Subtle self-promotion

Features - Turfheads Take Over

Uneasy about openly touting your value to the bosses? Nelson Caron recommends a roundabout way. Learn how to think in terms of assets instead of grass.

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December 8, 2020

© the Ford Plantation

Self-promotion has long been a difficult task for superintendents. On the one hand, we recognize that self-promotion is necessary to create the visibility and credibility we need to get ahead. Yet, on the other hand, we don’t advocate for ourselves because we feel uncomfortable. Because we are historically so inept at self-promotion, I propose we take a different approach. Can we promote ourselves in a way that takes the grandstanding out of it?

I have a simple solution. Instead of trying to articulate how wonderful you are, focus on your golf course and how your work and staff contribute to a positive member or guest experience.

Ask yourself these questions: How does your work and how do your responsibilities help your facility reach its objectives? Taking your “self” out of self-promotion and basing the case on the work achieves two outcomes:

1. You are able to identify your value proposition and understand how your work benefits the facility and other departments.

2. You are able to advocate for the work product more comfortably than you would be simply advocating for yourself.

Here’s a self-promotion example that has worked well for me. Annually, like many clubs, our club’s board of directors turns over several positions and new members are elected. During their first month in office, the general manager hosts a “board walk-through,” which basically means touring new board members through the club’s 13 departments, making a short visit with all department heads. I found this event to be an ideal time to tactfully self-promote.

I also feel incredibly self-conscious talking about myself, so I devised a plan to let numbers and the overall scope of my responsibilities do the talking for me. I created a PowerPoint presentation that demonstrates my department’s recent achievements and major projects coming up, informs the new board on the operational and capital budgets, and introduces key personnel and explains their jobs. Most importantly, I share with them what my asset management responsibilities are as director of golf and grounds maintenance.

Asset management? Yep, that’s right. I manage assets at the club, not just an operational budget. And, it turns out, I quantitatively manage more than 60 percent of the club’s total assets — and, most likely, so do you at your facility. Whether you know it or not, as a golf course superintendent, you most likely manage well over half of the facility’s assets. Trouble is, unless you understand this yourself — and until you learn how to communicate that fact and tell the facility’s leadership this is the case — it will go unnoticed, unrecognized and, therefore, inadequately rewarded.

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I interviewed Ray Cronin, founder and chief innovator of Club Benchmarking, a company with a mission to help clubs find financial insight by using reliable club industry data and proven key performance indicators to analyze, manage and predict performance. I asked Cronin about his experience dealing with clubs and their superintendents as it pertains to asset management.

“My guess is the average superintendent doesn’t realize the implications of their asset management position,” he says. “I have seen it with my own eyes — in club after club (as a consultant). There is a massive opportunity to educate superintendents on the criticality of them understanding they don’t just manage people and grow grass — they manage millions of dollars of assets and doing so requires them to be able to communicate effectively with their committee and board.”

Reviewing my notes after the interview, I felt Cronin was preaching to the choir. I thought, “Finally, someone else actually realizes what I do for a living.” Cronin is right! We do manage millions of dollars in assets. Years ago, the first time I shared my PowerPoint slides with the board of directors, they were honestly surprised — and even shocked — that I was the individual overseeing this huge portfolio of assets.

After the first presentation went well, I refined it for future board walk-throughs. With every passing year, my reputation as a responsible business manager grew dramatically. I was awarded more responsibilities if I opted to take them on. I was now not only known for producing quality turf, I also became recognized as a responsible leader at the club due to my financial acumen.

Ironically, I didn’t really do anything differently than any other superintendent. I simply demonstrated to the club what being a superintendent really entailed. I translated my job responsibilities in terms they understood … the language of business.

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When it comes to quantifying asset management and discovering your asset management responsibilities, consider that at the average facility the largest area of capital needs is the agronomy department. In fact, the agronomy department accounts for around 45 percent of capital needs over a 20-year period. Examples of those capital needs include irrigation systems, greens, bunkers, tees and course maintenance equipment. The impact you have on the facility as a business manager and the “assets” you manage is paramount to the health of that facility.

You have heard it for years: “The golf course superintendent is the most important person on the property.” Well, I quantified it. If you’re curious about learning more about your asset management position, start with reviewing recent capital reserve studies and digest that information. If the facility doesn’t have one, tactfully ask your general manager or controller to provide you with the facility’s asset summary document. This document is basically a list of all the assets in the facility’s possession, usually organized by department. The typical document will have a description of the asset, when it was acquired, useful lifecycle, depreciation and a total value of the item. Determine all the items that you manage and add their value.

Remember, someone must manage these items no matter how big or small — and it’s probably you. The maintenance building, spare reels for the fairway mowers, tractors, the bathrooms on the course, the tools in the shop, the recycle wash pad, the furniture in your office, the satellite boxes, the pump house, the pumps in the pump house, the actual land that the architecturally designed golf course sits on and the golf course itself are all assets that need to be managed.

After completing this simple exercise, you will begin to develop an understanding of the value of the assets you manage at the facility. And that is just the beginning. You will learn a lot more if you just look.

So, who cares? You should. If you never tell leadership about the other side of the job that you perform, they will reduce your role to the guy who “just cuts grass.” Ironically, the guy who “just cuts grass” is the person with the most financial responsibility in terms of management, operations, capital and overall asset management. When you look at raw numbers, if a membership or manager is interested in the financial health of a facility, they should come talk with you, the person who manages more than 50 to 60 percent of the facility’s assets.

How does this translate to you personally? Most likely in your billfold. There is no set way, standard, or protocol in which facilities pay their superintendents. I have spoken with superintendents who are paid very traditionally and others who are compensated in more unconventional ways such as profit sharing or special fringe benefits. However, one compensation strategy that seems to be popular in explaining superintendent salaries in the private sector is the “10 percent rule.” That is, that superintendents are paid roughly 10 percent of their annual maintenance budget.

Is that rule an accurate measure of your worth to the facility? Or should the formula be more closely linked with total asset management?

Nelson Caron is director of golf and grounds maintenance at The Ford Plantation in Richmond Hill, Georgia. Follow him on Twitter @NelsonjCaron. This article initially appeared in Through the Green, the official publication of the Georgia GCSA.