Make Up Your Mind

At the risk of compelling you to sound like Ronald Reagan (“There you go again”), I’m going to weigh in on a lesson learned from yesterday’s US Open Golf Championship. I promise not to get into a discussion of the rules of golf!

There was a moment when Dustin Johnson, who was leading the tournament, had his golf ball move a tiny bit while he was preparing to putt. He notified the rules official about what had happened and the official told him that since ball moved without Johnson doing anything to cause it, there would be no penalty. At some point, other US Golf Association officials notified the on course officials that they were going to review video of the indecent and that Johnson might be facing a one stroke penalty. What ensued was chaos, and is instructive for any of us in business.

Put yourself in the position of the golfers. At the time, there were several competitors within several strokes of one another. The on-course scoreboards might no longer be accurate and every walking official had been notified that Johnson’s score might be one shot lower than the scoreboards were reporting. Do the golfers play more aggressively? More conservatively? The point is that there was uncertainty and that uncertainty might not be resolved until after the round was over when more officials could chat with Johnson.

That’s the business lesson. Putting aside the complexity of the rules, the USGA should have made a decision immediately. No golfer can compete without knowing how they stand and neither can the folks who work in your business. I’ve worked in organizations where there were rumors of layoffs and/or budget cuts. It was paralyzing. Employees were focused on their jobs and not on their work. Partners were worried about both with whom they’d be dealing and if the business could live up to commitments it had made. I’ve found people can deal with almost anything except not knowing.

There is a corollary lesson here. If the scoreboards aren’t accurate, the golfers don’t know how they stand nor how they should operate going forward. If your data is incomplete or possibly inaccurate, neither do you. We need to make decisions and we need to have accurate, complete information as we do so.  Lesson learned?

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