JOHN COCKAYNE: How teeing off with a consultant works
The golf business has remained unchanged for decades, but now is the time for innovation
This is the third and final part of a series, “Putting from the rough”, that focuses on how a consultant can bring new ideas to golf clubs.
Here we examine some of the key expectations and requirements from the perspective of the client and the consultant within a contracted relationship.
Budgeting: Clarity is required for the client to budget (excluding ad hoc elements) effectively for the consultant’s services. An open-ended relationship, with an undefined time frame, is not workable for most financial processes.
Access: Ideally, complete access to the consultant must be the goal. A sure way to compromise the effectiveness of the relationship is for it to become a clock-watching exercise for both parties.
There should be balance, enabling the client to call on the consultant at any time, in terms of the time inputs’ framework and normal business hours. Reciprocally, the consultant needs to be able to respond to or pursue a business opportunity, or task, until it is completed and not abort it halfway through because his or her allocated or prepaid time is exhausted.
Expect change: An effective relationship will change the nature of the business environment. This will affect the club and any brand or product partners and is both good and to be expected.
Function: The client must make an effective introduction of the consultant to the incumbent staff. This will clearly define which functions the consultant is there to perform, as there will inevitably be some fear around job security.
I often use a parachute or lifebelt as the analogy, to make sure staff members understand that their jobs are not under threat.
Title: For an internal role description, the activity can be included such as “communications officer” or “new business development officer”.
However, should the consultant be required to engage with the public, then they must also be given a title that has gravitas. This will be commensurate with representing the club, venue or facility in high-level negotiations.
Using prefixes such as “consulting”, “interim” and “acting” should be avoided, as these create a sense of impermanence. This can be counterproductive and prospective partners might want to choose to wait until they can finalise any business with a permanent or full-time member of staff.
Legacy: A key part to the success of any consulting initiative will be the ability of the permanent management staff to carry on with the work after the consultant has gone off site.
A consultant can and should play a key role in helping to ensure that the right mix of skills, understanding and personnel are in place to ensure that any value is not lost or diluted after the contract is completed.
An effective way to combat this problem is to have a process of skills transfer during the consultant’s time on site and then couple this to a post-contract retainer at a lower level of remuneration than the original contract.
The golf business has been slow to innovate, due largely to the previous lack of any need for change. However, the trading environment is now very different, adding powerful resonances to the phrase that “necessity is the mother of invention”.
It also seems that fear of failure is making itself more felt, and this is a dangerous attitude to allow to take root.
If anything, boards and management need to inculcate a change of culture by analysing their own processes and by encouraging staff to question methodologies, to initiate and innovate or be part of trying something new.
This will give staff the freedom to think about what they do and help to develop strategies and initiate activities to help grow their own facility’s share of the market place.
Equally, management boards and directors put themselves in serious danger of failure if they do not also encourage their own facility’s management to be proactive — with the related accountability.
The use of a consultant can also help to reinforce a board’s key responsibility in another area: oversight.
Micromanagement is a curse, undermines management’s ability to do its work and distracts the board from its actual responsibilities.
The involvement of a consultant often encourages a more hands-off approach for the board, as it is hardly justified in hiring an expert and then micromanaging his or her inputs. The downstream benefits can then often lead to the break-up of the toxic chain of micromanagement with the rest of the staff, thereby leading to a more pleasant, efficient and productive working environment.
An article in Science Monitor in the 1970s stated: “You don’t have to know everything, because you can always ask someone who does know.”
A qualified consultant can change the state of play, innovate, develop, and implement answers to problems, the solutions to which have previously eluded the incumbent management team.
If you are not prepared to innovate, then there is the danger of proving the old saying that “the height of insanity is doing exactly the same thing every day for 30 years and each day expecting a different result”.
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