Management and Mini-Golf

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I’ve never been much of a golfer.   I remember my dad telling me he wished he had played more golf.  So a few years ago when I drove past a mini-golf course on the way to pick up him from summer camp, I decided I was going to surprise my son with a quick 18 holes. 

As we were in line to get our clubs, I watched him access which of the three courses he wanted to play.   We debated the ball color we each wanted, picked our clubs and headed off to the first hole.  As we approached the hole, we heard what seemed to be an explosion and saw a flame shoot up out of a man-made volcano.  My son jumped and then smiled from ear to ear, anticipating the next burst of flames with the excitement every 7 year old enjoys.  He carefully placed his ball down on the pad, looked at the hole, and then drew his putter back, and back, and back.  He hit the ball with the vigor of Phil Mickleson at a t-box in Augusta.  The ball went sailing past the water hazard, past the dragon blowing smoke and landed in a bush beside a small pond by hole number three.  He looked at me and said “your turn”. 

It dawned on me that we had never really talked about putting.  I gave him a club, without discussing the rules, the way to hold the club or the mechanics of putting and just assumed he would know what to do.  I just let him go.  How many times have we as managers done the same thing with our employees?  We give them the tools to do the job, tell them the basic rules they need to follow and then let them manage on their own.  They may have the club we give them, but they have no earthly idea how to swing it. 

Employees want to succeed.  Very few people start a job thinking about failing.  They want to meet expectations and move up within the organization.  However if as managers we don’t explain what our expectations are, what they need to do with the tools we give them, we are setting them up for failure.  They are going to hit the ball the way they always have, the way their old boss liked them to, rather than how we want them to. 

So how do we change that behavior?  There are three tips I give my clients to help them with this transition:

  1. Clearly state your expectations.   The employees need to understand what they need to do and where the boundaries lie.
  2. Provide coaching to your employees.  Help them make the right choices and correct them when they miss-step.
  3. Hold your employees accountable for their actions.  If they don’t adjust their behavior with the coaching you provide, it is time to put them into a progressive discipline model:  Awareness counseling, verbal warnings, written warnings, and termination. 

My dad always told me golf wasn’t about how hard you hit the ball, but how steady you were when you hit it.  That is true with management too.  Employee management isn’t about getting a bigger hammer to persuade your employees to do what they need to do.  It is about the “long game”.  The steady, consistent communication and coaching that enables the employees to hit the ball with finesse.