Lessons from the Fairway

Over the past week or so, I had the privilege of preparing my two boys, Bobby (10) and Michael (8) for the USKids Golf Qualifier for NJ. As most of you know from my past posts, they have both been avid golfers since they were toddlers. Their competence far overshadows anyone in our immediate family, so I have no idea where they get it from. Nevertheless, they perform astoundingly well for their age, and the pride we have for them is beyond measure.

Even more amazing than their performance however, in the number of life lessons and “take aways” that come out of every competition they enter- not only for the players, but even more so for the parents. Although there were many personal learnings that came out of this week’s competition, there were a few that lent themselves particularly well to the discipline of performance management.

Unlike most of their tournaments which play 36 holes over two days, this particular event was restricted to only one 9 hole qualifier. While it may seem easier on the surface, this particular format leaves a lot less room for error. That is, while nearly every player in a 36 hole event has their share of ups and downs, a 9 hole event demands near perfect execution. If their game is “on”, kids that age can typically perform well for strings of 9-12 holes before having a few rough patches. Few of them can do that in a 36 hole stretch. So as we prepared, we focused and practiced on keeping the performance going for a solid 9 hole stretch, getting off to a good start, and keeping it going for the balance of the round.

When we arrived at the course on Tuesday morning, we were confronted with pretty bad weather conditions- wet and rainy. Typically, after a rain shower, the greens play much softer, requiring the player to putt a little firmer than they would normally. While, my 10 year old is a near perfect putter inside 6 feet, the rain created a problem for him right off the bat. He misread the first green (expecting it to be slower than it ended up being), and blew the putt 2 feet by the hole, leading to a double bogey. A tough way to start, requiring him to dig himself out of a very deep hole. More importantly though, that first misread, forced him to be overly “tentative” on his putts most of the day, missing 7 putts inside of 6 feet, usually by no more than a few inches. And the score showed it. Having had practice rounds of 45 and 44, he ended up with a disappointing 49 (far better than his old man could ever do, but still disappointing to him)- 😦

Naturally, as any parent would, I tried to talk him through it, putting an optimistic spin on things-showing him what he did well, and looking at areas to improve. All in all, he concluded that the day wasn’t as bad as the score suggested. In fact it was a pretty darn good day. Net of the putting problem, we might have actually broken 40, which would have been his best round ever and certainly the winning score. Of course that’s playing a little of what I call “would’a, should’a, could’a”, but at least it gave him another perspective on what could have been a really demoralizing round. Instead he walked away with one big lesson about putting strategy in inclement weather, not a retooling of his entire game.

What can this teach us about the discipline of performance management? We’ll let’s look at how organizations gauge what they need to improve and when. Just like the golfer that draws inappropriate conclusions from the overall score (the equivalent in business would be looking solely at ROI, ROA, or EPS), businesses can be seriously damaged in the same manner. You’ve got to have a good dashboard that will enable you to assess your “whole game” before you start tinkering with processes, strategies and business models. It could just be one small facet of your game that’s out of synch rather than the entire business model. In my 20 years in performance management, I’ve seen too many cases where businesses, on the advice of misinformed advisors and consultants, have retooled their business to correct problems that didn’t even exist. A good performance management dashboard can prevent such mistakes, and tell you exactly what needs work and what doesn’t.

In the case of my son, the dashboard looked pretty good. Drives were long and generally straight, and he was able to hit many greens in regulation (meaning his long and mid range game was well in tact). These are two of his main indicators on his personal performance dashboard. In cases where he didn’t hit greens in regulation (2 strokes on a par 4, and 3 on a par 5), he was able to pitch or chip the ball to within only a few yards of the hole. So his short game was very much “on”, another key item on his dashboard. In fact, when we reviewed his putting, his “line” (aim) was pretty dead accurate. The only area that didn’t work for him that day was his distance control, which on a “normal day” would have been quite good. So it wasn’t “distance control” in general that he needed to work on, but more so, how to adjust his distance control in inclement weather. To sum up, there was one very specific “thin slice” of his game that needed work. Although his round suggested he was way off the mark, his dashboard suggested otherwise. A little work on that area, and he’s back to breaking 40. Not bad for a 10 year old.

For some, the above may look like I’m just being overly optimistic spin on things- a “glass half full father”. That sure is part of it. But, in this case, the optimistic viewpoint was grounded with clear measures of performance for every aspect of his game. If you have good measures that are linked to overall performance, then you can look at the dashboard and see pretty quickly whether a positive or negative interpretation is in order. Without the dashboard, you’re really flying blind, with little if any idea of whether or not massive change is needed.

So next time you’re faced with a bad quarter of performance, try looking a little deeper at your total dashboard for the answers. In some cases, you’ll have to dive into some pretty heavy process and organizational changes. In other cases, and perhaps more often than not, it may only be a minor adjustment that puts you into the zone of performance excellence. Only your dashboard can tell you that.

-b

Author: Bob Champagne is Managing Partner of onVector Consulting Group, a privately held international management consulting organization specializing in the design and deployment of Performance Management tools, systems, and solutions. Bob has over 25 years of Performance Management experience and has consulted with hundreds of companies across numerous industries and geographies. Bob can be contacted at bob.champagne@onvectorconsulting.com

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