How to Transform Performance Reviews into Professional Development

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How do you revamp your performance management system into one that drives ownership, performance improvements, and an entrepreneurial spirit? We sat down with Robbie Ames, General Manager and COO of Sea Pines Country Club, a private club in Hilton Head, South Carolina, to discover how he made use of the GROW® Model to radically transform performance reviews.

It starts with a strong focus on personal and professional development.

What has really been great for me and my team is that I am trying to encourage everybody to develop themselves. So I’m always trying to preparing and mentor them to take the next step. While there are always individuals who say, “I really like it here and I’m really good where I am,” you usually have the tier just below the department head—the number 2—who are saying, “hey, I want to become the golf professional or head chef someday.” But I am also working with the department heads to inspire them to want more, too.

One of the goals that I set with each person is personal. You normally would think performance, these are business goals. But always for me, one of them always needs to be personal because of that wonderful dilemma we all live in called work/life balance. If I know you are taking care of yourself at home, then I know you can be taking care of yourself on the job and therefore our members, too.

If you are burnt out because you have no work/life balance it may look more like “what do you want for dinner?!” rather than “welcome to our country club, how can I help you tonight?”

We use the GROW Model at Sea Pines Country Club to really have those conversations about: what’s the Goal, let’s talk about the Reality, what are the Options, and then, more importantly, what’s the Way Forward?

Our financial leaders just finished doing performance reviews and the reviews for performance bonuses. In determining those, they looked at the 4 or 5 goals that we agreed to, and how they worked out. Where did you excel, where did you fall short? And now how do we move forward so that you can continue to grow? That’s how we make what could be a rigid, difficult conversation into a productive coaching conversation.New call-to-action

Robbie exemplifies leading by example—and a powerful coaching mindset.

I hold performance reviews for the department heads and then from there they use whatever model works for their teams. As I’ve gotten my feet wet using the GROW Model over the past two years, this is a perfect time for me to get re-focused and figure out how do I take the GROW Model and empower those department heads to use it?

Fortunately, department heads modeled their teams’ goals after the goals they set for themselves with Robbie—so the team goals are already structured to fit with the GROW Model. They use steps and criteria that will adapt well to a GROW conversation.

The transformation to a culture of coaching and professional development has been gradual, but one realization sparked a significant culture shift.

I realized that there was one segment that we were missing in our culture. No matter whether you’re in a private club business or a Fortune 500 company, we all have these “silos” and if the silos work better together, then the team works better, and then the entire entity does better. We had our own organizational silos and our solution was to articulate our core values. It’s not your mission, branding, or vision statement. The core values are strictly for the team of employees. Over the course of eight weeks and eight different sessions, we’ve come up with our core values.

We started implementing them at the department-head level. You may be saying: “hang on, isn’t it for the whole team?” And, yes, it is for the whole team but I needed my leadership team to build it first. So I facilitated and we came up with all the ideas and now we’ve streamlined it into four core values. Our next step now is to present it to the remaining employees to say: “This is what we’ve done; this is what we think. Do you believe in this? Do you buy into it? Does this resonate with you? Can you live and breathe and speak this language?”

Let me show you!

The top says: “At Sea Pines Country Club we pursue perfection every day and on the days we fall short, we land on excellence.” That was my vision for where I wanted the club to go. But I can’t do that by myself, so you need to have the team buy into it. So the team came up with the four main headings:

  • Communicate.
  • Be a family.
  • Do the right thing.
  • Serve our members, serve each other.

Robbie’s efforts to redefine his organization’s core values illustrate an important concept: maximizing performance isn’t just for high performers—or for underachievers. Coaching takes organizations and individuals from “good” to “great.”

When I started out this process I got a nice big flip chart and put the word “team” in the middle of it and said: “we’re a good team, but how do we become a great team?” Immediately two different department heads simultaneously said, “we need to communicate better, we just don’t do that very well.” And so from there, there was just a free-flow of ideas that popped out and I let them really bubble it up what was on their mind and where are we not connecting? I looked for trends and for specific examples of where our silos weren’t communicating.

We also wanted to be a family. We end up spending more time at the club than we do with our real families—I’m sure everyone feels the same way sometimes. We wanted to make sure that it doesn’t really matter if you’re the general manager or the dishwasher—we all want to live by these values so that we can always hold everyone accountable and be true to our word.

One of our value descriptions includes the phrase, “we SayDoCo: Say what you’re going to do, do what you’re going to say, communicate when you can’t.” My team had never heard this before, but they really liked it. I said “good, but can you actually live it?” If everyone fully understands what the expectation is coming in, then my intent is to make it better.

Speaking of SayDoCo, Robbie is also developing a process to hold people accountable to the results of their GROW conversations. Interestingly, it may result in…another GROW conversation.

The key is getting everyone’s buy-in to the set of core values where you know what is expected. Therefore, if you’re going to do what you’re going to say and you can’t do it or you haven’t been able to meet that level that was expected—as the expectations are very clear—then let’s talk about it.

And then that “talking about it” becomes a GROW conversation.

“Tell me what happened. Tell me why it didn’t work out. What’s the reality? And so what options do we have and how do we go forward?” I haven’t had too many opportunities to have that conversation, but when you do, the GROW Model is the perfect model to do it with. I always have it in the back of my mind when I need to have that conversation.New call-to-action

Robbie’s team is more cohesive and better connected since implementing GROW as a primary performance review tool. But their main goal is to keep people connected to the big picture.

In having conversations, we’ve seen our department heads just stay more focused on the big picture instead of getting bogged down in the day-to-day fires or day-to-day operations. Using GROW to know what your goal is and using GROW to get there just helps keep the big picture in mind.

Sometimes we get wrapped up in the actual day-to-day activities that we’re doing, we forget. We think: I’ve got 25 emails and 5 voicemails and by the time I do that it’s 11 o’clock and before I finish that I’ve got 5 more emails and then it’s lunch and I haven’t actually done anything. This is because we’re always reacting. The key for us to become better is to ask: how do you become proactive while keeping that big picture in mind?

When our financial year ended, one of our financial heads came to me and put their head down because they realized that they had failed miserably on one of their items. They said that they got so busy and wrapped up in the day-to-day that they had lost sight of the big goal.

Our next step is to take GROW and to give it to everybody and say now you have to use this with your team and how do you keep everybody focused on what the big goal is.


About Robbie Ames

Robbie Ames is the General Manager and COO of Sea Pines Country Club, a private country club in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The club caters to roughly 1553 members with 18 holes of golf, a tennis facility, and a fitness facility. The club has roughly 70 employees, with 8 department heads, each in charge of a team. Robbie has worked with Sea Pines Country Club for more than 2 years.

He was introduced to the GROW Model by its co-creator Alan Fine while on the PGA tour with his brother Stephen Ames. He has since magnified the GROW Model, putting it to use on and off the golf course.


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