2016 will be my tenth year as a golf course superintendent. In that time, I have had the good fortune to lead a large number of varied employees at two very different facilities. I have had the privilege to work with assistants and other long-term employees who have helped create an enjoyable culture within our operation. There are many reasons this positive culture exists, but I believe the most important of these is consistency. More than anything I believe employees in any business want, make that demand, consistency from their leaders. How do they demand it? They demand it by performing best when consistency exists and by performing poorly, or simply walking out the door when it does not.
Morning Coffee and Lunch Break
Consistency within an operation must begin with the daily flow. Employees who come to work knowing the flow of their day will generally be consistent, are going to be happier, more engaged and generally perform better. As a leader, you may have noticed the routine your employees have in the morning is naturally consistent. You have your early arrivals, your paper readers, the person who makes the coffee, the person who takes a nap and of course the person who always seems to be rolling in as the morning meeting begins. What happens when this routine is broken? More than likely your people feel a little off and the day doesn’t go quite as planned. Think about what it was like when you were an employee waiting for your morning task; you had your routine and you felt better when it wasn’t disrupted. Be wary of interfering with the morning routine of your staff. You yourself might have slept poorly or heard a negative comment regarding something on the golf course, don’t take it out on your staff by disrupting their routine. Don’t make your arrival at work a reason for your staff to feel their routine will be disrupted.
The same goes for your team’s lunch break. This is an important time for them. They eat, they rest and they socialize with their friends. It is their time to re-energize for the rest of the day. As a leader, you should treat these gathering periods as sacred time belonging to your employees. If you are going to be a part of their time, then do so on their terms; keep things light and don’t burden this period with work items, especially criticism or critique. There are better times and places to handle those conversations.
End of the Day Consistency
Consistency at the end of the day is of the utmost importance in our industry. Athletes play their game to a clock. They are able to meter their level of exertion based on the knowledge that when the buzzer or whistle goes, the game is over. Our industry is different, we have no clock and we can’t always say with certainty when the day will end. Still, your employees anticipate the end of their day, they meter their exertion based on a general quitting time. Even the best and most dedicated employees are anticipating the end of the day. Believe it or not, our employees have lives and they like to live them when the day is done. Employees whose day does not contain some level of consistency will, in time, become less focused on the results of their work and more focused on just getting done.
When I was punching the clock on a golf course crew, nothing ruined my day like finishing a task, cleaning up, returning to the shop thinking about heading home and hearing “you want to work a couple more hours?” The phrase was always uttered with the intonation of a question, but as a dedicated employee, I knew it was anything but. All plans for after work went out the window and my mood sank as well. As leaders, we need to do our best to provide consistency at the end of the workday. No doubt there are times when the end of a workday must be undefined. Things come up, tasks need to be completed sooner than we thought, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be a consistent way of dealing with such things. This coming season, as our team prepares to host the Ryder Cup matches, we will have many days in which the end of the day is anything but consistent. While this is an unavoidable situation, it doesn’t mean our leadership team can’t come up with a manner to consistently deal with such inconsistencies. If an employee knows that this week they will have an inconsistent quitting time, but next week they will be done at 3pm, then consistency has been created and your employees will appreciate you for it.
The end of the day should be treated with the sacredness of morning coffee and lunch time. This is the time when your employees have the chance to disconnect from their work, rest, recharge and come back ready to go. Give them consistency in how you handle the end of the day and they will reward you with a consistent day-to-day effort.
Difficulty and the Big Decisions
As a leader, you set the tone for your organization. Your team and your managers will reflect your ability to lead and if you are a strong leader, it will trickle down through the operation and create a wonderful culture. During the course of our day, we face many situations of varying difficulty. Consistency in dealing with these situations is what our staff, not to mention our membership, want to see from us. Dealing with the membership and handling political situations are why we as superintendents are paid as we are. This and the responsibility are part of what makes our job stressful. No matter what kind of stress our position may put us under, do not pass such stress on to your staff. It is not their responsibility and they do not deserve to suffer for that which we are paid to deal with. Stay consistent with your staff, regardless of how much pressure you may feel. Additionally, make sure your decisions are consistent with the culture and direction of your operation. When a decision made one day, is made for a completely different reason than a decision the next, your staff will take note. In time, they will come to question the reason for your decision making. When this happens, your staff will spend more time discussing your decision, than how to achieve the proper result. Keeping your attitude and your decision making approach consistent, will ensure your staff gets on-board and stays on-board.
Golf course superintendent’s responsibilities vary based on the facility they lead. However, whether you dig holes, or not, we all bear the responsibility of making the big decisions at our facility. Strong leaders stand up and make the big decisions for their staff time. When faced with big decisions that define our days, gather the necessary information, make them with confidence and make them with consistency. Your staff will see you as the type of leader they are happy to follow, because they know that when they need to count on you, they can.
Chris Tritabaugh is the Golf Course Superintendent at Hazeltine Golf Club, host to the 2016 Ryders Cup