Following best practices for getting new employees up to speed quickly and effectively is a critical factor in short- and long-term employee retention, and promises to be especially important as clubs ramp back up from the coronavirus disruption.
By Boris Gradina, MCM, CCE, General Manager, Maryland Golf and Country Clubs, Bel Air, Md.
Editor’s Note: This article is drawn from an executive summary of the monograph written by Boris Gradina as part of his pursuit of the Master Club Manager (MCM) designation through the Club Management Association of America (see “Achieving the Ultimate,” opposite page). The summary was written by Dr. Jack Ninemeier, Professor Emeritus at Michigan State University’s The School of Hospitality Business,
Gradina was awarded his MCM designation in February 2020, becoming just the 23rd club manager to achieve MCM status since the program was begun in 1990.
Gradina’s full monograph on “New Employee Onboarding at Private Clubs,” which includes an onboarding template and checklist, and a section exploring the onboarding procedures of Ritz-Carlton, The Walt Disney Company and Chick-Fil-A, can be accessed at https://www.cmaa.org/PD.aspx?id=46500
New employee onboarding is an essential part of the employee life cycle at any organization and is a critical factor in short- and long-term employee retention. For private clubs, effective onboarding (and reboarding) only promises to become more critical as properties ramp back up from the coronavirus pandemic and bring former employees back into the fold, while also trying to fill staffing gaps for positions where previous occupants are not returning.
This monograph explores how the onboarding process is conducted in private clubs, concentrating on practices for entry-level, full- or part-time employees who are paid an hourly wage, and highlights best practices for the process.
The study of onboarding in private clubs addressed four goals:
• Define the concept of onboarding for the private club industry.
• Examine and report on the current perceptions and understandings of onboarding programs in private clubs.
• Identify successful examples of onboarding procedures used by private clubs.
• Recommend specific onboarding tactics, procedures, and programming to enable private clubs to achieve higher staff-retention levels.
Structured interviews with human resources specialists in ten clubs provided input to address the project’s goals. Interview questions were designed to explore experiences, views, opinions, and beliefs about how existing onboarding programs impact employees, operational effectiveness, and the general management of the club.
Benefits of Onboarding
The benefits of well-conducted, effective new-employee onboarding programs typically relate to the consistency of service delivery, employee job satisfaction, understanding of the club’s culture, autonomy for employees to make decisions, and support for the club’s mission statement. Those interviewed believe that the most tangible benefits relate to reduced employee labor costs, due to lower turnover rates. For example, one participant shared that the club had implemented a formal onboarding program three years ago, and its overall employee turnover rate had fallen to under 3%.
When asked to describe how the club’s onboarding program positively affected the consistent delivery of services to members and guests, interviewees mostly referred to member-satisfaction metrics. The general belief was that private clubs strive to provide value to their members through exceptional service and amenities, and this objective can only be consistently achieved when highly trained and long-tenured professional staff are available.
The research showed that effective employee-retention strategies begin as staff are recruited, selected, orientated, and trained, and continue with the utilization of supervisory tactics that show genuine respect for staff members. Numerous HR-related issues, including fair compensation, maintaining a professional workplace, reasonable appraisal systems, and appropriate professional development and career- advancement processes, also impact cultural fit and work-life balance concerns that influence retention rates.
Orientation vs. Onboarding
All interviewees understood the differences between orientation and onboarding. Orientation is a one-time event during which new employees are officially welcomed to the club. It often involves a one-way flow of information from the presenter to the new employee.
In contrast, onboarding is a longer, more interactive and ongoing process that can occur from acceptance of the job through the first 90 or more days of employment.
Most interviewees indicated that their clubs used a “pre-boarding” process that involved tasks from the time the applicant accepted the position to the first day of employment. For example, most clubs followed up with either a welcome letter or an offer letter and/or a personal phone call. An offer letter could be more formal and contain the conditions of employment, while the welcome letter was usually more informal. It was during the pre-boarding phase that most clubs conducted drug screening and background checks, and provided new hires with a new employee packet.
A classroom-style session, including a PowerPoint presentation and property tour, was typical for new employee orientations. Most clubs used HR staff to conduct orientations, but the HR director, general manager and/or department heads might also be involved. Orientation events at participating clubs lasted from two to six hours.
Orientation content frequently differed by the department in which new employees worked. Common topics covered at almost every club included equal opportunity employment, equipment training (for grounds crew and other staff), knife training (for kitchen staff), and point-of-sales training (for waitstaff and golf shop staff). Some clubs emphasized information about workplace culture during the orientation event, concentrating on the club’s history, principles, and values.
Most of the clubs that were studied spent significant time and resources introducing new employees to the club and integrating them into the workforce and the club’s culture. Those interviewed understood the differences between technical aspects of onboarding (such as hiring tasks, paperwork and training) and the introduction of new employees to their jobs, co-workers, and the club and its work culture.
Unique onboarding topics included tuition reimbursement eligibility, promotion opportunities, club member joining processes, and a property tour game. One club had an “employee engagement committee” comprised of senior employees and the general manager. Its purpose was to ensure new employees were welcomed and engaged with the club during the onboarding process and their entire employment.
The Critical First Days
All study participants agreed that the first week of employment was a crucial time for new employees to be fully introduced and acclimated to the club. The first day and/or week of a new employee’s tenure at the club can be viewed as a linchpin of the onboarding process.
Most clubs used the first day to complete paperwork and finalize other hiring tasks not completed during the pre-boarding process. Factors that determined when new employees began on-the-job training included previous experience, current position, and the club’s immediate needs.
A correctly implemented “buddy system,” through which two individuals are paired to work together for mutual benefit, is often suggested as part of a comprehensive onboarding program. Objectives are to ensure that tasks are performed safety, and that the appropriate skill/learning is transferred effectively.
While this study found that only two clubs had a comprehensive buddy system in place, most clubs used an informal variation of it. One club had a formal buddy system in some departments, but not in others. There may be a formal buddy system in place for a club’s food-and-beverage department, for example, but the grounds maintenance department may use an informal process.
At all clubs, buddy-system staff were paired with seasoned employees during the training process. In most cases, regardless of whether a buddy system was formally implemented, top-performing staff members were assigned to train new employees. Characteristics of these trainers/buddies included high performance, a positive attitude, an ability to work independently, a strong work ethic, loyalty, and dependability. The clubs usually paid higher hourly rates to employees who took on this role.
Other Onboarding Strategies
Interviewees suggested numerous additional activities that have proved useful for the remainder of the onboarding process. These are typically addressed during the first thirty days and include ad hoc and weekly (or other planned time period) performance evaluations, ongoing feedback, and opportunities to meet key stakeholders.
Examples of strategies for the remainder of the onboarding process include training to address skill gaps, a congratulatory letter or e-mail from a club manager, and ongoing formal and informal performance evaluations, with prescribed actions to address any issues that had surfaced.
Extending the Process
Only a few clubs conducted formal “stay” interviews after onboarding was officially completed. Some clubs did conduct a survey, sometimes electronically, with newly onboarded staff, while others performed a 90-day performance evaluation. One club had a “coffee and cookie” chat session at the end of the onboarding period. C+RB
Achieving the Ultimate
The Master Club Manager (MCM) designation was created in 1990 by the Club Management Association of America (CMAA) as the ultimate step in professional certification for club industry professionals. It has proved to be so “ultimate” that upon earning his MCM this year, Boris Gradina became only the 23rd manager to have completed the requirements needed to earn the designation (see full list below).
The MCM program recognizes the importance of significant, long-lasting contributions made by club managers to their clubs, profession, and communities. In addition, the MCM designation provides experienced club managers with the means to make a significant written contribution to their industry.
An article in C+RB’s January 2010 issue (https://clubandresortbusiness.com/mastering-the-job/) included an interview with Joseph F. Basso, MCM, CCE, General Manager/Chief Operating Officer of Delaire Country Club, Delray Beach, Fla., and the Chairman of CMAA’s MCM Academic Council, about the MCM program and the requirements for and benefits of achieving the MCM designation.
Additional details about the program, including a full listing of, and links for, monographs that have been written, and suggestions for other monograph topics, can also be found in the MCM section of the CMAA’s website at https://www.cmaa.org/MCM.aspx
Managers Who Have Earned the MCM Designation
Mark Bado, MCM, CCE (2012)
Joseph Basso, MCM (2002)
James H. Brewer, MCM (1995)
Dennis Conneally, MCM, CCE (2012)
Carlos W. Cook Jr., MCM, CCE (2017)
*Dorothy Donovan, MCM (2003)
Boris Gradina, MCM, CCE (2020)
*Laurice T. “Bud” Hall, MCM (1996)
*Edward Henderson, MCM (1994)
John Jordan, MCM (1998)
Paul Kornfeind III, MCM (2008)
Jerry McCoy, MCM (1994)
A. Graham McDeson, MCM (1994)
Larry McKenzie, MCM, CCE (2014)
*Sandy McGaughey, MCM (2005)
MacDonald A. Niven, MCM, CCE (2017)
Mitchell Platt, MCM, CCE (2012)
Michael Robinson, MCM (1999)
William A. Schulz, MCM (1996)
Norman J. Spitzig, Jr., MCM (1994)
Crystal M. Thomas, MCM (2004)
Michael Wheeler, MCM, CCE (2014)
“Mac” A. Winker, MCM (1994)
The Work of Masters
Monographs have been written on the topics shown below by those who have earned the Master Club Manager designation to date; the full monographs can be accessed through the MCM section of the Club Management Association of America website at https://www.cmaa.org/MCM.aspx, along with suggestions for other monograph topics that could be used by others who wish to pursue MCM certification.
• Aquatic Risk Management and Best Practices for Clubs
• An Economically Sustainable Business Model for Private Clubs: A Blueprint to Prosperity in the 21st Century
• Assessing the Team-Building Process in Your Club
• Building Bridges: Working With the Golf Management Team
• Club Culture: Are You Practicing What You Believe In?
• Creating an Assistant Manager Development Program
• Creating the Private Club Wine List
• Developing A Club’s History Book
• Executive Tenure: Developing A Model for Effective Leadership
• Fostering Strong Working Relationships Between the GM/COO and Club Directors
• How to Bullet-Proof Your Accounting Department Against Fraud
• Implementing Total Quality Management as An Integral Part of Strategic Management
• Innovativeness and Entrepreneurship in Clubs
• Integrated Team Management within the Private Club Industry
• Is It Time to Move? Recognizing the “Warning Signs” Associated with Job Change
• Leadership Styles Among Club Managers
• The Marriage of Four California Wines and American Food
• New Employee Onboarding at Private Clubs
• New Member Orientation for Private Clubs
• The Future of American Yacht Clubs – Building Successful Junior Sailing Programs
• The General Manager Performance Evaluation Process
• The Role and Success Factors of Managers Who Have Flourished as Active Leaders in Their Clubs
• The Value of Contract Documents in Club Construction and Renovation Programs