JOHN COCKAYNE: Innovation the answer to clubs stuck in the rough
Most successful business people will tell you that you learn something new every day.
Those golf committees or boards tempted to believe they have all the answers are walking heavily on very thin ice.
In general business and golf management terms, you will inevitably find yourself in a business situation not covered by any textbook or your own personal experiences.
The situation may also not be covered by the more orthodox solutions normally considered to be the “best” or “right” answer to the problem faced.
The problems induced by countries’ decisions around combating the Covid-19 pandemic are almost a textbook example of this.
In terms of golf management, as Winston Churchill said: “Difficulties mastered are opportunities won”, and if being innovative and putting from the rough is what is required to get the club back on track, then just do it — even though it might not be pretty.
In facing these new challenges, the first area that needs to be tackled is the panic, or fear element, which can be a natural reaction to a crisis. The next step involves self-analysis, which is largely retrospective and will be to check that the key goals of the business plan, both at a strategic and operational level, are still relevant and achievable.
This might sound obvious, but clubs and businesses can often lose sight of their own key goals.
An objective revaluation of these can make an enormous difference, while having a calming effect during the process to decide on what to do next. If it seems the problems cannot be solved by a revision to the overall strategic goals and the plan to achieve them, then agility, flexibility and innovation will come into play.
One of the key challenges any manager will face will be in communicating the need for innovation. People are generally averse to change, which can be unsettling, so it can be frustrating when an obvious need to do something different within the overall business plan and enjoying the benefits that will accrue is being missed, or the decision-making process is being delayed.
Given the need to find new revenues and income streams, within tightened budgets and therefore often reduced staff levels, the need for innovation has become more relevant than ever.
Alternatives would be to ignore the problems and carry on as usual, hoping that “things will get better”, or by trying to upskill or rewire the incumbent staff. The latter is often necessary because most of the current personnel will be custodial in terms of their original training.
This prepared most of us in the golf business to be goalkeepers and not goal scorers and any rewiring will not be an overnight task. Other options are to let go of underperforming staff and employ replacements with the requisite skills (not the most time-efficient or cost-effective approach) or employ a consultant.
A consultant’s role is essentially to fill gaps in the existing management staff’s expertise, or help a business have a better understanding of its own marketplace. The consultant will then help the management team to build solutions to address the gaps and, throughout the process, relate the business facts as they might find them.
This process will not be a popularity contest, so anyone wanting only to hear “good news” or have their ego massaged might be best served by not involving a consultant at all.
Over the past 25 years, I have had the opportunity to work as a consultant on numerous marketing, event, management, sales initiatives and projects. This involvement has been with an eclectic mix of clients, including a number of golf estates generally in the pre-opening phases of the development’s life.
More recently, however, a new trend has developed, providing the opportunity for me to work with existing and mature golf estates and golf clubs. These have largely been venues looking to relaunch and/or “reinvent” their business model.
At the outset of any relationship, I have always made a point of explaining what a consultant can do and what the expectations should be.
In terms of the first of these elements, possibly the simplest definition is that a consultant is “an expert, in a particular field, providing advice, or inputs, as a third party to a client for a fee”.
In terms of the second, the most obvious are:
• No holding costs through human resources or pension concerns
• No labour law problems
• Controllable, traceable and defined inputs
• A fresh perspective and ideas
• The immediate availability of a pool of skills that are missing in the current management structure
All of the above will match up well with many clubs’ needs to find solutions to trade out of the effects of the recent lockdown, while avoiding taking on extra permanent staff.
Part 2 of this “business of golf discussion” feature will continue to explore the benefits of using a consultant’s services.
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