Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Realistic Expectations,Job Satisfaction, and Operational Standards: A perfect trio

This post was a result of my observations over the last 24 months.  It is a response to my fear that the golf industry will lose many professional and hard working individuals in the near future.  This loss, which will cost the industry billions of dollars, is almost imminent   Think replacements can be hired at no increased cost?  Good Luck!  There is plenty of information out there.  This commentary I believe is pertinent to any industry that has "pretended" not to take operational resources away from a department.  I say pretend because we seem to be in denial that todays dollar is the same as yesterdays.  If we are not increasing budgets, at a minimum, to the percent increase in the cost of goods which supply that operation, then reducing operational standards equally must follow.  For failure to increase a budget, by a minimum of a well thought out percentage, is reducing it.  

Operating to an unobtainable standard is disheartening.  Job satisfaction seems to moderate to low at best.  The common attitude seems to mirror a beat dog.  But what is striking is thats guys love what they do! They live for their jobs, they love the people, the nature, the challenge!!  These are good hardworking people that are simply disillusioned.  They once believed they could do a good job, but now it is failure after failure. It is not they they are failing at any given task in front of them, its more of an existential failure. A perceived failure against foggy and unclear goals. Usually people keep goals vague to avoid failure, but this is an example of ensuring it. The failure is primarily as a result of not being able to meet expectations

So it seems that there exists a disconnect between resources and expectations. As resources have flatlined, expectations have stayed the same. We could do a better job outlining standards and that would alleviate much undue suffering.  I believe operational standards would improve job satisfaction, help prioritize labor and capital, improve communication, and clarify expectations.

Expectations, as they seem to me, are predictions regarding a future experience.  They seem complicated and possibly influenced by motivations derived from an individuals personality, past experiences, and fantasies of future experiences.  I was reading about expectations and came across something really interesting.  "Expectations are premeditated resentments," repeats John A. Johnson PhD in Psychology Today.  Wow, I never saw expectations in such a damaging light until I read that.  I am not sure what to do with that just yet, I'm kinda processing it.

The struggle with some of the golf industry today interesting to me.  Obviously, I say some, because not all clubs or courses are in the process of finding their identity, there are many clubs that for a variety of reasons are doing well and I feel that is due much to the successful management of expectations and a clear vision of what they are and what they are not.  The struggle  as it pertains to the others is that they are living beyond their means.

How did we end up this way? Modern golf facilities are tied tightly to a very historic model. Instead of honestly examining what society wants from us, we stuck to a model that was built during a different era and served a different purpose. Unless we want to try and reinstitute some of those old networking and local business loyalties, we may want to reconsider our function and model ourselves to align with it.

Not too long ago, we experienced something amazing in the golf world, posh facilities for the middle class. For the first time in human history, could the working class have the experience that was once left for only the wealthiest and well-to-do in communities. Country clubs became accessible to people of most socio-economic cultures.  Much of that due to a booming real estate and development market that was positioning itself for catastrophe, but thats a whole other conversation. Anyhow..........

Country clubs were popping up like starbucks, and everyone was jamming.  Flower Beds, grand structures, lavish locker rooms, high end food and drink, man...things were good.  We had money to spend and we could write off dues.  Then, with the passing of the Clinton tax bill, that changed, but all was ok, a majority was making enough money that this wasn't going to affect much just yet.

March 10, 2008 the Dow Jones drops 20%, things changed.  In the aftermath of the boom, we were left reeling.  Many dropped their club memberships, some changed the membership status.  Whatever the case "do more with less" became the favorite saying at club board meetings.  Not sure they could afford club dues and feeling pressure, some seemed to look for reasons to be dissatisfied, others noticed diminished amenities or perks that they once enjoyed but now went without due to a reduction in club membership.

Those that were left holding the tab at the club table seemed to have been told that dues would stay the same and nothing would change.  We seemed frozen by fear that telling the truth would result in losing what members remained.  What seems self evident is that a facility cannot function on less revenue and perform to the same standard.  I am not suggesting that people are not "justified" in the disappointment of missed expectations.  I think that is part of being human.  The part that I think is missing is the contraction that would organically take place if nature were to take over.  If we were to build these places again, would they be as complicated and expensive?  To really consider what this would mean, I think looking at how clubs became what they are today is important to understand what the need to become tomorrow.  What certain clubs will become in the future may be different from what they were, this means eliminations or reductions of certain services and the addition of others.

Lets consider a brief history........A group of people get together, they decide they want to play golf, how much it will cost and if they are willing to pay for that privilege.  Farm land purchased, usually near the train, with a house to change clothes, awesome.  Maybe then we need a person to clean the house, tend to things a bit, all in favor?  Great.  Next we decide it would be nice to have lemonade on the porch after, we may need electricity....another vote.  My point is, clubs became, what people were willing to divide up and pay for, not a build it and see, it was indeed, pure creation.

Fast forward and we have a perception of what the country clubs are.  What clubs are, is not based so much on what we want them to be to us as much as what they have historically been.  When what people want or use the club for changes, for reasons that could be a series of blogs and meditations, there has to be a contraction of sorts.  Resources pooled and decided on what they will be used to provide next.  We have to prioritize and focus on what is of the most value and let go to some extent on those things that are of little value and importance.  When budgets flatline and the cost of goods and labor increases something has to give and are we having those difficult discussions of what operationally needs to change?  And by change, I mean go away or reduce.

Why is change so difficult for us?  The difficulty lies in the execution of the cessation of an amenity.  People are loss adversed, which means that we would rather not lose, than to acquire the equivalent gain.  The emotional cost associated with lost is much greater than the gain of equal amounts.  The taking of things away, even menu items, really freaks people out and all types of catastrophes are imagined.  Take for example facilities where fine dining is the attempt by the food and beverage department.  In order to provide the service associated with fine dining, food minimums were put in place to ensure the revenue was sufficient.  Food and Beverage minimums are contentious subjects at many meetings, yet facilities didn't seem to want to take the necessary steps to eliminate or reduce the minimums, you see, the minimums are only necessary to provide a "type" of service.  Any perceived reduction in service would be viewed as a loss, even though the reality may be a better experience overall.  The corner gas station does an ok job feeding people and getting them a cold drink and you don't have to spend a certain amount if you want to get gas.

The real trick to job satisfaction then would seem to include the creation of realistic expectations.  I've read many mission statements that include ridiculousness such as "consistently exceeding customer or member expectations."  That seems to be pure rubbish and is only meant to deflate hard working individuals.  Its no wonder that some feel dejected and unappreciated, they can't possibly be considered a high performer without sacrificing their personal life by working oneself to death.  One cannot exceed expectations without creating through the process a new higher standard, especially when you have a reoccurring customer as in our industry.  To exceed expectations every time is just not possible because the expectations will increase beyond what we are capable of doing.  One doesn't walk away from a great experience expecting less next time, it just doesn't work that way.

If we care about our employees and want healthy working environments, we are left with the question of how to encourage realistic expectations.  I believe establishing written operational standards that are based on fact is one of the greatest ways to help achieve these expectations.  Lets take the grounds department as an example.

Cutting labor, chemicals, capital expenditures, overtime, these things all impact the product that a golf course superintendent can consistently provide.  Establishing operational standards that are based on the current resources that are realistic and include things like the difficult labor market, are essential to raising job satisfaction scores in golf.  The labor market is tough, turnover is high.  High turnover means more training hours and money, less productivity and efficiency.  What your labor dollar provided yesterday is not today.  Knowing how often you can mow rough with the given equipment of a certain age is important so that when you receive 5 inches of rain in five days, and the directive is no overtime, all involved understand and can feel good that they are doing the best they can with what they have to work with.

There are some essential things to keep in mind when creating standards.  When considering standards we have to be realistic regarding labor.  Labor is never 100% efficient and the work is not carried out in the most productive manner.  People stop to talk to other people, they get distracted, they make mistakes and have to go back to a previous task.  Putting a manger in a position to treat people like slaves because the expectation is that labor will perform at 100% all the time is unfair.  Maintenance standards are achieved by tasks carried out by human beings and they need to be allowed to behave like humans if realistic expectations are the goal.   Wages also need to be considered.  Labor purchased at $8.50 an hour is not the same as labor at $17.00 an hour.  If you can't afford high quality conscientious labor, throw the ball washers away......actually, never mind just throw the damn ball washers away.

Written standards aid in equipment assessment 
It is also important to understand your equipment situation when writing standards.  If the bunker raking machine is breaking down for four hours for ever hour it is running, well you may not be able to get them done four times per week.  To this point, writing standards can help in making capital purchase decisions and also considering things like intermediate rough cuts or out of play areas.  The working environment can also be addressed in these documents.  Unless the facility janitor visits the maintenance buildings, then time to make a clean healthy working environment needs to be allotted.  The environment that people work out of can affect their mood and motivation.  Clean, well lit areas are often overlooked in the grounds departments.

Written operational standards establish priorities and remove guesswork that goes along with having hundreds of tasks that are associated with almost any operation.  To that end and now speaking to the frustrated overworked individual.....if not for your decision makers, do this for yourself, so that you can go home at the end of a working day...not at night, at the end of a typical workday and feel good that you are doing the best you can with the resources given and go home....and enjoy your family and friends.  We go around this rock on time, and your family and friends will be the ones who miss you the most.

Do less with less, or more with more, more with less is a fairytale,


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