Facility manager’s manual: Impact Through Influence
With proper training, you’ll make sure your staff has knowledge, power and influence.
There our countless manuals and books on how to properly train employees. In general, most are helpful, but in the club industry there are a few twists that are often not brought into the equation in these manuals.
First, and most important, unlike a shopper at a store or a person attending a restaurant or, for that matter, most of the service industry, a club member frequents the facility repeatedly over a long period of time. In fact, the goal of most clubs is to encourage this to help create high membership retention. But as a result of this, members frequently know either as much as or more about how their club operates than many of its employees. This creates a dynamic that needs to be taken into consideration when training your facility’s staff.
Imagine how a restaurant would operate if a diner was more knowledgeable about the menu than the waiter, or how a sales clerk would react if the customer knew more about the product, its cost, its supply and how it functioned.
So, let’s look at this dynamic and try to understand the impact. If knowledge is power, then in many cases the member, not the employee, may have the power and, in turn, the influence. Your training program needs to reverse this dynamic.
Training for Influence
You need a training system that creates a method for your employee to have the knowledge, then the power, and finally an equal or superior amount of influence. It is with this influence that your staff can guide the members through their use of the club. To best understand this, here are few common examples.
- A club member has been a long-time client of one of your teaching pros and has children who are interested in learning to play tennis. The member asks the front desk person, “Who would be best to work with my 5-year-old?” The club has in place a teaching pro who works specifically with kids, and the staffer begins to make that recommendation, but then another member overhears this and recommends another instructor. If you have trained your employee properly, he or she will not contradict or try to override that recommendation, but rather say, “Yes, there’s a lot of great programs. You should look into several of our programs and don’t forget to ask your teaching pro that you currently work with.” The follow-up would be to leave a message with the club’s pro who specializes in juniors with a note stating, “Contact within 24 hours.” This example illustrates how properly training your front desk staff about programs allows them to better direct the customer, instead of challenging or misdirecting.
- Here’s another common occurrence. A member asks about a rule concerning the court reservation system. For years they have followed the rules correctly, but noticed that a few others have been working the system to their advantage. First, you need to assure that member you will immediately address this issue … and the last thing that should happen is that the member ends up policing this themselves. It is important that you present to that member your appreciation of this information, but at the same time take them out of the process of resolving the problem. If a staff person displays a lack of confidence or direction, the member will likely go to a higher authority or try to take care of the issue themselves. Again, you need to train staff to act with confidence that comes from their experience. This action will continue to grow and help them develop their influence on the members.
- A final example: A member is a captain of one of your teams, and has a problem with one of the participants, so he comes to your staff for a solution. The best response will be for your employee to listen and document, but in this case not to provide solutions. They then assure this member the issue will be addressed immediately by the appropriate person. The worst response would be for your staff to comment on the issue when they do not have the skills or the insight. If staff tries to provide information and it turns out to be incorrect, you may have lost that member’s support and, in turn, their positive
So why the importance of “influence,” and how is it different from “information”? Influence, not information, will coach a member into using the club. Influence guides the member to spend more money at the club. Finally, it will be influence, not the re-addressing of the rules, that will help employees create that quality club that will have a reputation of being well-run and inviting.
Developing Intuitive Skills
How do we create this new paradigm in our training programs? First, you will need to help develop employees’ intuitive skills. This is accomplished through four steps.
1. When training, provide the history behind the information and why a rule or policy is in place. Most rules came about for a reason; let that employee know what those reasons were. Also, explain why the rule is in place, the practicality of the rule and its fairness. This type of understanding creates a new learning pattern that will include the process of deduction and reasoning.
2. Coach staff in understanding the consequence of their actions. It is from this study and evaluation that they will also become more skilled at anticipating events. For example, if one of your staff is asked to address a conflict between two members, they should try to think through what the results of their attempted resolution might entail. Are the two members going to get along? Will both be satisfied with this resolution? These questions will help develop the thought that this could happen again, and actions taken sooner might help in avoiding this conflict. The hope is that employee will be more preventive and less reactive to issues.
3. All well-run facilities develop a system where the employee has a sense of responsibility and autonomy in their decisions. You want both the member and the staff to realize there is no “going over their heads” to a higher authority. This policy allows the manager to delegate authority and responsibility so they have more freedom.
But there is more to this than just setting up a chain of command. The employee needs to feel their actions have both direct and indirect influence. If they should have to provide a response to a member concerning a membership policy, they would hope such a response would first impact that person, but would, secondly, send a message to any other member or staff person that this action had been taken. This is best accomplished through efficient communication.
How often do you overhear one of your employees address a member with instructions about a rule or policy and notice that the member was uncomfortable with that answer? Not so much with how that information was delivered, but rather because that answer does not work well for their agenda. They want to play back-to-back, or want to play only with better players, or basically, they want their needs met and are not concerned about what works for everyone. Too often these interactions are not recorded or reviewed. By keeping an ongoing journal, or some method of communicating with the entire staff, the employee can document this event and be able to influence the entire staff. This constant back and forth interaction, which would include management, helps everyone get on the same page.
4. Lastly, good training means giving up control. Training is ongoing, but not if you are saying the same things over and over. Continue to broadcast and highlight the successful events of your staff, but take it one step further; explain why they were successful. It is important to review the whys and what happened when something goes wrong, but it is equally, if not more important, to review the success of your staff. For example, one of your employees picks up on a non-member who is consistently coming into the club as a guest and violating your guest policy. It’s great that they caught this person, but why did they catch him and what are the consequences? Have staff learned to be more observant about usage? Are they better at interacting with those coming into the club? Maybe most important, were they able to transform that person from a non-member to a member and receive some financial reward?
This expanded form of training may seem challenging, but just as you are able to elevate the performance of your employees, you will find that you also elevate your managerial skills. This will not only better the quality of how your facility is run but also increase the value of your management.
See all articles by Rod Heckelman
About the Author
Rod Heckelman is the general manager and tennis pro at the Mount Tam Racquet Club in Marin County, Calif., where he has been for the last 31 years. His career in the industry started in 1967 at the famed John Gardiner’s Tennis Ranch. In 1970, when Gardiner opened his resort on Camelback Mountain in Scottsdale, Ariz., Heckelman, at age 20, became one of the youngest head pros in the country. He created the “Facility Manager’s Manual” based on his years of experience in the tennis business.
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