cog·ni·tive dis·so·nance

(n) An individual who holds two or more contradictory ideas or values at the same
time, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change

In our daily lives, there are many instances of cognitive dissonance. For example, you may love animals, and never dream of intentionally hurting an animal but you look forward to grilling a nice thick T-bone steak. While we may preach to our children to “watch their language,” there are times we as adults break down and express our frustration with a colorful dialogue of four letter words.

Private clubs across the country are also experiencing instances where their own attitudes and goals have been working against each other. Multiple policies and procedures that are contradictory to what the club portrays as their desired goals are barriers to accomplish those goals.

One club in the New Jersey area was experiencing their own challenge with this conflict. It was evident their lack of understanding of what drives and influences the modern day family, was leading to decreasing membership sales and increased attrition as current members explored alternative ways to spend their leisure income. A membership audit and analysis revealed that nearly 55% of the club’s entire membership was over the age of 65 and only 7% were under the age of 40. In addition, a recent satisfaction survey presented a common theme throughout: this private club needed a ‘shot of youth’ and, quite frankly, a significant number of them.

It was evident that many members shared these philosophical views, consistent with those views shared by the club’s leadership. However, the club’s policies and procedures, which had been formulated more than 50 years ago, were grossly inconsistent with the attitudes and goals of attracting younger families. A lack of behavior and attitudes consistent with the modern family, such as rules against certain clothing; participation on the board or committees; or not allowing new members to sponsor new members during their first year of membership, were inconsistent with the attitudes and behavior of younger families.

Numerous examples can be found and consistently enforced within club bylaws that we review and analyze on a daily basis. In multiple newsletters and club websites, instances of dress code violations are commonly addressed. Specific references such as wearing yoga pants while having a couple of drinks in the bar, wearing a hat inside the clubhouse and not tucking in a shirt while on the golf course find their way into club communications. While a certain level of decorum is expected and requires enforcement, many of these rigid policies reflect out of date, and antiquated rules that are counterintuitive to actually becoming relevant and desirable to younger members and their families.

This does not mean that societal values and customs have deteriorated, rather quite the opposite. Work places have become more casual and dining establishments have evolved to reflect a more casual, inviting environment which appeals to a younger demographic.

Another example that is inconsistent with the desire to attract younger families is a common provision that does not allow Junior or Intermediate members a right to vote on club issues, whether committee elections, membership policies or capital projects. If you do not allow a ‘seat at the table’ for younger members to become involved in the decision making process, that will greatly impact the club’s future, it will be difficult to move the club in anything but a less than relevant and progressive direction.

When thinking about some of the examples referenced herein, what outcomes and goals did these clubs desire? They spoke openly about their desire to provide a more family-friendly membership experience to attract more members, especially young families in and around their local community. But their actions were inconsistent with their beliefs and attitudes.

Private clubs share a common thread in that each club features their own distinctive set of traditions, customs and habits that have been established over time. However, it is possible to enact change while still honoring and respecting a club’s past.  Maybe it is time to not just ‘think outside the box,’ but it is time to get rid of the box altogether.

Don’t be afraid to reevaluate your decision making process in comparison to the short and long-term goals of your club. The world outside the private club industry is moving at light speed and, consequently, the club leadership needs to up their game in not being contradictory in their actions to their goals.

Change, when managed properly, means survival in today’s club environment.