Labor continues to be a struggle for golf courses. We make plenty of excuses about why we can’t find and retain good help. The reasons I hear most often are:

  • We can’t pay a competitive wage
  • The work is too hard
  • People can’t or won’t work well with others
  • And my favorite: Millennials don’t want to work.

We need to own this reality: The real reasons why people either decline work or quit after a short tenure are at least partly your fault because you failed to set clear goals and share the objectives of the organization. We do a lot of hiring and firing in this business, so it’s only human nature to become immune to the fallout and shy away from the time investment needed to create a culture. But it is essential, and the responsibility resides with you as a leader, which is different from being a manager. And if you do this well, you’ll not only retain more staff, but you’ll also have a better golf course and probably work fewer hours, too.

First, let’s stop bashing the next generation. You can’t lump 79 million people together and still be taken seriously. Yes, many millennials have yet to develop a work ethic that will make them a productive asset to society. Some never will. Is that any different from your generation?

What I’ve found is that millennials can be industrious and driven toward a well-defined goal. Have you done your job as a leader to define and articulate your goals? This idea has little to do with a job board. Defining a day’s task is the detail behind the commitment that you’ve made to make the best golf course possible. You are committed for a host of reasons. Your team requires the same level of commitment to be successful, and it’s your job to engage them. This must be repeated and documented.

Let’s talk about pay. Unskilled laborers have more options than ever because of the litany of service economy jobs out there. Even McDonald’s pays better in some markets. Let’s say you are at a $1 disadvantage for your market, and that’s your excuse for not being able to find good help. What you are really saying is that you are unable to create a more interesting, educational and fulfilling work experience than McDonald’s. That is not something I would be willing to admit to. It’s possible that some people solely consider the money. But it’s more likely that they will prioritize job satisfaction over a negligible difference in pay. People want a sense of purpose and the reinforcement of team. You can outcompete your competitive set with the culture that you create.

You and your crew are on the same journey toward the same goal. If everyone is rowing in the same direction, then you will have a stronger team, a better golf course and less unnecessary stress in your management duties. You are an important leader for your property. How seriously do you take it?

I’ve been reading a host of management books lately, and I’ve had the opportunity to see a couple motivational and business management speakers as well. My favorite was Robyn Benincasa at the Snow and Ice Management Symposium. If you think you have an unrealistic task in creating a culture with laborers, consider guys who push snow all day and night long. You have it made.

Benincasa is a former endurance racer with an incredible personal story about overcoming adversity. But her most impactful lesson is how to create selfless, goal-driven teams. My favorite themes from her talk:

  • Commitment starts when the fun stops.
  • Pain is mandatory; suffering is optional.

I’ll continue to discuss ideas to help build better crews in the coming months. In the meantime, send me your ideas or best practices on how you create your maintenance vision and how you convey that vision to your team. We’re going to share ideas that get the best people working for us, and we’re going to keep them.