Adapting to a changing industry is difficult no matter the business, and the private club industry is going through that today.
The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, is one of the most historic country clubs in the industry, yet they’ve been able to stay on top of the latest marketing and communications trends.
This club may ring a bell to some of our listeners who tuned into an earlier Crushing Club Marketing episode with guest Jackie Singleton, the director of communications and technology at The Country Club.
In this week's episode, we take a look at The Country Club's communications overhaul from a club leadership perspective. Assistant General Manager Kristen LaCount shares how clear vision and strong leadership have propelled the Country Club on a steady path of embracing and implementing change.
What sparked a change in member communications?
The Country Club almost exclusively conducts member outreach through the web, a big change from how they were operating in the past with print-outs like bulletin boards. The demand for this began after a group of curlers used online registration on their site back in 2006. From there, participants of other sporting events followed suit.
The demand for digital communications grew over the course of a few years, and in that time, The Country Club established a designated communications department along with appointing a communications director. They’ve also shifted the way they train staff to include digital communication skills training on things like graphic design, Instagram, app-based calendars, and other web-based hosting platforms — avenues that didn’t even exist not too long ago.
But possibly, the biggest game-changer in all of this, LaCount says, was the establishment of their communications committee, which was developed to build support from the board of governors and encourage them to invest in some of those things needed to start shifting the culture.
How to Get Buy-In From Those in Senior Roles
The Country Club was founded back in 1882, so as you can imagine, there’s deep-rooted tradition. Even today, the board makes decisions based off of the club's original mission and the same holds true for all department heads and club staff. But, while preserving the club’s rich history is important, it’s equally important that leadership embraces change because let’s face it, things aren’t as they were 136 years ago.
LaCount says that when they're considering any change, they start from the top down — vetting ideas through leadership and providing a great deal of transparency regarding the impact of those changes. She says the key to successful change is to make sure everyone understands what's coming down the pipeline.
Before you or your communications team moves on an idea, it’s important to stop and think, who do I need to be looping-in on this? When communicating a new idea, be prepared to provide a recommendation, too.
It’s also incredibly beneficial to have a good relationship with your general manager because they can reinforce your efforts and help you build credibility. LaCount is fortunate to have a close ten-year working relationship with her current general manager, who’s been a well-respected leader at The Country Club for 31 years.
Becoming a Partner with Your Board
As with the leadership team, communication with your board is essential. Though this is no big secret, the key is to commit to frequent communication, beyond monthly board meetings.
The Country Club’s communications committee holds weekly meetings where they go through current communications issues and address upcoming calendar items. They distribute those committee meeting minutes to the board and always have a communications person present at every board meeting.
You need to set a benchmark and build credibility with your board so that they view your efforts as a partnership. Nothing should come as a shock to them at a board meeting because you've already kept them up to speed.
The Value of Energizing All Staff About Culture
In order to maintain your culture, everyone has to be on the same page. This holds true for the veteran club leader as well as the new hire.
LaCount spoke with us, extensively, about the importance of not only educating your team on your communications goals but motivating and re-energizing them, as well. She personally pioneered internal classes at The Country Club called "Mission Impossible" classes, where team members meet every other week to discuss different issues and tackle them as a group.
It can be tricky to leave room for motivation and inspiration with busy schedules. LaCount recommends blocking out time with team members, even if it has to be months ahead. This also provides an opportunity for new voices to be heard. Believe it or not, their perspective is almost always accurate. These are the people who poke holes in the way you've been doing things, which can create change for the better.
She says it's also a good idea to cross train staff so that they understand and appreciate the many workings of your club. Have golf interns check out weddings and events for an afternoon, for instance. This builds a synergy amongst your team and strengthens culture. When you are clear about how you want to operate and why, some may realize that your club is not the right fit for them, and that’s okay, too!
This episode at a glance:
1:30 – Overview of recent changes at The Country Club
6:50 - How you can influence your team to embrace change
12:00 – LaCount's advice on getting buy-in from the board
16:20 – How to best manage your relationship with your board
20:40 – The importance of strong leadership, starting with your general manager
26:55 – Training new staff to grow the right culture
32:30 – What accomplishments LaCount is most proud of at The Country Club
38:40 - The importance of aligning your club's identity in today's industry