Tennis Industry magazine

 

Facility Manager’s Manual: Behavior Modification?

Changing members’ behavior is a tricky situation for any facility manager.

By Rod Heckelman

Ask any experienced manager in the club industry what’s the most common complaint they receive, and chances are it will be about members’ behavior. They didn’t get off the court at the end of their appointed time. They were using their cell phone in a no-cell phone area. They were being distracting or loud on a neighboring court. They left the common area or locker room a mess. The list goes on.

Modifying behavior is a challenge in every aspect of life. Within clubs, this problem is amplified as members are asked to share a defined amount of space while participating in activities. When you think about it, short of our educational process, there are few times when a person is asked to develop and/or perform in a group atmosphere with the same set of people. It’s safe to say that a club’s environment is unusual and unique.

Club life also adds another complicating element. In most cases where there is a group gathering or activity, there is someone appointed to be in control. At clubs, members are made to believe they have final say and are in control. This practice falls under the motto that the customer is always right. But if you have worked in clubs long enough, you know this has limitations.

The result of this potentially unstable social dynamic is that most clubs post signs, rules and notices in hopes of establishing some control over members’ behavior. Articles in newsletters or other forms of media are also used to spread the gospel of club etiquette and proper protocols. But, once again, the experienced manager knows most people will not read these signs or pay attention to the reminders. So if traditional methods of enforcing rules are not working, what will work?

The answer may lie in a three-pronged approach: education, application and repetition.

Education

To better understand how “education” works, let’s provide some examples.

a) A long-time member consistently fails to check in when entering the club. From his point of view, he feels this is his club and he should be able to come and go as he pleases. During one of his visits, tactfully engage him in a conversation with the intent of explaining the importance of keeping the value of his membership by also keeping the privacy of the club. You might also mention this policy also helps maintain the security of the club. To complete this educational moment, ask him to help in the development of any new employee by contributing to the exercise of getting everyone to check in and further familiarize this new employee with all the members. There is no guarantee this interaction will be successful, but it lays the foundation for establishing an understanding with this member, and it will put the onus on him to play by the rules.

b) Next, you have a member who seldom properly checks in his guest. Even though your rules have restrictions on non-member usage, your member, because he seldom brings guests, does not perceive this to be a problem. (The non-member probably doesn’t even consider this an issue.) If you intercept them when they enter, you’ll be put in a position of having to enforce the rule in front of their guest — an uncomfortable situation. The application of the rule here is very important. You will need to show a welcoming hand to both people and possibly invite the guest into becoming a member. Hopefully this dialogue moves into the direction of you being able to bring up the rules of checking in and the reminder that it is a private club. Always keep in mind that this guest is not the enemy or a person trying to purposely trespass, but rather a potential member.

c) This last problem occurs hourly at most facilities: a member who uses the locker room or changing area as if it was their personal venue. Others complain about how they take over a space, leave clothes everywhere and in general display poor locker room behavior. Of course, the signs you posted are ignored. Because of the area being used, it can sometimes be difficult to interact with this member, especially at the moment the violation occurs. In this case it might be best to formulate an e-mail or letter that you could send explaining how important it is for members to be responsible for their belongings and properly share common space. (In fact, it might be efficient to draft
several letters that address common problems or issues, such as a letter for those who park inappropriately, or refuse to share a swimming lane, or break the rules while using the courts, etc.)

Application

Education can help embed the standards, but there is also a need for understanding application of the rules. Too often clubs react to a problem by reestablishing the rules to the whole membership. Because of the actions of a few, the entire membership is subjected to a reminder. But by constantly reprimanding the entire membership, they’ll eventually ignore these notices or announcements, and more importantly, it’s likely that the few who have been behaving poorly will probably not be impacted.

There is also the natural reaction of many members to become more sensitive to the few that are in violation. This can lead to some members trying to police the club and creating potential conflict. On the other hand, by addressing only those who are causing a problem, the enforcement is more directed and the overall atmosphere is not impacted by negative announcements.

Timing is important here. Again, members are sensitive about being told what to do when using their club. Take our first example. If you were to chase down that member to remind him to check in and that happened to take place in front of others, it would result in that member feeling compromised and embarrassed. Sometimes it’s best to let the moment go and process the information via e-mail or letter. Other times it’s best to approach the member in a more relaxed situation.

Lastly, when it comes to application, provide all the information and not just the rule itself. For example, you have a member who brings in a personal trainer recommended by a doctor to help him recover from an injury. If you were to approach that member and simply state that outside contractors are forbidden to operate at your club, the member would feel compromised and like they are being kept from meeting personal goals or medical needs. By simply providing the rules, you are perceived as an obstruction. If, on the other hand, if you showed sympathy and asked what they were trying to accomplish, you could begin the process of informing that member of what services the club could provide and possibly sway them toward using your staff.

Repetition

As long as your application is practical and courteous, there is no harm in repeating rules over and over, just be careful that you don’t end up beating up on your membership. Try to vary the message to keep it interesting.

If you believe the message sent is more relevant than the message received, then you will find yourself very frustrated after a while. Teachers and coaches learn this early on. They know there are some who retain information well, while others have to constantly be reminded.

Repetition also addresses member transition. Most clubs have turnover, and it is important to refresh the rules and regulations for this reason alone. In this process you will find that it is an excellent way to review and update your rules. Methods of communication are constantly changing and we need to upgrade the methods that we use to deliver information.

Lastly, never take for granted that a member knows right from wrong, and they often have a goal. Maybe it is to have a workout in a set period of time, get in a few extra points on court, in general trying to meet personal needs and not realizing they are compromising other members.

So, can we change members’ behavior? To some degree. But at the end of the day, we should be satisfied with being able to modify most members’ behavior. It’s an arduous task that can be emotionally draining.

This area of management is not a battle that we can expect to win, just an area we hope to positively impact.

Rod Heckelman has been the longtime general manager of Mt. Tam Racquet Club in Larkspur, Calif. His “Facility Manager’s Manual” is available digitally through the TIA at TennisIndustry.org. He recently added another manual, “The Tennis Pro’s Business Handbook.” The complete “Facility Manager’s Manual” is available for download at the TIA Associate Member level and above. Visit TennisIndustry.org for more information.

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About the Author

Rod Heckelman  is the general manager at Mount Tam Racquet Club in Larkspur, Calif., and has been on the faculty for The Tennis Congress.

 

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