United States

The three principles club governance should always exemplify


I recently sat in what I had hoped would be a quiet corner of Capital Grille. The evening took an interesting turn when a party of four was seated within unavoidable earshot. Given my livelihood for 25 years, it was very difficult not to eavesdrop when it became clear the diners were all members of a local country club. What really got me thinking was when one of the gentlemen said, "You know, of all the country clubs where I've been a member over the years, the best run had a benevolent dictator rather than a board of directors and a bunch of committees who ran amok!"

While we don't subscribe to this particular view of club governance, it does highlight some key issues that club boards and committees need to deal with in a proactive manner. Here are the three simple tenets of club governance that volunteer leaders should aspire to:

1. Identify and live the club's core values

The benevolent dictator from our story would appear to have this advantage over a group of individuals collectively trying to provide direction to a significant business enterprise such as a club. However, boards and committees can level the playing field by subscribing to a common set of core values that is the bedrock for the club's strategic vision. Adherence to those core values can help keep a club on a steady strategic course despite the players changing when board and committee members rotate or even when management changes. Identifying the club's core values should be the cornerstone of any thoughtful, long term, strategic planning exercise.

2. Speak with a common voice

How many times do conflicting messages emanate from the club's boardroom following a meeting? We often joke that no one has yet invented a device to move information faster than it moves from a club boardroom to the bar! And sadly much of the messaging that makes it to the regulars at the bar is actually disinformation and not truly representative of the discussions and decisions the board has taken. Too often we hear of the rogue board member who, when not getting their way in the boardroom takes their agenda to the streets in an attempt to undermine the hard work that just took place in the boardroom. Volunteer members need to be held to a code of conduct which of course, is built upon, you guessed it, the club's core values. One of the most effective methods we have heard of, to ensure collective adherence to board and committee conduct expectations, is to make sure everyone hears the same message at the same time. Prior to the start of any new board or committee term, all the volunteer members are called together and oriented by the club president and COO with regards to the governance expectations and standards of the club … and the disciplinary actions related to noncompliance.

3. Abide by the Geneva Convention

Board and committee members rightly have come to expect their club to be run like a business. To that end, they should hold management accountable for meeting plans, both operational and financial. Unfortunately, accountability and micromanagement are practices that in too many clubs have become blurred. Once the board has provided the strategic direction for the club, the COO should present an annual business plan that seeks to deliver on that strategic vision. If the plan is accepted by the board, then the COO should be left alone to execute the plan. Periodic updates on achieving the business plan's annual goals will allow the board to judge whether execution is working or if corrective action is required. If the COO fails to execute on the plan, then a businesslike approach can be applied to determine if a change in management is required. Contrast this with the daily torturing that many managers complain of from board and committee members running amok with private agendas. We doubt there are many club members who would say the best job experience they ever had was when they were micromanaged, so perhaps it is time to pay it forward in this respect.

Hopefully, the next time we eavesdrop on a group of club members, it will be to hear how effective, consistent and businesslike the decision-makers at their club are!