BWEC2 – the five roles of a facility manager…

Business manager, Welcomer, Entrepreneur, Caretaker and Community connector – how to ensure that you perform all these roles brilliantly and get the balance right

(Please read this even if your club does not practise your sport in your own facility. These issues affect you anyway and who knows, you may be running your facility sooner than you think – it’s called asset transfer).

There is increasing focus on how we ensure our sports and community facilities are vibrant, visible and viable hubs for our clubs and communities. Any loss-making public facility is under scrutiny and any sports club with its own facility will be feeling the pinch from declining bar sales and increasing energy costs.

So there is simply no room for complacency and ‘the way we do things around here.’ On my travels around the UK and also my native Denmark I do come across far too many club houses and leisure centres which are simply not being used to a fraction of their potential whilst managers and people involved know all these reasons why all the ideas I put to them ‘would not work here’ or ‘I would never get permission to do that’.

At the same time I go to leisure centres and sports clubs in similar locations where there is a wonderful atmosphere and the place is packed and generating a surplus.

Here are some ideas and advice of how you can maximise the benefits from your facility. Based on observations from a recent workshop I ran last week for the Danish Institute of Leisure Centre Managers I developed these five roles, which you have to perform to your best of your ability:

Role One: Business Manager

Your facility is an enterprise, a business and you have to run it as such. Peter Drucker, the management guru states that “a business exists to attract, serve and retain customers at a profit”.
You have to demonstrate that you are adding value and that you bring leadership and business skills to your job.

Can you calculate your membership retention rate? (Do you know it?) Are you familiar with the 8 steps to change or the concept and thinking behind social enterprises? Would you be able to give a compelling Powerpoint presentation to 25 potential sponsors/partners? Of course you can do all this and more; how else would you be able to really drive your job forward and take charge?

Unfortunately I have come across too many managers of club houses and leisure centres who simply do not know their business well enough. They tell me they are ‘really busy’ without being able to provide even the simplest numbers to support their statement.

I have also come across tennis clubs with 22 senior members per court and one with 70+ senior members per court. The latter seemed to cope very well, so why can’t all tennis clubs follow their lead, grow their numbers and become more sustainable?

So, as a Business Manager your role is to ensure that you are maximising return from your facility in order to generate enough income to ensure that you can afford its maintenance and upkeep.

Role Two: Welcomer

Remember, you are in the Experience Industry, competing for people’s leisure time and spend. You, your coaches/instructors and the rest of your team must focus on providing the best sporting and customer experiences possible and remember: we are all different, so what you think is a great experience, may not be the same to a 26 year old recreational player or a 42 year old ‘returner’.

Help newcomers ease into the place, so the initial ‘like-first-day-at-school’ nerves disappear and they become advocates. Your best marketing tool is a customer who has just had a great experience at your club/centre.

The person who walks in through your doors for the first time has made a huge decision. Make sure somebody always meets and greets newcomers and then stay in contact with that person as a buddy until he/she has settled in.

Being welcoming is not about specific skills. It’s about developing a culture, a movement throughout the facility where the emphasis is on making everybody feel comfortable, regardless of ability, gender, size or background. And trust me: people working/volunteering in welcoming facilities have more fun!

So your role is to help develop this welcoming culture and to motivate and manage people, regardless whether they are paid or volunteers so they feel it is simply just a natural thing to help everybody feel welcome. Help them to feel good about smiling and provide great customer experiences.

So why not ask a few people who have never been in contact with your sports club or leisure centre and have never been there to give you an objective view of how ‘welcoming’ they feel you are. Of course, if you are happy with the status quo and just being for your members and don’t want all these new people in your facility, I am terribly sorry I bothered you.

Role Three: Entrepreneur

“A ship is safe in a harbour, but that’s not what ships are for,” William Shedd, US Theologian, 1820-94

Now is not the time to sit in your closed office and ‘be safe.’ Now is the time to look for, develop and exploit initiatives which can attract new people, help ensure that existing users are really enjoying their time at your facility and that you are generating income.

You do not have to re-invent the wheel and come up with something completely original, although you are, of course, welcome to. Why not simply scan the horizon for what works elsewhere, see whether you could run a similar event at your facility (possibly linking up with other groups – see role five Community Connector) and then give it a go!

You may be operating in a risk-averse environment where the Victor Meldrews – thinkalikes object to anything and everything that’s new and different.

The key here is to emphasise that if they do not like change – then they will really hate irrelevance or even oblivion! Sorry, it has to be said!

A sports entrepreneur takes a good idea and makes it better. Go out there; visit at least six exciting sports enterprises every year to see how they do it. Here is what you may find:
Doggy Walk, Panto, Kids Relay, Corporate Sport (first thing in the morning before work), Friday Night Sport (cheaper and healthier than going to the pub!), Mother’s Day Sport and Lunch, Gran/Granddad and Grand kid sport, DoggyTennis, DoggyCricket etc, WalkingFootball, WalkingCricket etc. (for 60+), Halloween All Nighter, Birthday Parties,MidnightWalk, Football Golf, LearningWalking (with iPods, linking up with your local college)…the list of opportunities goes on and on.

As you will see from the list above there are plenty of current, successful initiatives, which you can copy and paste. Don’t try and do more than two new initiatives at a time.
Learning organisations keep innovating and learn more from their failures than their successes.

Innovation and enterprise is messy, risky, a pain, requires hard work and a bit of luck, but without it you will die.

Role Four: Caretaker

“Amazing how we take things for granted until they are challenged: e.g. it is not possible to see our tennis courts on entering the village sports grounds and we do not have any sign indicating that they are there!” Feedback from delegate at recent SMN Grow Your Club workshop.

As a caretaker your role is to keep internal and external areas clean, tidy and free from rubbish and also carry out minor items of maintenance to communal areas. It is so easy not to notice the broken down lawnmower which has been standing there for ages, the torn posters, and all the rubbish in that cupboard etc.

Yes, I do appreciate all the work that goes intof maintaining equipment, looking after playing fields and making sure that the facility meets the standards required by various authorities, and as importantly, by the customers.

If the first impression people get when they approach and enter your facility is one of neglect, apathy and even filth, many will simply not want to be there.

I hate to say this but on my travels I experience too many facilities, whether run by staff or by volunteers, where the caretaker role is close to non-existent. And every time I hear tales of woe as the facility inevitably does not attract enough users to make it viable.

Somebody has to take charge of providing excellent caretaking otherwise you will never have a sustainable facility. It may not be the most glamorous job in the world to ensure that the toilets are clean, but trust me if they are not, your facility will struggle!

Role Five: Community Connector

Your role as a Community Connector evolves from your role as the person who helps your facility to become that Hub for the Community.
it involves linking up with everything and everybody around you, such as
local residents associations/groups (Faith, hobby, youth, arts, unions, school, health, activity, etc.)
local institutions (Schools, parks, libraries, police, health, businesses etc.)

As a connector you must have a natural curiosity about people. Questions are asked and a conversation spontaneously takes off. Community partners are created and mutual interests are met that directly involve and benefit residents. Sometimes bridge building is needed and a connector is the contractor initiating its construction, relationship by relationship.

A connector values relationship and rely on people around them for information. Through these observations a connector sees natural synergies in neighbourhoods based on the gifts of its residents and the capacities of its institutions. A connector’s primary role is to ignite that action and then let residents and community organizations imagine, create, and build based on their gifts and capacities.

Our communities are the foundation of our civic, social, and economic lives. The ommunity is also the source of creative change and innovation. As globalization and digital technology spreads information (and our attention) far and wide, a connector gathers people to reflect on their local lives. In this reflection community is strengthened, local opportunity emerges, and sustainable change ensues powered by active human relations and capacity.

If you become that connector your leisure centre and/or sports club will become that hub for the community and you will have a long, fulfilling and sustainable future.

These are not all the answers nor are they the only answers, but I am convinced that if these roles are carried out well and in a good balance they are essential if you want to ensure the long-term future.

I do appreciate that undertaking all of the above may represent too big task so depending on your involvement you may way to have team where you each perform the role you are best suited to (Personally, I would probably be a great entrepreneur, but my wife can confirm that my caretaking skills are sadly lacking).

Don’t be to be a victim: Keep learning, take control, be creative, follow up and keep focusing on developing the best BWEC2 possible.

If you want to discuss your specific challenges and opportunities to make your facility vibrant, visible and viable, please do get in touch.
Svend Elkjaer

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