I believe most golf course superintendents would agree that personnel management is the most challenging aspect of their job. Regardless of facility type, we all have employees and the number of employees you have on your staff is probably the exact number of varying personalities you must deal with on a daily basis. During our careers, we have all worked and managed in varying situations; using these situations, we develop our personnel management philosophy.
My experiences have led me to the belief that all employees want three things,
(1) to know their input carries weight,
(2) to have consistency from their superiors/managers, and
(3) to have fun. In eight years as a superintendent, my management teams and I have never felt the need to give rah-rah speeches, never had significant issues with employee tardiness, and have always had low employee turnover. As a manager, I truly believe if you are able to fulfill these three key tenants, you will cultivate a highly motivated and hard-working staff.
No matter the size of your facility, you require a number of employees to help manage the golf course. During their work hours, most of them spend a great deal of time thinking about what they are doing and are quite likely to come up with some good ideas. Fostering an atmosphere in which employees are encouraged to come forward with ideas will help to motivate and stimulate employees. Think of a time when you brought an idea to your boss, had it implemented, and ultimately made an impact on the operation. It made you feel good and it will not only make your employees feel good, but it will also encourage them to think critically while they are on the golf course.
Consequently, when employees do not feel encouraged to bring forth ideas, they are quite likely to feel less stimulated and carry lower motivation towards their work. When I started at Hazeltine, I inherited a full-time and seasonal staff of long-time employees. A transition can be a difficult time for employees and I wanted them to know I valued their input and understand what they learned during their time working at Hazeltine.
One of the first messages I told our employees was that I want to know what they think about the operation. What do you like? What don’t you like? What have you done before that worked well? What have you done before that maybe didn’t work so well? From day one, this empowered our employees by letting them know they were going to have input. I continue to reiterate this message today, not just in word, but also in action.
In my first year as a superintendent, I experienced a situation that opened my eyes to the need for managerial consistency. That season we had three employees who were all roommates; they were first-time golf course employees and they were excellent.
Early in the summer, I had an of couple days in which the pressure is a new superintendent led to me losing my temper in front of some of our new employees. Later that week, the three employees met with our assistant superintendent and asked him the best way to quit. They enjoyed the work and wanted to continue, but didn’t want to work for someone who was so unpredictable. I talked with the employees and they ended up staying, but it made me realize I needed to consider how my temperament impacted my employees.
I have worked very hard on my temperament since that first year. While it is not always easy, remaining calm when the situation calls for anything but will quickly earn you the respect of your employees.
Our employees deserve to know what they can expect from their leaders each and every day. Imagine as an employee, you come in 15 minutes early every day and sit with your fellow co-workers enjoying a cup of coffee. Sometime during that 15 minutes, the boss shows up. Does their presence change the enjoyment of your cup of coffee? Does everyone scatter from the break room because they don’t want to run across a boss who didn’t get enough sleep? What is the mindset of an employee who starts their day in this manner? An employee who knows what to expect from you each and every day is going to be a better performing employee than one who is always walking on eggshells hoping to not cross the boss.
There are likely all sorts of reasons those of us in the industry started working on a golf course. However, the reason we have continued working in the industry probably comes down to one factor: fun! Making sure your employees enjoy what they are doing is a sure-fire way to ensure those employees stay motivated and perform at the highest level. My best memories of working on a golf course have always revolved around having fun. I was at my best when I was enjoying my work. Last season our Invitation was plagued by heavy rain, causing our bunkers to wash out. We spent the morning fixing the greenside bunkers but waited until the evening to finish the fairway bunkers. I remember standing in the middle of a bunker, in the dark, barefoot and ankle deep in water; the bugs were awful and we were all tired. At that time, anybody could have been forgiven for having a poor attitude, yet no one did. We were all out there together, enjoying each other’s company and having fun. A miserable situation became tolerable because we were having a good time. Don’t take yourself or what we do for a living too seriously. We are preparing a playing field for a game of recreation; this should be fun! Don’t be afraid to have fun and be sure to let your employees do the same.
I really believe the secret to a highly-motivated and high-performing team is as simple as these three things. As a leader, working hard to abide by these three tenants will make your job easier and much more enjoyable.