Strategic Planning: An Essential Element of the Board-Manager Partnership

Shot of a group of colleagues having a meeting at a cafe
Shot of a group of colleagues having a meeting at a cafe

Boards of directors at private clubs are often criticized for micro-management. Whatever the definition of that may be, they clearly spend a lot of their time on operational issues instead of the types of high-level strategic challenges that constitute “governance”. Club managers are regularly criticized, and often dismissed, because the board feels they are not providing the operational leadership the club needs, whether that be in building a great staff, delivering on the promise of member satisfaction or achieving desired financial outcomes. 

This experience flies in the face of what most volunteer leaders or hard working executives want. Busy people give up precious free-time in hopes of making the club better for other people. Club managers are some of the hardest working people in hospitality. They are wired to please others and they loathe dissatisfaction. So, why are these well-intentioned groups at odds with one another? 

The missing link is often the development and maintenance of a Strategic Plan. Without the  overall guidance and documentation of the high-level tasks the board should address, it is all too easy to get drawn into the little things like food cost or why Jimmy or Suzy is or isn’t the type of server we need in the dining room. It’s more difficult to look ahead five years and make a commitment to a higher purpose. As to management, without the grounding of a strategic framework, it is impossible to develop an effective operational plan. There is little else to do but run from fire to fire to address what each director and committee moves to the top of an ever-changing priority list.

Strategic Planning is not an esoteric function of large corporations. It provides the context for the way in which the organization behaves and allocates resources. McMahon’s Strategic Plan Refresher program is 

a great way for clubs that have a strategic plan to validate and inject 

new into its initiatives, and for those without a plan, it jump-starts the strategic management process. The Refresher will identify the major initiatives that are the domain of the volunteer leaders and provide the clarity management requires to build an effective operating plan. 

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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. 

More articles by Frank Vain