By David Gould
Inspiring, rewarding and retaining good employees, and cultivating a service-oriented environment
In service industries like golf, it’s often said that ownership takes care of the employees so the employees will take care of the customers. An owner’s responsibility, therefore, is to recruit an able staff, retain the best performers, and keep the whole team motivated toward the goal of golfer satisfaction.
Bill Hasler, general manager of LedgeStone Golf Club in West Branson, Missouri, attempts to do just that by exposing his employees as much as possible to the property owners as an incentive tool. One of the primary tools he uses is to host a member workday twice a year called a “Divot Party.”
“Here, the members work alongside staff to fill in divots on the course with sand,” Hasler notes. “Afterward, food and beverages are supplied by the Property Owners Association for free to all who participate.”
In addition to the biannual Divot Parties, Hasler hosts a member/employee scramble twice each year, in which one employee is paired with three members. “This allows the employee to experience the game from the members’ side of the ropes,” says Hasler, “and it also helps to create a bond between the employee and the customers they work for.”
Meanwhile, Susan Johnson uses a more traditional form of incentive to motivate employees. The director of human resources and risk management for the Incline Village General Improvement District implemented a program called PERKs (Positive Employee Recognition–Kool) to recognize returning seasonal employees at the two golf courses in Incline Village, Nevada. Depending on how many seasons an employee has worked with the district, they can choose from a variety of “PERKs” as recognition for being a returning employee.
“These PERKs range from IVGID Bucks (script to be spent within the district) to paid time off to free use of the district’s recreation center between seasons to tool/equipment/apparel reimbursement,” says Johnson, noting that the more seasons an employee works for the district, the more PERKs they earn. “Plus, our employees are allowed free or discounted use of all of the district’s recreational facilities while an employee.”
For all the programs and efforts designed to reward and retain employees, there are times when course operators must make some tough decisions about workers. When circumstances dictate that staffs must be trimmed, it’s natural to worry about gaps in the customer experience. Yet customer service is hard to quantify unless an owner hires a company to scientifically analyze survey data.
Regardless of how it’s measured, serving the customer at a high level has a tendency to build in redundancy. If the choice is between two or three outside-operations workers, some managers might want a third person on the clock to make sure every cart has a full bottle of divot mix. David Frem, general manager of Cyprian Keyes Golf Club in Boylston, Massachusetts, doesn’t take those precautions anymore.
“We’ve always been very attentive to the public spaces in our clubhouse building—and we still are—but we don’t have a ‘just in case’ maintenance person at busy periods the way we used to,” Frem says. That translates to an out-of-order sign on a restroom door for a few hours, whereas Frem’s old policy would have been to fix it before any customers arrive. Will customers forgive a small compromise in service such as that? Veteran owners realize there’s no choice but to hope and expect they will.
This “new reality” has created what can best be described as hazier job descriptions, including for Frem, who’s a co-owner of Cyprian Keyes.
“Someone in our food-and-beverage department left, and I opted not to fill the position,” he recalls. “I was back in the kitchen until midnight for a while there, and some other staff members also stepped up.”
Now with a dozen years at the helm, Frem says he’s much more willing to make personnel changes and deal with the consequences. That includes having to fire a department head without, of course, letting support staff know they would be running the show themselves for the remainder of the season.
“You’re asking people to accept new conditions and hoping their answer is yes, at which point you let out that sigh of relief,” he says. “As you run an increasingly leaner operation, you get to see peoples’ true colors. The slackers stand out more, and the superstars do as well.”