Communication is a science – a golf course industry

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Among the many topics that superintendents focus on in preparing to care for and maintain the agronomic health of a golf course, communications is probably not a top priority. One reason is that bosses are not naturally stupid people; many would prefer the results of their efforts to speak for them.

But when it comes to informing key stakeholders, reticence and retirement are not characteristics you want applied to you. Reserved and tight-lipped superiors can damage trust in them and undermine trust through no fault of their own. Communications should not be missed. And the best way to check all the right communication boxes is to plan. Like Yogi Berra once noted, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up somewhere else.”

To make sure you don’t end up somewhere other than your intended destination, here are three important communication-focused considerations.

1. Who is your primary audience?

Your communication responsibilities start with your team. Most team members want to do great work; the best take as much pride in their work as you do. But they need guidance, which starts with clear and consistent communication. Conditions and priorities change and are often beyond your control. And crew members can become disillusioned if what they thought was the plan turns out to be no longer the case. You keep morale and performance high when you explain exactly how their work affects them and reinforce your appreciation for their contributions. In addition to your team members, your communications should recognize other functional areas within your club or course. These teammates can be your first line of support if you keep them informed and explain the issues and how you are dealing with them.

Owners, managers and board members want to know that you have complete control over the course and its condition. It is the main asset of the facility and any change in its quality – real or perceived – has a significant effect on the business. Get ahead of their questions and uninformed conclusions with proactive communications that lower the temperature while helping them manage costs and forecasts.

Your customers are a third key audience segment. They want to know three things that relate to you and your work: What changes are planned for the course? What quality of course conditions should we expect on a regular basis? How do you plan to address challenges such as flooding and grounds repairs and projects such as aerification and irrigation repairs?

2. What do you need to communicate to each audience segment?

The most important message a superintendent can send and maintain continuously is “I get this.” Communicate your timeline, tasks and methods well in advance of the season and provide updates throughout the season. Your strategy with any stakeholder group should be to anticipate their questions and concerns and stay on the attack through continuous communications. Relying on communication tactics to play defense on controversial topics is not a comfortable position.

Club leaders want a superintendent who is proactive, punctual and steadfast. Use a variety of media and techniques—email, websites, focus groups, field days—to get the word out that you’re the right person for the job.

3. How do you improve communication?

Developing your communications plan takes place in the relative calm of the off-season and relies on the following points of focus:

  • Identify your audience segments: Crew, Facility Managers, Ownership/Board/Management.
  • Identify and prepare primary and secondary messages for each audience segment.
  • Determine the method of communication and the frequency with which each audience will be reached.
  • Look for those who can help develop, design and distribute content that is the backbone of your communications plan if these areas are not personal strengths. Remember that a key part of how your messages are received is based on the professionalism of their delivery.

Finally, think of your plan as existing in wet cement that never fully dries. Monitor its effectiveness by asking stakeholders how a particular message was received: did it answer your questions? How could it be more valuable to you? Then make corrections and revisions mid-course. Remember, a revised plan is better than no plan at all.

Henry De Lozier is a partner at GGA Partners, Trusted Advisors and Thought Leaders. He is currently Chairman of the Board of Directors of Audubon International.

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