I have been monitoring, with interest, the development of the Turfgrass World Group on a well know social networking website. It has been great to see its members showing a real enthusiasm for sharing ideas and seeking input on various key topics e.g. turf disease and turfcare machinery. A lot of the group's members also happily share photos of their pitches and golf courses - not only when in glorious condition, but also when they look a bit of a mess!
One of their recent topics really caught my eye. It is one that is probably a hardy perennial for many readers of this magazine. This particular topic can be expressed as a question that many of us want answered. i.e. 'How do I get the customers' expectations to match my realities?'
In the golf sector in the UK, as elsewhere, the weight of expectation is placed on greenkeepers shoulders, usually around Easter time every year. This is when enthusiastic golfers - fresh from examining the Augusta National golf course on their flat screen televisions - promptly arrive with accusations and questions about why their own course does not look or play exactly like the championship course in Georgia, USA.
Greenkeepers have been telling me for many years that they usually have to point out to their keen, but disappointed members, that the Augusta National course is closed for six months of the year; it has a fortune spent on it and it hardly gets played on (compared to UK courses) when it is open for play.
Now, you would think that this explanation would satisfy people once and for all. You would think that word would get around but, every year, more golfers arrive in the springtime with expectations that will never match up with the turfcare professional's realities.
These realities being, for example, the UK weather, the amount of play (up to 365 days per year), the available resources and equipment, and the number of staff employed on the golf course.
The clear message here is that people are just not comparing like with like, and we should be grateful that we can answer back with a straightforward response to their inflated expectations. I wonder if it might also be good to do some preventative work to stop those expectations getting too high in the first place.
When this very issue became the topic of a problem solving session I ran at a conference in 2009, there was some soul-searching that had to be done about what had been causing the problem to keep recurring.
The problem 'owner' - perhaps speaking for all of us - accepted immediately, amongst other things, that the communication between the customer and the turfcare professional was not good enough; there was a lack of collaboration between the two; there was no agreed policy on such matters; there was no one to represent the turfcare professional in discussions about expectations; other people in these discussions did not seek the turfcare professional's views, and no one was sure how to proceed or where to start.
At the conference - once the potential causes had been agreed or at least accepted - our problem owner was bombarded with potential solutions for the problem of people's unrealistic expectations of him. Here is a list of the type of solution options he accepted:
1. The turfcare professional to write regular articles - about his realities and his efforts to meet expectations - for the organisation's newsletter and website
2. The turfcare professional to suggest the introduction of an Organisation Policy Document that would explain agreed-upon expectations to everyone. This document to be circulated widely
3. The turfcare professional to hold regular members/users meetings
4. The turfcare professional to get the professional agronomist to also assert what is achievable, e.g. by writing an article for the organisation's newsletter and website
5. The turfcare professional to offer to write articles in trade magazines about the issues
6. The turfcare professional to invite keener members/users to go on a 'walk and talk'
7. The turfcare professional to play golf/cricket etc. and build friendships with worst critics
8. The turfcare professional to ensure that s/he is represented in discussion and that the topic of expectations becomes a regular agenda item at club/organisation meetings
Now this list of solutions was derived before the recent explosion in the use of social media to assist professionals in their work. Hence I mentioned the Turfgrass World group at the outset of this article.
In closing, let me wish you good luck with managing people's expectations of you. I am grateful to David Alev of Brazos Consulting and The Consulting Academy for providing my summary with the following suggestions on managing expectations. David captured it well a few years ago when he said, amongst other things:
1. Establish trust. People are influenced only by those they trust - and trust is earned
2. Educate, educate, educate. The more your customers know about your realities the better
3. Sooner is better than later. Expectations get firmed up the longer they are left alone. Work on them as early as possible
I am also grateful to Gorazd Nastran for originating the managing expectations question at the FEGGA conference in Copenhagen in 2009, and to Jason Chennault for asking a very similar question via Turfgrass World recently.
My thanks also go to all the problem solving groups I worked with at the 2009 FEGGA conference but, in this instance, especially: Agnar Kvalbein, Demie Moore, Gorazd Nastran, Jerry Kilby, Kamil Pecenka, Peter Jones, Søren Nicholson and Stig Persson. Some of their valuable contributions are reproduced in this article.
Frank Newberry has been helping people to manage expectations and get better results in the turfcare sector for over twenty years.
If you are having problems getting people to have realistic expectations of you, and you think it might help to talk about it, you can contact Frank directly via the contact tab of his personal website www.franknewberry.com