Welcome back from the break, and we’ll continue with our chat on communications. (This is based on a talk that I gave last fall to first-year students in the Turfgrass Management program at the University of Guelph. Check out Part I.)
My key message is that great superintendents excel at creating great conditions, but they also need skills in business and communications.
The best superintendents that I’ve run across at semi-private or private clubs constantly engage with the members, and superintendents at public courses do the same with their regular customers. They’re on a first-name basis. They’ll drop by the first tee, range or the shop on busy days such as Men’s or Ladies’ Night, and for tournaments, dinners, and other social functions. They often play in events.
Thom Charters of Bayview G&C in Toronto, and Ken Wright at Devil’s Pulpit, both in Greater Toronto, are great communicators. They frequently chat with members, which gives them an opportunity to get feedback on the course—both good and not-so good—and explain projects and programs, and, most importantly, to develop relationships with the members.
The following are some fundamental principles of PR:
- Know your key messages—Think through and write down the three key messages you want to deliver about any topic that’s important to you so that you can deliver them instantly, authoritatively and compellingly
- Know your facts—You need to be an expert in your field, particularly if there’s any situation in which there’s some controversy, or potential for it. Do the research and reading, even make calls, so that you are well informed and can speak intelligently on topics important to you. Intellectual knowledge is highly respected, and there’s no excuse in today’s e-world for not being well informed.
- Stay on your agenda—If you find yourself in a thorny situation, or your instincts tell you that you’re on dangerous or uncertain ground, stick to a pre-determined agenda of information that you are prepared to deal with at that moment. If someone wants to direct the conversation to an area that you are uncertain about, or you’re not confident you have the right the information, or you’re not sure that disclosure is the best option at that moment, just say that you’ll have to check on the information and that you’ll promise to get back to that person. And then you make good on that promise.
- Avoid speculation—The only thing that anyone can control is the present moment. When people are looking for your reaction to scenarios, or asking for you to forecast what you think might happen, politely decline. Deal only with facts. Make the point that when the future unfolds you’ll deal with it. That is not to say you fail to prepare, just that you’re not willing to predict the future.
- Stay cool—When emotions run high, it’s critical that you keep your cool. That is, never rise (or lower) yourself to someone else’s level. If things are getting out of hand, you might invoke the 24-hour rule. You could say ‘Let’s talk about this tomorrow.’ That rule also works well when you get upsetting phone messages or emails. Waiting 24 hours before responding almost always allows you and another person to chill, and it usually defuses a heated situation.
- Communicate pro-actively—You can dictate the agenda of the chattering classes when you frequently feed them with accurate, timely and useful information. When there’s a void of information, that’s when gossip and miss-information fester. Along with frequently meeting and talking with your stakeholders, it’s very easy to send them informative e-mails, newsletters, Twitter ‘Tweets’, or to post to Facebook.
- Empathize—Golf courses are often accused of endangering the environment through the use of pesticides or fertilizers, or for taking excess amounts of water. The overwhelming number of superintendents act responsibly and economically, and they have the licenses, education, electronic equipment and science to back them up. But many people don’t care about the science. They are fearful that these things are harmful. You cannot convince them otherwise. State your case knowledgably but you must sincerely empathize with their feelings. That will enable you to connect with them and perhaps develop a relationship. And then, you can begin a constructive dialogue.
My PR instincts say it’s time to stop, so I will.