Bubba Golf

Not letting your goals get in the way of execution

Most professional athletes live their lives in pursuit of some pretty bold career goals–goals which they then translate into objectives for the upcoming season. If they’re really organized and efficient, they then manage to these goals in their daily preparation, execution, and ongoing improvement efforts.

In his post-round press conference, it was clear to anyone listening, that this guy has some pretty bold competitive goals for his career, and for the 2012 season. He knows how many “wins” he wants over the next several years, and you can bet, like most golfers, he pays attention to the numbers and performance statistics week in and week out. But at the same time, it was also clear that these goals, and his progress toward them, were not going to affect his approach to this one tournament. He’d prepared the best way he knew how, and on that Sunday, he would follow his gut and compete the way he does in any tournament.

Conversely, most weekend golfers, like myself, will react very differently when we notice a change in our execution. Think about the last time you double-bogeyed a hole you routinely par, or caused yourself heartache by missing a fairway or green in the exact spot you were trying to avoid. For most of us, and even some professionals, a mid-round “speed bump” will at best create a momentary panic, and a worst send the train completely off the rails. We begin reverting to “mechanical thoughts” and in the process of “screwing our head back on” to its proverbial shoulders, lose the focus on what, in the end, truly matters–that little white ball in that little round hole.

I thought a lot about this last week as I watched the back nine on Sunday afternoon. I noticed the distinct difference between some players’ demeanors (like Tiger and Sergio) versus those of Bubba and Louis. One by one, we saw each player’s bad shot or series of mis-hits take their toll and remove them from contention, while Bubba, in his typical unorthodox fashion, played his own game. Win or lose, he wasn’t going to change strategy or direction. Even when faced with the improbably deep shot into the right pinestraw, he stuck to the strategy that had landed him there.

The key message in all of this for me is that there is a time and place for planning and assessing, and a separate time and place for execution. Occasionally the two will overlap, but rarely do managing and executing co-exist nicely together, and when they do clash, it frequently causes bad results. Think of the customer service rep who gets so preoccupied with adhering to a script or striving to achieve an average call handle time that they completely lose sight of the customer’s issue. Or the manager who is so focused on meeting a reporting deadline that a serious operational problem identified by the data goes unnoticed.

In his press conference, there was a lot of talk about the unorthodoxy of Bubba’s swing. How he stood cool in the face of adversity. How his attitude looked more like that of a kid having fun than a professional golfer. All these questions were the media’s way of saying “Nice job focusing on your execution and sticking to your game” even in the midst of competitive pressure and a competitor who was so close to him in the final holes that his unorthodox strategy may have looked all the more improbable.

But just as he began to appear aloof and perhaps even a bit stubborn in his unorthodox approach to the game, he returned again to speaking about his goals–a key one of which is to achieve 10 wins on tour. And he is nearly halfway there at age 34.  His goals clearly guided his preparation and play, but his progress toward those goals was not about to distract his focus from the execution that was required. Not on that Sunday afternoon.

How often do we let our goals, strategies, and operating metrics distract and sometimes prevent us from executing the way that we do best?


Bob Champagne is Managing Partner of onVector Consulting Group, a privately held international management consulting organization specializing in the design and deployment of Performance Management tools, systems, and solutions. Bob has over 25 years of Performance Management experience with primary emphasis on Customer Operations in the global energy and utilities sector. Bob has consulted with hundreds of companies across numerous industries and geographies. Bob can be contacted at bob.champagne@onvectorconsulting.com


The “Low Bar” Mentality- Recognizing and overcoming mediocrity in customer service experience…

  • An appliance repairman or cable television technician shows up with just ten minutes remaining in his four-hour schedule window and we’re relieved.
  • A waitress makes no mistakes in our dinner order and we reward her exemplary service with an above-average tip.
  • We laboriously type our social security number and credit card information into an automated IVR system and then are unsurprised when asked to repeat it all again to the agent who answers the phone.
  • We stand in line at the grocery store, watching as the cashier leaves her station and walks back into the store to check a price.
  • We wait patiently at the hotel registration desk as the clerk takes a phone call even though she’s in the middle of checking us in.

What do all of these mind-numbingly familiar scenarios have in common? Several things actually. First, they are all examples of stunningly poor customer service, so commonplace that we scarcely bother to even remark about them to friends and families. Second, we, for the most part, allow them to happen without comment, recourse, or even recognition. We don’t get upset, switch away from the offending service providers, or even suggest alternatives. More insidiously, though, it has come to be what we expect. We have reached a point where we’ve concluded that nothing better is possible. We have lowered the bar so far on service providers that we frequently find ourselves in the ironic position of rewarding mediocrity.

Exhibit A for these diminished expectations is restaurant service. Our culture is one in which we expect to pay a fifteen-percent gratuity to wait staff who simply show up for work. The server who actually gets our order correct (i.e., who does their job) is thought to be astonishing and expects to receive more than this nominal amount. And we happily pay it.

Companies, almost without exception, will tell you that the reason for diminished customer service is cost containment. You can’t get an agent on the phone quickly because agents are expensive. You have to sit at home all day waiting on the technician because gas and trucks are expensive. Sorry, that’s just how things are these days.

But it isn’t really about cost at all. It’s about managing to the level of service that customers expect, and going no further. As a consequence, our expectations today are so minimal that on those rare occasions when we phone a business and a person answers instead of a machine, we’re momentarily stunned into silence while thinking of what to say. We feel guilty giving only ten percent to the waitress who gave us surly, inaccurate service at lunch.

It is not the purpose of this brief treatise to propose service solutions; these are addressed in plenty of other places. Rather, the point here is to simply acknowledge and make explicit the low (and falling) expectations we’ve all come to accept, the hope being that recognition of this fundamental state of affairs will, as consumers, make us just a little more willing to demand something better from those who provide us with service, or, as service providers, to rise to these heightened expectations. In a society where everyone settles, there is no incentive to improve.

But what are we, as service providers, to do? Most importantly, expect customers to expect more. Rather than benchmark our service performance against what the competition offers, evaluate it against what’s possible. This, in turn, requires an aspirational mindset that is not terribly common in American business.

On the flip side, we are all not only business people but consumers as well. Adopt the mindset that you deserve more than you’re currently getting from your service providers. The worst that can happen is that you get a reputation as someone who doesn’t settle. That certainly can’t be a bad thing.

Ultimately it becomes a virtuous circle. Heightened service expectations beget improved service. This, in turn, makes us expect even more. Heck, before you know it, that technician might show up at your house at exactly the time you want him there!


Guest Author: Brian Kenneth Swain is a Consultant with onVector Consulting Group, a privately held international management consulting organization specializing in the design and deployment of Performance Management tools, systems, and solutions. Brian has over 25 years of Performance Management experience and has consulted for numerous companies across a wide range of industries and geographies. Brian can be contacted at bswain2000@yahoo.com.