Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Leader

Great golf experiences and successful golf shops are as much a product of the staff and its culture as they are the design and condition of the golf course. All great golf staffs have a leader with a vision of an exemplary culture and a plan for the execution of that vision. He/she surrounds themselves with a bright, energetic team that aspires to be part of that culture and be the best at what they do. Before employees can deliver this kind of customer satisfaction, management must establish a foundation that consists of a focus on teamwork, education, empowerment and respect for those providing this direction.

From a motivational standpoint, although the customer-service-cheerleader-cap is not the only hat being worn by the Leader, it is easily the most important. When worn effectively it makes many of their other tasks easier and certainly more rewarding. To establish this desired organization effectively, he/she will:

  • Hires staff that complements the culture.

  • Present product knowledge and people-skills education, knowing that this will culminate in salesmanship, sales and positive word of mouth.

  • Take full advantage of the relationships created with vendors to help in this endeavor.

  • Proactively work on opportunities to service a member/customer before they arrive to play, anticipating their expectations and needs.

  • Follow up all significant sales with a thank-you and further personalization as a standard operating procedure.

  • Empower this well-trained staff to do what is needed to provide exemplary service without constant approval.

  • Provide a forum for staff to discuss their needs and challenge themselves to the next level.

  • Create with this staff and his example and inspiration a service culture reputation which is continually reinventing itself to exceed customer expectations.

As a reader of the Upscale Golf Shop you are probably in a leadership position or aspire to be. Surround yourself with good staff all pulling in the same direction and all aspiring to provide the experience customers will talk about. In order to create a great golf experience you need to build a culture that promotes this goal. A true leader understands that if you are not winning on this front you are probably losing, that if you are spinning wheels today, by tomorrow you will be very stuck in the mud.

I want to add a personal aside to this discussion of leadership. It is a game I play with myself. In my golf career I have been a rep, a sales manager and a VP of sales. I have been working for the last ten years as a retail consultant, buyer and merchandiser. I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly from both sides of the table and I have been a customer and a player. Whenever I show up at a new facility whether it is to work, play or just chat; whether my bag is coming out of storage or the trunk or whether I am just walking from the parking lot to the Pro Shop with a briefcase, I always form an impression of the Leader who I will ultimately meet from the reception I get prior to that introduction. I attempt to gauge from first impressions the temperature and sincerity of the culture this Leader has produced. If the greeting is warm and enthusiastic and leaves me feeling glad I’m there, I envision a dynamic director. If the first encounters are disinterested and cold, I always imagine the person in charge will be somehow less than the job.

You could make the case that the pre-judgment game I have described is not fair, that I could have, in fact, encountered the one bad apple or was just there on a bad day. I would make the case however, that everyone else who parks on the same lot is prejudging as I do, though just not as consciously and that over the years I am correct about 90% of the time. Make your own conclusions about the bad apple and the bad day.

An effective leader organizes, manages and takes full responsibility for the facility and its shop whether he owns it or not. He is an entrepreneur, a self-starter, gets along with anyone, inspires employees, relishes responsibility, makes decisions and executes. He is trusted by his total sphere of influence, sticks with the plan and hires staff that aspires to the same.

“The Effective Entrepreneur” by Charles Swayne and William Tucker[i] lists positive attitude, self confidence, goal oriented, action-oriented, thick-skinned, selective curiosity, competitive and creative as characteristics common to effectual Leaders.

In the context of our discussion:

  • Positive attitude - Exudes an optimism about the business plan and its results that is easily perceived by all around him all the time.

  • Self confidence - If you can’t envision the shot and think you can’t make it the chances are pretty good you won’t.

  • Goal-oriented - Focus. Works through the detailed planning toward the big picture without getting bogged down and enjoys all the small successes along the way.

  • Action-oriented - Doesn’t wait for perfect answers or sit in their office thinking somehow things will take care of themselves.

  • Thick-skinned – Knows you can never please everyone, particularly the envious. All plans will not work out and criticism surely follows. This is all part of the turf, deal with it accordingly.

  • Selective curiosity - Education is an every day event. Searches for the next idea that will improve their surroundings or increase their knowledge and ability to achieve their goals.

  • Competitive - Is as creative and dedicated to their staff, its culture and their retail success as they are to their golf game.

  • Creative - Is receptive at implementing ideas whether they are his/hers or someone else’s; anticipates both needs and problems and create solutions.

It’s an appropriate maxim to mention here that “too many cooks spoil the broth.” While the culture you are trying to create should have empowered employees with plenty of opportunity to provide valuable input there should be no mistaking who will be making the final decision.

Trust me that if you produce positive word of mouth about your facility and rounds, ecstatic members and dollars per round go up accordingly there will not be any debate about who is The Leader.

In Summary we have a Leader dedicated to improving the culture that is his domain, who realizes that this is a marathon and not a sprint. Some specific actions:

  • Make a point of spending enough time on the floor of the shop each day to physically touch at least 5 members/regulars.

  • Analyze and act upon all customer feedback immediately and proactively.

  • Personally follow up with at least 3 phone calls, emails or personal notes a day thanking customers for their business and/or feedback.

  • Make any negative feedback or complaint an opportunity to make a friend by taking ownership of the situation and fixing it beyond the customer’s expectations.

  • Reach out to all vendors and reps that you do business with and some that you don’t. Treated as part of the team they can become an important ally.

  • Read material pertinent to improving staff and service whenever possible.

This is another of the chapters from "The Winning Golf Culture" and was published at "The Upscale Golf Shop" on PGAMagazine.com on March 25th, 2011.

[i] Swayne, C. & Tucker, W., The Effective Entrepreneur, Morristown, NJ: General Learning Press, 1973