Board and Management Performance in a Crisis

Governance Takes the Lead

Published Thursday, September 17, 2020
by Richard Kopplin, Kurt D. Kuebler, CCM & Thomas B. Wallace III, CCM, CCE, ECM

Most clubs will survive this COVID-19 crisis. Many will struggle for years, but other clubs will thrive and become stronger and more important than ever to their members. Where will your club land on the other side of this pandemic?

Strong club boards and management are moving fast to oversee the implementation or development of crisis management and health protocols. Clubs have swiftly moved to virtual board meetings, longer board terms and updated bylaws to allow online voting. Club governance for many, as prompted by the pandemic, is evolving to become more effective, innovative and nimble, including vast improvements in the most important communication channels between the GM/COO and the president, between the GM/COO and the full board, and between the president and the board.

Club leadership communications to all stakeholders have improved during this crisis as frequent and transparent communication has never been more important. From a governance standpoint, some clubs find value in holding daily or weekly board or COVID-19 Health and Safety Committee calls. A regular cadence connecting the leadership of the club during a crisis is required because, when done right, communication alleviates stress, serves as an outlet for new ideas, and enhances information flow without overburdening executive teams and boards.

Clubs also have increased surveying in order to gain a better understanding of how members would be comfortable using the club and how club staff would be most comfortable serving members. The surveying has allowed opportunity to recalibrate operations by reviewing policies and service offerings to adapt to new ways of doing business where safety is the overarching goal.


GM/COOs and their leadership teams are under tremendous pressure, and the board will see which executive leaders rise to meet new challenges and inspire confidence—and which do not. Boards and GM/COOs will take note of what this crisis reveals about the management team and, as importantly, what it says about the strength of the team going forward. Directors are tested in new ways. This pandemic will reveal the strength of the board’s roster. Identifying what was missing from the board and team, as well as the behaviors and leadership qualities that were displayed or missing will cultivate a succession plan where crisis management becomes a box to be checked.

The current situation requires that club leadership includes voices of reason, an attention to details others may overlook, and a laser focus on member engagement and touchpoints of safety. During this crisis, a club has the unique opportunity to sharpen their understanding of who their volunteer and paid leaders truly are, and how they should adjust both short- and long-term composition.

The line between the roles of boards and management has usually been clearly defined but frequently crossed in the club world. In a crisis, boards and GM/COOs should stick steadfastly to best practices in order to be among the highest functioning clubs. The board’s role to remain a support to management in the right way, at the right time, without trying to manage the club is especially vital during a crisis. The most impactful role the board can play is to ask the right questions and to test the GM/COOs assumptions, while being careful to frame this challenge with appreciation for and encouragement of a hard-pressed management team. Presidents who understand how to find the right balance between giving advice and asking questions, even when tensions are high, will lead a more effective board and club in the present and future.


Setting short- and long-term goals for all club constituencies including committees and operational teams in the past largely involved club and member wants and, rarely, needs. These wants and needs are often driven by hidden personal agendas and perceived majority demand. This inefficiency that some- times plagues club boards occur when they don’t stay strategic and advisory. When facing a crisis, goals are only relevant if they are strategic and advisory so that room for operational excellence exists. It is when clubs are most vulnerable, that an efficient governance model with strategic goal setting becomes paramount to success to rise above the crisis.


Training and education have always been important parts of the club industry, from service to governance, and they have to be ongoing and culturized. During this pandemic, education has become an urgent need, with club boards, committees and management flocking to virtual education sessions put on by associations like the National Club Association (NCA). With an unbelievable thirst for information about working through this pandemic, NCA has gained what we hope will remain a loyal following of club members that see the power and expertise that will lead to further interest in education sessions on best practices, governance and so much more.

Local club “presidents councils” have also begun to form with the assistance of regional GM/COOs as a way for regional club presidents to share ideas and data not only about COVID-19, but everything affecting clubs: water issues, labor challenges, programming and amenities, just to name a few. Gathering to network and share creates a culture of education and data versus misinformation, micromanagement and emotional decision making. This prioritization on education and new ways to access it is another positive result of managing through a crisis.


GM/COOs are reminding boards of their duty to be stewards for the club. A stewardship attitude takes the focus off the individuals and, instead, focuses attention on the collective and overall mission of the club’s existence. It is critical that clubs articulate, define and stimulate a stewardship attitude throughout their governance, so that club boards and GM/COOs can approach their work in synergy. A club’s governance model and the training around it can also profoundly impact the board’s and the GM/COO’s ability to create and maintain stewardship ways of thinking and behaviors. Neither strong core values, nor strong governance, are enough to sustain the mindset of stewardship within the club; however, together they provide us with a focus on the mission, while creating fulfilling and enduring clubs.

Highly effective boards and GM/COOs are making preparation for a new way of doing business. The pandemic has fundamentally shifted club operations and will permanently impact the industry’s strategic direction. Boards and GM/COOs will need to contend with how to adapt to a new environment and what these changes mean for legacy activities and even cultural behavior that may have been long protected or assumed. Consider which aspects of the club should remain the same, which will briefly change, and which have been permanently disrupted—including member behaviors, member expectations, supply chains and operating models. Club leadership should ensure that management establishes mechanisms that capture enduring lessons from this crisis to help make the club better going forward.

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