Planning Realities & Realistic Planning

The Club at Cordillera, Shane Macomber Photography

Frank Vain

During a recent on-boarding process for a new client, they made their Strategic Plan available to us.

They boasted about the work prior to our engagement, and we were excited to look at it. I must admit first surprise, then dismay as I paged through the plan. Stretching well over 100 pages, I found boilerplate information, new ideas, some stuff I’d seen before, a number of pretty charts and graphs and even a recapitulation of the Club’s capital reserve study. That part of the report seemed to generate the most attention as the aggregate capital the Club would need for spending over the next 20 years was staggering when viewed on one massive spreadsheet. So much so that almost nothing else in the plan garnered any attention. Classic paralysis by analysis.

A plan of this size and type would be of dubious value to a global corporation; but, it is absolutely worthless to a non-profit private club with a volunteer board, a single executive and a team of four or five department heads.

While time constraints are having an outsized effect on member use today, let’s not forget its impact on how much governors can take on and execute effectively. While some time and resources need to be dedicated to planning at the outset, the result should be something that saves time in the long-run, not something that proves unwieldy and burdensome.

Extra care must be taken to see that the plan is realistic, has clear goals and can be managed by time-constrained volunteers. If realistic and concise, the plan will help
leadership anticipate and respond to changes headed their way. They will be able to give the membership a clearer definition of the club’s mission and vision and know how to sharpen and enhance the club’s programs. They will also know where to invest and why. That’s the big stuff and, often, more than enough.

There remains a lot of misconception around Strategic Planning and its utility for club leaders.

Properly developed and managed, a Strategic Plan can be part of a club’s revitalization, maybe even its transformation. With the rate of change taking place in the club world, it is essential to keep up and get ahead. In many cases, however, you’ll hear that members have become very successful in their own businesses without a Strategic Plan or that the last plan the club developed is sitting on a shelf somewhere gathering dust. Taking on too much will only make these fears come true.

Today’s private clubs exist in a dynamic environment. Extensive change is occurring in societal values and demographics, competition is growing and upgrading and who the heck knows what’s happening with our economy? These are just some of the things club leaders need to be concerned about. A clear and concise Strategic Plan points out a club’s unique strengths, targets its weaknesses and identifies new opportunities. In short, it identifies where you are and tells you where you need to go. You must be able to summarize that in a couple of pages and back it up with action plans in the five or so mission-critical areas that need to be addressed. This is something boards and management can commit to, implement and doesn’t take 100 pages.

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About Frank Vain

Mr. Vain provides consulting and planning services to private clubs throughout North America. Through use of specialized services including membership surveys, strategic planning, operational analysis and facility long range planning, Frank assists club in developing individualized strategies for their unique situations. 

Mr. Vain joined McMahon Group in 1988 and has more than forty years of experience in the management and development of hospitality properties including country clubs, city athletic and dining clubs and residential communities. Frank is Past President of The Country Club of St. Albans, a 36-hole country club located in Missouri, and he is a former partner in Concord Sports Club, a 1,700 member family athletic club in St. Louis. Frank was elected to the Board of the National Club Association in 2011 and served as Chairman in 2019-20. 

Mr. Vain is a native of Philadelphia and graduate of Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He is a featured speaker at the annual Club Managers Association of America World Conference, National Club Association National and Regional Conferences, Major Golf Associations and a regional chapter meeting of club managers and leaders. 

Frank is a regular contributor to industry leading publications like Club Management, Club Director and BoardRoom. He was named the Gary Player Club Educator of the Year for 2012 and 2015 and received the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2021 by BoardRoom. He is also a co-author of McMahon’s Club Trends, a recognized industry benchmark on the trends and issues affecting private clubs. 

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