by Dale Petrie
You’ve seen it before. The director of golf or tennis or your head of food and beverage at your club is a big personality. He or she heads up the staff with a theatrical voice and a power persona. But when do they go beyond that? When does a department head not only run “front of house”, but take the role to a new extreme. And, when taken to a new extreme, what are the reasons for doing do? Yes, the show must not just go on – it’s always on, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. But the show should not replace the backstage: the behind the scenes work that allows the stage to shine.
Just as they called Phineas Barnum either a a great showman or a con artist, we can sometimes ask the same of a club department head at times. They may have a great show, but the talent behind the curtain and doors is questionable.
I call it: The Big Ham. In a way, it’s true – a department head is a maestro. He or she is conducting a staff, managing the crowds and creating the play sheet, and at busy times, running a circus. But what often happens, is that the acting takes the lead role, and the management of the department falls to the side and wanes in the final act.
The Show Goes On…and On…and On…
Through the leading role, the actress or actor gains the hearts and minds of his or her audience and has a long run in the theatre. So, too may the sports director or your club’s maitre d gain the love of the members. Through making them feel welcome by providing a great show, they gain that special trust. Their stage could be the golf or tennis shop, the restaurant or bar, the courts or the driving range.
It’s a frequently used strategy to longevity for a club professional, but in the end prohibits a department from truly being “best-in-class.” Often the act either takes over the true requisites of the original position. Or, the “haminess” hides the truth; the weaknesses of the administrator. It’s for these two reasons The Big Ham is often a role created to retain an opportunity not truly suited for the candidate and lessens the overall experience at the club.
The Ego Takes Over
I’ve seen it many times where the act and the ego attached to the act is used to cover up the administrator’s weaknesses. The first hints of this occurring are an observed lack in care of the management of staff. Staffing and day-to-day management of staff requires a passion. That passion is diluted by the desire to be front-of-house and ignore staff needs. As the actor, in this case the director of a department (no pun intended), feels the security of the stage created and the role portrayed, all the while he or she neglects the day-to-day business and the behind-the-scenes work.
The Big Ham can be “created” by the employee with that employee’s conscious desire, or without knowledge of what he or she is actually doing. But either way, The Big Ham is a form of insecurity. That insecurity can either be that the employee believes that he or she is not capable of the job in their own belief, or the fact that they are indeed not capable and use front of house as an escape, consciously or not. Whichever of these two, the result is the same and that result is a weak department head or an employee without the passion to serve members in full and manage administrative tasks to a “best-in-class” level.
The major issue The Big Ham creates is that it provides job longevity for a sub-par manager. The strong personality and the show created for equity members elongates the stay of the employee. The show acts as buffer between the equity members and the management team that realizes the lack of management skills and the weaknesses behind the curtains, in this instance, the doors. The frustration between senior management and the department head grows and further damages the private club’s offerings to its members.
Dale Petrie is one of BeyondTheBaselines.com most loved correspondents. His views of the private members club industry are truly global as he was educated in France, lives in England but travels extensively through his native America working closely with our partner clubs.