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Don’t enter your next employment agreement unprepared. Here are a dozen keys to better negotiate your next contract.

January 23, 2017

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As the New Year begins, it is time to look at your employment agreement with your employer. Like so many things, it is important to develop a plan and a strategy to make things happen that will benefit both you and your employer.

1. Know what your employer values most. For some employers, it may be as simple as keeping the golf course in great condition. While that is the goal at most facilities, there may be other things that have great value as well. Those could include lowering insurance premiums, an accident-free workplace, environmental initiatives, staying within budget and cost reductions. When you understand the things your employer values most, then you can develop a strategy to provide those things with potential bonuses or salary increases.

2. Knowledge is power. Understand the overall financial position of the facility you work at. This is public information for those working for cities and park districts. But if you dig deep, you will find out if your facility is profitable and determine how you played into that happening.

3. Knowing what your fellow superintendents make in a similar facility will give you leverage. Use the GCSAA compensation and benefits survey and it’s always best to do your own survey in your area of similar clubs and responsibilities. A word of caution is to be sure you interpret the statistics to your advantage. All too often I hear clubs say that they are willing to pay the average for a superintendent yet they want their course to be a “10.” If your golf course is considered to be maintained as one of the best around, then it is logical that compensation should be in the upper 10th percentile.

If your golf course is considered to be maintained as one of the best around, then it is logical that compensation should be in the upper 10th percentile.”

4. For those who are certified, you can use that to your advantage in that data shows certified superintendents are compensated at a higher level. It can mean as much as $10,000 or more per year in compensation when certified by GCSAA. For those who are not certified, think about negotiating a higher salary when attaining certification or possibly a bonus. Salary increases are preferable because that is ongoing as compared to a onetime bonus. There are other certifications that can be achieved through Audubon, GEO, Irrigation Association, etc.

5. Many superintendents continue to expand their education and actually attain advanced degrees. Whether it is an associate degree, a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree, this puts you in a better position to negotiate for greater compensation. Be sure to set it as a goal with your employer and ask for consideration for evaluation for additional compensation. Ideally your employer will support your desire to improve with both financial support for your class costs but also in the form of compensation with your increased value to the facility.

6. For those who work for non-profit businesses, such as private clubs, you will find a certain website quite valuable in finding the proper information to know what your fellow management team professionals earn. www.guidestar.com offers insight into the top earners at a facility via tax returns from previous years. This is also a good tool for people taking a new job to know what the club management compensation has been over the last few years. When asked what the top pay a superintendent can expect, I usually say that it would be highly unlikely for the superintendent to be compensated at a greater level than the general manager. However, the gap between what a superintendent makes and his ultimate earning potential will become clearer when all the cards are laid out on the table.

7. At some point it may be easier to negotiate benefits rather than compensation. Too many people concentrate on money and overlook benefits … many of which are not taxable as income. While working in Chicago, I was told that my employer had a tight year financially and would be unable to give me a raise. My response was that I understood but perhaps the club would consider more vacation time for me. I went from four weeks of vacation to eight weeks of vacation and that lasted for another 18 years. Some people have negotiated use of club facilities for their families, housing, vehicles, whole life insurance, family insurance coverage, etc.

8. A club member once told me that the golf course superintendent used to have a nice suntan because he saw him out on the golf course all the time. Recently the superintendent was pale and not so visible out on the golf course. Much of the superintendent’s time is now spent at the desk handling HR, personnel and payroll. There is no time better than the present to negotiate for having at least a part-time office assistant to take care of these tasks so supers can go back to being on the golf course and getting that tan.

9. Timing is everything in negotiating. There are some times of the year that are better than others to negotiate so consider doing it when your course is in its best condition. This could be during the winter in Florida and at the beginning of the summer in Cleveland. Few value what the superintendent does when the golf course has a foot of snow covering it.

10. In recent years, the value of job security is right at the top of the list for superintendents in their golden years. More important than money may be knowing you have a job and benefits until you can get on Medicare, Social Security or a pension plan. This may include flat compensation in the final years or even development of a deferred compensation plan. Plan your later years wisely and in the final five to 10 years know that job security tends to be the highest priority for golf course superintendents.

11. For those looking at retirement in the short term, don’t take anything for granted. It is best to develop a timeline that will work for you and the facility. This can be done gracefully, but it is sad to see disastrous ends to wonderful careers. Because you only have one chance to do this right, it is best to rely on career counselors that can walk you through the steps.

12. I saved the best for the last of these tips. Remember that if you “Don’t Ask You Don’t Get.” Negotiations should be well thought out and planned in advance. Develop a strategy to prioritize items that will be good for you and good for you employer.

All too often I hear superintendents complaining they are not compensated properly or they don’t have an adequate budget or resources. As problem solvers, we need to figure out a proper strategy to make things happen. Develop a realistic set of goals for yourself and your facility. As your golf course progresses, so should you. Most employers are looking for a superintendent who can take their property to the next level.

Can you take on more responsibility at your property? Some not only manage the golf course but also tennis facilities, swimming pools, skating, curling, paddle tennis, HOA grounds, building engineering, security and wastewater treatment. The more you manage, the greater your value to the facility. Each year I see more of our peers taking on positions of director of golf and also general manager. Consider this a part of your negotiation.

Timing is everything in negotiating. There are some times of the year that are better than others to negotiate so consider doing it when your course is in its best condition.”

Pictures are worth a thousand words and prepare a “Year in Review” for your annual review in advance of your negotiation. Before and after shots validate the many things that may be taken for granted. Everyone notices when things are not right on the golf course. Having documentation of successes will position you in a positive light.

Set your goals for the upcoming year and agree upon them with your board or management. Be sure they are achievable. If it takes greater resources, then negotiate that as well.

For those with contracts, be sure that it is balanced and fair. A contract should protect both the employee and employer. For employers reluctant to give a contract, a simple letter of agreement can suffice. Key terms would be term of the contract and how and when it is renewed. My suggestion is that a contract should be three to five years in length with an automatic rollover a year out if no notice is given by either party to not renew the contract. Timing of that should be at a time when your golf course is in its best condition historically.

For those individuals desiring more in-depth training on negotiating, it is fully covered in a seminar that Tommy Witt and I put on annually and at various chapters each year. Nothing is more rewarding than having someone come up to me at the GIS and tell me that the lessons learned from that seminar ended up in improving their situation.

If all attempts fail to improve your situation, you might come to the realization that it is time to move on and perhaps time to improve your skill set. Moving on to another job is not failure. It is merely a stepping stone for you to learn more and advance your career.

Bruce Williams is GCI’s senior contributing editor.