Understanding policies to improve performance

By Paul Vardy (Club Support Manager, Golf Australia)

One of the best captains I ever worked with had a standard question whenever an issue or concern was brought to his attention: “What’s the policy?”.   

This simple question was his way of clarifying whether the issue at hand was a board issue or an operational issue.   He understood clearly the framework by which he, as a board member, was operating.   It has the impact of making everyone’s role clearer, too.

A recent Golf Australia review of 435 reports from the club health check found that 35% of clubs reviewed policies every year, 20% every two years, 19% every three years and 25% said they never reviewed policies.

As part of a board’s stewardship responsibilities, policies should be reviewed on an ongoing basis. Policy setting demonstrates to all stakeholders that the board is operating in a consistent and professional manner.

Policy is simply an agreed basis for action ahead of time.  Boards and managers can’t be at the club at all times, yet responsibilities rest on their shoulders at all times.   When a board focusses on highlevel policies and getting these right, it can reduce risk and affect many issues with far less effort. Management, staff and in many cases volunteers, can get on with the maximum range of decision making in order to achieve the board’s ends. 

“25% said they never reviewed policies”

Policy setting is very much aligned with a board’s responsibilities of monitoring.  A key principle of good governance is that a board should only monitor against pre-established criteria. 

In establishing a criteria for what it wants achieved a board avoids ad hoc monitoring by individual board members and the unfairness of shifting goalposts that is the cause of much anguish in clubs. The board policies create the criteria by which the GM reports and the board monitors and evaluates. 

There are different types of policies.   In setting clear instructions about what is to be achieved, an executive limitations policy sets out for the GM what can and cannot be done in the process. 

An example may be that any purchasing above $5,000 must be approved by the board. 

Other policies provide clarity on the club’s operations such as on the course with how often greens are to be mown and the various cutting heights of grass.

The board may set a whole series of policies that are binding on members and these are typically by-laws.  As long as they don’t contradict the club’s constitution, by-laws can be changed by the board for communication to members at any time. 

Typical by-laws relate to items such as; dress, access to the course and practice areas, use of carts, visitors, payment of fees, extreme weather and competition divisions.

Policies can serve the purpose of keeping the club and its board out of trouble.  These may include policies related to environmental, workplace safety, privacy and one that has come into much greater focus, a member protection that covers child protection, discrimination, bullying and complaints handling.

So, regular review of policies is a great way for boards to fulfil their stewardship role, reduce risks in and improve the performance of the club.

GMA Corporate Partners