which club leadership continually revisits and updates. If your club chronically loses managers you must concede that something is wrong. The process isn’t working. Paradoxically, averse to significant change on their watch, volunteer directors rigidly adhere to failed practices, which, when corrected, have the transformative power to improve their board experience and their club.

Reportedly, average club management tenure is quite low. The financial impact on the industry, including relocation, training, recruitment expenses, lost continuity and direction on important initiatives is painfully expensive. Financial implications aside, the emotional impact on staff and members is incalculable. Insecurity is often directly related to instability at the top.

An effective hiring and retention system

Clearly defined job description: Defining responsibilities requires a frank evaluation of position functions and how they fit within a club’s system of governance. Key questions: how does this position relate to the board, to committees, to department heads, staff, members, and to the general community? By what criteria will we know, say in a year, that we hired the right person for this position?

The ideal candidate: Identify the skill set, management style and experience required to fulfill the functional job description and fit the club’s culture. In defining this ideal candidate seek input from those to whom this position reports, those reporting to this person, and those dependant upon the board successfully hiring the right individual for their own sense of security.

Look within: Assess potential internal candidates. Who has earned the right to be considered, already fits the club culture and understands member idiosyncrasies? How much time and treasure must the club invest to bring this individual up to a suitable performance standard? Now compare this promotion to the external recruitment investment, cost to replace the internal candidate and the risk of losing both should the promotion fail.

Decide who’s responsible (If it’s nobody’s job then nobody’s responsible): Institute an unambiguous process before transitioning to new management. Decide who will:

  • Review resumes
  • Preliminarily screen applicants
  • Select the short list
  • Interview candidates
  • Make the ultimate hiring decision
  • Negotiate and close the employment agreement
  • Integrate the new manager into the club culture
  • Monitor progress

Establish and adhere to a process: Securing and retaining quality personnel, at all levels, but particularly senior management, demands a premeditated intake process. Define the club’s requirements, mission, vision, brand and position in the marketplace, members’ expectations, club culture, challenges, strengths, threats and opportunities, before initiating the search for a new manager. The time, devoted by club directors to researching a new piece of course equipment, is typically greater than when defining who should manage their club. Procedures must be enacted and followed assiduously or you can forget about achieving reduced management turnover. Planning for the success of the newly hired manager and implementing practices designed to achieve that goal are integral to club stability, staff productivity and the members’ ultimate satisfaction.

Properly integrate the new manager: Before selecting the manager decide how to best integrate him/her into the culture of your club. Then, announce and validate the selection. Write a President’s Introduction for the club newsletter and send a dedicated mailing and/or E-mail blast to all members. Include a photo of the new manager and his/her family. Say a few words about each family member and their interests. Present them as real people. Praise the board of directors and/or search committee for its diligence. Acknowledge your search consultant’s contribution. Then invite members to a meet-the-Manager cocktail party within the GM’s first month on the job.

Select a manager’s mentor: The ideal mentor candidate is a respected senior member, not a current Director, who’s familiar with club customs, traditions and members. Introduce the mentor to the new manager as early on as possible. An effective mentor helps the manager steer clear of danger and conflict. The right mentor will become the manager’s enduring, trusted confidant.

Contain molehills as molehills: As boards turn over, new directors/governors must understand the club’s governance policies and the rationale for engaging this manager. Establish continuity beyond today’s board by scheduling a board orientation at least every other year.

Communicate with all applicants: Promptly advise all applicants when the position has been filled. Current U.S. Federal law requires that all recruitment materials including applications and resumes, be kept for at least one year after the employment decision has been made. In today's litigious environment it is good practice to maintain all records related to a hire (or non-hire), especially for positions where the club has narrowed the field to three or four finalists. Put a brief memo in each applicant's file explaining why they were not hired.

Document and evaluate: Create a file, including interview notes, new manager’s resume and other materials reviewed in the interview/evaluation process. This information forms the basis of the manager’s personnel file. At this writing, U.S. Federal law requires that a job application be kept at least three years after a person is hired. Use the same job description by which you hired this manager to regularly evaluate on-the-job performance. This is also prudent for those whose clubs or headquarters are located outside of the U.S.

Build on the momentum: The hiring process doesn't end with the selection. Your new manager’s first days are critical. New hires are seldom more motivated than their first day on the job. The club president must not just drop by for a chat but proactively build on the manager’s enthusiasm by having the office ready on day one. Provide a comfortable, welcoming and appreciated atmosphere. Proudly introduce the new manager to members and staff. Be prepared to visibly enjoy lunch together during the first week. Thereafter, speak daily and meet in person weekly. Remain available, accessible and supportive. There are always lingering questions and overlooked mutual commitments so use this time to reconfirm expectations and get the manager pointed toward specific tasks which may have been mentioned but missed during interviews. By doing so, you're solidifying rapport, validating the manager’s importance in the club’s hierarchy and setting the stage for an extended, pleasant, openly communicative working relationship.

© Search America

Mark and Harvey Weiner, two generations of thought leadership in international private club management search & consulting, are partners in Search America®, Trusted Advisors Since 1974. Harvey Weiner contributed to this article. 800.977.1784.