As Stephan Covey reminds us, “If you don’t choose to do it in leadership time up front, you do it in crisis management time down the road”.
With the subtlety of a train wreck we have been cast adrift into a sea of uncertainty. Decisive and informed leadership, grounded entirely upon a behavioral mindset of facts and reality, will become the hallmark of clubs successfully navigating through today’s incredible grid of options. From a wait and see attitude to building a full-blown strategy, savvy leaders will choose the tactics to keep things as “normal” as possible day to day, while using this valuable time to assess and create their strategy going forward.
As Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “A leader is a dealer in hope”. Hope is essential in the face of the continual negative press. However, today’s leadership is tasked far more importantly in decisive, responsive and strategic planning.
Decisive – The variables of this pandemic and the reaction of municipalities and government have changed the dynamic of leadership and decision making. As a result, successful leaders understand that uncertainty necessitates the inclusion of data, research and knowledge in successful tactics and strategy.
Responsive – Many clubs are already in the “sweet spot” of recovery because of their considered diligence toward the member experience. Others, who have remained stoic in their operational indifference or failure to react to a changing culture, will have a considerable climb back to normal.
Strategic – Experienced industry experts generally agree that sound tactics guiding your club through the initial phases of this crisis will be critical at maximizing retention and confidence. However, cohesive, objectively researched and well laid out strategy is necessary to emerge and quickly reengage your members. More importantly, if you’ve not already determined your club’s member experience “sweet spot”, now may be the time to strategize on what that needs to become.
The severity of the impact to a private club from 9/11, the financial meltdown of 2008 and the current pandemic has less to do with a club’s reaction to the crisis than their relevancy to member’s needs prior to the catastrophe. Connectivity, safe haven, social relevance and sense of community is foundational to attraction, retention, increased usage and loyalty. We can learn from relatively recent history…..
9/11 – As painful as it may be to recollect even today, those present in the industry know explicitly that faced with a crisis of unparalleled brutality club people gathered with family and friends in their home, in their church or in their club. It wasn’t only the most expensive clubs that weathered that storm well, those committed to the member experience and creating a safe haven to naturally congregate with friends and family, not only survived, but quickly returned to normal.
Financial Meltdown of 2008 – Regardless of a club’s stature, economic hardship created significant member losses. For some, the decision to leave their club was strictly financial, rendering the decision quite simple. For others, with a solid, socially relevant member experience, the decision to leave or remain was far more difficult. The common thread to success in both crises was relevant social structure or a positive member experience.
Interestingly, some that did not fair well simply lacked commitment to the member experience and reacted rather than research and strategize. Pricing rather than value propositions became widespread “cure”. Others proactively recognizing the thread that held together the successful clubs was engagement and relevance, created philosophical and operational guidelines to ensure value retention and integrity.
Today, as the COVID – 19 epidemic has closed entire states and businesses across the country, we are once again faced with an economic crisis that will drive some member away and potentially make recovery uncertain as the severity of re-occurrence of the virus is still an unknown. Industry experts today still deal in hope, but they are also dealing in reality. Some clubs will surely die, some will survive and some will quickly go back to life in the aftermath.
The question is, how many crises will it take to recognize and react to the reality that hospitality related businesses are dependent upon the experience and the value the experience creates. Everyone has heard the comparison of the restaurant versus the private club. Restauranteurs maintain that clubs have it easy. Even with a bad experience, the member comes back. In the restaurant, one bad experience may mean you never see that customer again. In the face of crisis, members may vote with their feet not just on the basis of the economic crisis, but on the lack of meaningful experience in their membership.
How many more clubs will succumb to irrelevance and/or death failing to strategically realign with reality? An even deeper question is what are these clubs waiting for? Cocooning is not a strategy. Waiting for the dust to settle before starting your planning is reactionary and likely too late. Not already having various options at your disposal as we emerge from COVID 19 is not leadership.
If you are struggling for answers or simply eager to determine other perspectives on dealing with this crisis, here are some thoughts….
- Be fully aware of your complete situation – Market dynamics, likely attrition, best practices during lockdown, what your members are thinking, what will it take to make member’s comfy when they return? What’s your club’s next bold step toward enhancing relevance?
- Openly collaborate– That includes members, Board, Committees and staff. Set up ways to listen to your members and team. What kinds of activities will you need to emerge and engage your members? What fears will members and staff have as they return? While we all think we have a pretty good pulse of what people are thinking, that’s probably not reality in this uncharted territory! As Horst Schultze remarks in his book, when you listen to the thinking of only a few people that’s too small a sampling to be reliable and “nothing more than a survey of one”. Listening is an art form and there is no better time to have your ear to the ground and in a consensus building mode.
- Don’t wait until the all clear alarm rings! – Plan now, be ready, instill confidence when your members return. Nothing says lack of planning like waiting until the last minute with no plan in hand. Nothing speaks louder than a well-orchestrated, fun, safe “coming home” environment that makes members feel more connected than ever. If you are planning a survey, a strategic plan or simply looking for the best ways to get back to normal, NOW IS THE TIME!
- Be cautious but fearless! – There is no time like the present to build your budgets, your strategy, emergence to normal and the next level. There is no better time to unite your team into creating an even greater environment than the one your members left. Take heart from examples of the visionaries in this industry. Peter Drucker describes leadership as follows, “Management is doing the right thing; leadership is doing the right things.” There is no one thing, no magic elixir, no silver bullet.
Clubs need a pathway forward to emerge stronger and more resilient, to be value oriented and less price driven. Remember these 3 R’s – Recovery, Reorganization and Renewal. None is more important than constant renewal. How you recover will define your leadership.
As a post script, our team of academic and industry researchers has developed a short, simple, but strategic set of questions that will provide your leadership team with an understanding of member’s fears, needs, wants and attitudes as clubs emerge from this lockdown. As a service to the industry, we are offering this free of charge for a limited time. If you would like to learn more about this excellent “listening opportunity”, please contact Peter McCarty at [email protected].
Be Well, Stay Safe and Be Ready!