"Empowerment" with Jeff Kiddie from Aronimink GC

July 4, 2011

This past week, the PGA Tour was at Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania for the AT&T National. Jeff Kiddie is the Head Professional at the storied Donald Ross layout, which has played host to it's fair share of events including the 1962 PGA Championship, 1977 U.S. Amateur Championship, 1997 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship, and the 2003 Senior PGA Championship. Nick Watney earned the victory, but when all is said and done and the tents, bleachers, and ropes are removed, it's back to daily operations for Jeff and his staff. Mr. Kiddie, the 2011 National Merchandiser of the Year (Private), offers us some great perspective on his views of workplace empowerment and how it all adds up to a well-oiled golf operation designed to service their members and guests, as well as provide staff with educational learning opportunities so they can be ready for what lies ahead in their careers.

What is "empowerment" to you?

To me "empowerment" is handing over the reins for a given task or job. It's giving an individual the ability to make their own decisions, solve problems and be responsible for what they are doing.

Were you empowered when you were an assistant professional? How so? How has the empowerment you experienced impacted you today?

I was definitely "empowered" as an assistant professional. I worked for Jim Mrva at Monroe Golf Club and in my first year or so of working for him I definitely was not too empowered. Now that I look back on it, I'm sure I wasn't very ready to be trusted with any major responsibilities, I needed to learn. This is very much Jim's style, he’s a very hands on professional even still today. I think that's why he has been so successful developing young assistants because he is so involved on a daily basis. However, after a getting comfortable with Jim's systems and style, I was definitely given more rope. By the end of my tenure with Jim, I thought I had been given a fair amount of responsibility. It was a great stepping stone in my career.

When I went to work for Charley Raudenbush at Pine Valley Golf Club, I felt as though I was given much more responsibility and less looks from over the shoulder. I think it came at a good time in my career too. I was more confident in my abilities and was ready to be more empowered. The assistant professionals at Pine Valley were almost made to feel like they were running the golf operation. We were very involved in the buying process for a very successful retail operation, we ran almost all aspects of the tournament operations and handled a good share of the reservation processes. Charley really only stepped in when he saw something that he didn't like or if he thought something could be better. He truly made us feel like we were "empowered".

How do you empower your staff? What are any unique practices you utilize to empower them?

I think I am definitely a blend between my two former employers. I think it's because my staffs are a blend of their staffs. Jim often times has an assistants that are younger and in need of his training, while Charley generally gets assistants that are further along in their careers where Pine Valley will be their final stop before a head pro job. My staffs have been some of both. I have had the real solid assistant that came with good training and I have also had the younger professional pretty new to the business and not too far removed from college. I have also had assistants that would fall somewhere in the middle too. They all need to be treated and empowered differently.

Like many other professionals, I assign specific responsibilities to each assistant. My lead assistant not only is entrusted with some of the most important tasks, but I also rely on this position to be a leader to the other assistants. I make it clear to him/her they are in charge and that I am relying on them to lead both when I am there and especially when I am not. I want them paying attention to all aspects of the golf operation just as they would have to do in their own job. The other positions are handled on a case by case basis. If a less experienced assistant needs to be guided for a while before I trust to truly empower them with their tasks, we'll do just that. However, if they prove quickly that they can do things the way we expect them to be done, I will start empowering them a bit more.

I don't know if I do anything particularly unique. I think that might be a better question for my staff.

Can you explain, in your opinion, why empowerment is so important when creating a learning environment for assistant professionals that fosters their growth?

Empowering assistants isn't important to creating a learning environment for an assistant professional, it's critical! It's probably the most important tool in preparing an assistant for his/her own job. First of all, it builds confidence. If somebody can do something well from start to finish without being guided throughout, it will only build one's confidence to do it again and maybe add more of their own touches to it the next time as well. Also, when empowered to do something for the first time, an assistant usually makes some kind of mistake and if they are anything like me, they usually learn the most from making mistake. If an assistant is never empowered to do something, they may never get the chance to make a mistake. This takes us back to one of the main components of "empowerment", problem solving. Learning how to solve problems after making a mistake might be one of the best lessons an assistant can learn before he/she gets a head professional job.

What negative effects do you perceive as happening if empowerment does not exist in a golf operation?

I think the most negative effect that any operation, not just a golf operation, will feel when employees are not given the feeling of empowerment, is a lack of team atmosphere. The employees will just start to feel as though they are puppets or robots, always doing what they are told. They will feel as though their input is insignificant and not relevant.

Also, I think the golf operation could get stale. We are always trying to come up with new ideas for our operation and if I was the only one coming up with ideas, it would be a short list. I rely on my staff for their creativity and past experiences to help make our operation better and without empowerment you may never get these ideas out of these individuals.