As I reflect on my most recent learning experiences—specifically when I attended the 2017 Club Managers Association of America National Student Educational Conference in Washington, D.C.—I am reminded about how many private clubs must continue to develop, maintain, and communicate their culture to participants both inside and outside of the organization.
Defining private club culture
Culture within organizations can be defined as a system of shared assumptions, values, and beliefs which regulate acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. Cultures are not automatically developed or created—they are formed by an intense focus on expected and acceptable norms and behaviors that have emerged over time. An organization’s culture is nurtured and shaped by the ability of its participants to be recognized, heard, and celebrated. For example, a country club’s culture may dictate how participants and staff dress, act, or perform their jobs.
Unlike casual theme restaurant groups who suggest that a culture exists within the parent organization and claim it is further defined through the different concepts or themes offered, each private club, regardless of club type, establishes its own distinctive culture. In the case of private clubs, the culture is easily identifiable and unique, and is influenced dramatically by the club type, membership demographics, types of memberships and services offered, employees, primary reason or purpose of its foundation, and systems of governance. In turn, the strength of the culture may self-regulate unacceptable behaviors that might contradict a club’s values through its participants.
How clubs can leverage their culture
It is difficult, but not impossible, to predict cultural behaviors when groups—including members, leaders, management, and employees—are not fully aware of how their personal values align with one another and with the club. Organizations, like private clubs, often attempt to measure values through surveys and observations. These tools are used in an effort to identify and build upon cultural norms exhibited around the club.
Once values have been identified and defined, there are three impacts culture can have on a club:
- Member attraction and retention
- Employee attraction and retention
- Attraction and retention of member-sponsored events and activities
When recruitment and retention programs are designed and implemented around a shared value system, they are highly effective and sustainable. The challenge in private clubs is that the cultures in most locations span a number of decades. Rather than being an obstacle, this challenge should be viewed as an opportunity for development.