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Who’s Your Innovator?

If you’re to succeed in driving change at your club, you need a champion of innovation – the person who makes things happen. But what if that person doesn’t exist? GGA’s Bennett DeLozier advises on what an innovator looks like, and how to move forward if you don’t have one.

The Importance of Innovation as a Change Catalyst

Last fall GGA reported its preliminary findings from a survey of roughly 400 club managers who were asked to weigh in on the topic of innovation. Feedback from participants, all of whom are members of CMAA, placed emphasis on two key themes: first, that innovation is crucial for the future of club management and, second, that clubs need to improve when it comes to innovation.

Despite overwhelming majority agreement on the importance of innovation, a closer look at survey findings shows a stark contrast between theory and practice.

Research revealed that even managers who believe innovation is essential to the long-term success of their clubs do not regard themselves as particularly innovative. They believe the club industry lags behind other sectors when it comes to change. They say they would like to catch up in the areas of marketing, communications, technology, food & beverage, and strategy, but report they are hampered by resource constraints, cultural opposition, and a lack of effective infrastructure. Even many clubs that do prioritize and pursue innovation are operating without a deliberate strategy.

To translate ingenuity into business strategy, managers believe that a broader cultural endorsement is needed within their clubs to support, enable, and nurture innovation. However, affecting cultural change from the top down, with reliable bottom-up support, is no easy task.

Queue “the innovator”: the champion of change, the person who can make things happen by putting theory into practice to achieve positive outcomes. Who might this person be and what does their skillset look like?

And, importantly, what do we do if we can’t find them?

The Mark of the Innovator

To be effective in driving change requires tremendous leadership, so our innovator must first have the character of a leader. This is a person who also possesses the uncanny ability to see unseen opportunity, the right balance of knowledge and charisma, an adeptness at bringing people together to work toward a common goal, and an aptitude for putting plans into action and getting the job done.

This person is a synthesis of four key archetypes:

1. The Visionary – A person with the ability to discover opportunities and inspire others to pursue them. One who can see the possibility in a given context and hone in on the most important insights in order to identify unmet needs and valuable problems to solve. They develop meaningful solutions to address significant club problems. Further, they have the capability to explain the nuances of the value proposition, and can motivate key decisionmakers to agree that an innovation initiative is worth pursuing.

2. The Collaborator – A person who can manage change by stimulating effective teamwork and bringing cohesion to the group. A charismatic and daring leader, this person can encourage action through trial-and-error by creating an environment that is conducive to change and views failure as a necessary and educational part of the innovative process. They are a skilled networker and an effective communicator who can muster the necessary resources to get the job done while keeping everyone on the same page.

3. The Thinker – A person who is a natural learner with a deep curiosity about any ideas, products, technologies, concepts, or approaches which could increase the chances that their undertaking will succeed. This individual is willing to explore opportunities as they present themselves, continually pursues new ideas and quickly integrates learnings from multiple sources of information.

4. The Executor – A person with the ability to ensure that rubber meets the road. One who can make quick decisions amidst uncertainty while maintaining realistic progress towards the targeted goal. This individual can translate ideas into an achievable sequence of activities and is often the first to shake things up and challenge the status quo. They can persevere through setbacks and readily adapt plans to new conditions, variables, or requirements.

Help Wanted: Club Innovator

Armed with an understanding of the traits which drive the most successful innovators, club leaders can begin to seek out their champion of change.

Where will they find “the innovator”? Do they exist?

Naturally, it may be tempting for clubs that are hoping to deliver on important initiatives to seek out a talented individual with a track record of high-performance and success. However, it is exceedingly rare that one person will possess the full range of skills needed to innovate successfully. Innovation requires skills and mindsets that are often underdeveloped even among the highest performers.

Rather, clubs should reframe their search for “the innovator” from an individual to a team. A carefully constructed and well-balanced team that brings together the various innovative traits and personalities can compensate for the rarity of a “true innovator”.

Innovating for the Future

Adopting a team-based approach to innovation will increase the likelihood of sourcing the necessary talent, as well as the likelihood that innovation initiatives will succeed.

Returning to the survey findings, the top three challenges which club managers say inhibit, deter, or prevent innovation are: (1) resource constraints such as budget time, space, people; (2) social or cultural opposition to change or new ideas; and (3) lack of structured innovation processes or procedures. These deterrents are often bigger than any one individual’s performance capabilities, and reinforce the need for an innovator group.

The top three ingredients which managers identify as important for innovation are: (1) the right culture to foster and support innovation; (2) a willingness to change norms and take risks; and (3) strong visionary business leadership. These elements add up to a culture of strategic thinking. This type of club culture encourages new ideas, supports experimentation, solicits group input, and is characterized by undaunted, resourceful leadership who are willing to take calculated risks with the support of others.

Understanding the traits of the innovator and the need for teams to have a balanced composition of these traits can help clubs become better and faster innovators. By identifying and encouraging people within the club who possess these skills, then steering them into supervisory roles where they can put these skills to work and also learn from each other, clubs can begin to build an academy of innovation leaders who will continue to drive positive change into the future.

This article was authored by GGA Manager Bennett DeLozier.

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