The Best Strategy — Play Your Own Game

It has been a long time since I have played golf. While I was not very good, I did enjoy walking the courses I would play and I always had a good time. My thoughts were drawn back to the golf course the other day as I was reading an article on crafting strategy. It talked about such things as “tackling your opponents” and “blocking your competition,” and about “beating” them and “winning.”

I suppose that the language was used because of the time of year. After all, we’ve just spent a season of football, experienced playoff and bowl games, and are crowning champions. But I think that it was also used because many business owners, CEOs, executives and managers tend to think of business in just these terms. If someone wins then someone else has to lose, and you don’t want your company to be the looser, so you have to beat the competition.

At this time of the year many organizations are, indeed, crafting their strategy for the coming year. If you are one of those, then I suggest that you do NOT take this approach! Let me explain by taking you to the golf course….

As I shared, I was never a good golfer. My drives were short, and I didn’t do well with my long irons, but I was fair with my short game and was an ok putter. I played in a couple of tournaments, coming in dead last in my very first one. But when a friend and I played a best ball tournament, we did very well indeed, playing off of each other’s strengths. But that is a story for another time.

What I wanted to share is that crafting strategy and leading your business is not like playing football, where you need to block, tackle, and kill your completion in order to win. No, your business is not like football at all, but rather more like playing golf. In golf you don’t compete directly with others, but rather, you are playing the course. Each hole has its own difficulties, obstacles, and pitfalls, all designed to challenge each player.

You don’t try to play directly with those you might be competing against in a tournament, but rather, you play your game against the course. Just because someone else might hit a screaming drive off the tee and easily clear a creek, doesn’t mean you have to. If you don’t drive long or hit long irons well, you don’t try to overshoot the obstacle, but rather, lay up and then use your strength, the short game. It is when you get sucked into doing what others are doing and play to your weaknesses that you will then surely end up losing.

The Central Element of the Seven Elements of High Performance™ is to Put People at the Center. I list the Seven Constituencies in my book, but none of them include your competitors. When you focus on your competitors you put them at the center and end up ignoring one of your most important constituents, your customers. That is simply the wrong relationship that you should be focusing on.

Competitors are like other environmental factors; they have to be taken into consideration, but only to the point of where they actually matter. When playing golf, you can’t change if it is raining or not, or if it is hot or cold; you simply adjust your approach and equipment accordingly. You can’t control these environmental factors, only adjust and adapt to them.

Keep in mind that it is often really hard to define your competitors anyway, as it isn’t just the other businesses in your industry. There are many things that compete for your customers’ attention, time, and resources, not just your direct competitors. Those things are all the environmental factors that you take into consideration. Your job is to figure out how your organization can connect and stay connected to your customers.

There is a linkage — Engaged customers come from being provided exceptional quality products and services. These products and services are created and delivered by employees. In order to have the exceptional quality in both products and services, employees must go beyond simply doing things “good enough.” They must be engaged. They must be willing to do what it takes to take care of the customer and find ways to overcome obstacles in delivering those exceptional products and services.

In order to have high levels of engaged employees, managers must create the kind of environment that will allow employees to become connected to the organization’s purpose, values and goals. The culture must allow and encourage everyone to learn what they need in order to become masters at their jobs. And as employees begin to become masters, that culture must allow them to make more and more decisions about their jobs, without blame when they make mistakes. After all, we are all human and we all make mistakes.

Knowing that an employee can take a risk to take care of a customer and that there won’t be blame and punishment comes from a foundation of trust. Employees must trust managers that they won’t abuse them or punish them when they are trying their best. And managers must have trust if they are going to allow employees to make decisions about their jobs.

These are all internal factors, and they are under your control. You can develop your organizational strengths and then play to them. You can make sure that you have the right equipment for the right environmental conditions. And then you can play your own game.   After all, you are simply playing the course using your strengths to perform the best game that you are capable of performing.

Make a Great Day!