On the Front Lines

Military approach takes Sioux Falls FSC from bankruptcy to Club Excellence.

By Mimi McKinnis

Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.

Known as The OODA loop, this four-step approach to decision-making focuses on “filtering available information, putting it in context and quickly making the most appropriate decision while also understanding that changes can be made as more data becomes available.” And while it was originally developed and implemented at the operational level of military campaigns by Air Force Colonel John Boyd, club president Tom Stengrim used this approach to take the Sioux Falls FSC from the verge of bankruptcy two years ago to receiving one of U.S. Figure Skating’s awards for Club Excellence in 2022.

“We approached the rebranding and reestablishment of our club in 2020 using the OODA Loop Method I learned in the military,” Stengrim said. “We gathered all the key stakeholders, defined clear achievable objectives, developed a strategy and took action to meet our defined objectives. We have continued to wash, rinse and repeat this process to continually improve the club. The U.S. Figure Skating Club Self Assessment provided us with a great tool to use in driving this process.”

When Stengrim took on the role of President, the South Dakota-based club’s assessment responses fell into the “fair/poor” category in a whopping 80 questions, with only 15 notching an “excellent/good.” That’s when the organization, with Stengrim at the helm, got to work.

“We used this breakdown of each specific area of our club and started to implement the changes to ‘get well,’” Stengrim said.

When they took the assessment again in 2021, the club had already improved to 52 in the “excellent/good” category and just 38 in “fair/poor.”

“This dramatic improvement did not happen by accident; it was a team effort,” Stengrim said. “We have now established good business practices to give the board a candid understanding of what we need to measure and to improve and adjust as necessary. The success of a club is not a one-time event, but a continual improvement process that is never fully completed. As a club we have adopted the use of this Self Assessment Tool as a standard to start off each new year.”

The club was dealing with its share of struggles prior to the start of Stengrim’s tenure in 2020. As he put it, the organization was “operating on an unsustainable business model with many dissatisfied members.” So, when COVID-19 forced them to cease operations entirely, the Sioux Falls FSC was forced into a breaking point. And with 80 responses deemed “fair/poor,” there was plenty of hard work and difficult conversations to be had.

“We had no shortage of opportunities to redesign and grow,” Stengrim said. “Starting with a new club mission statement and logo, we have opened the lines of communication to promote standards of excellence and the expectations of our brand. At our business core we want to provide a superior customer experience within a sustainable business model. We also started measuring our customer satisfaction and have included that as a part of the compensation package for the members of our club operations team. The biggest compliment a business can receive is when a satisfied club member tells their friends they should join. Creating a winning culture takes time, effort and is the most important thing a club can do.”

Now, with an impressive 93 responses ranking “excellent/good” and just 3 in the “fair/poor” category, Sioux Falls is well on its way to upholding its mission to provide opportunities and instruction for skaters of all ages and abilities, encouraging their passion for ice sports and empowering them to reach their goals. As the club continues to grow and reassess, Stengrim has his eyes on a bigger goal.

“Our vision is to be known as the best skating club in the Midwest region,” he said. “We will accomplish this by providing a superior customer experience through a winning culture that skaters want to be a part of.”

“The future growth of the club depends on continuing to listen to our members, adapting to the changing market conditions, and following the sound business practices that we have established. Most importantly – identify, hire and train our replacements to keep our club thriving for the next 25 years.”