Every time I watch professional golf, I am reminded of all the similarities there are to running a successful business.
If you have ever been to a professional golf tournament and really studied the activities of the top golfers, you see consistent and, let’s be honest, some very boring routines. They get to the course 90 minutes before their tee time. They go to the driving range and loosen up. Then they hit some easy shots with some irons. They are steadily moving from club to club, practicing shots they expect to hit during that day’s round. As they hit practice shots, almost all the top golfers have their swing coach watching and helping them with swing tips.
After the practice range, they move to the practice greens and work on their chipping. They hit soft chips from every conceivable angle, including sand traps. Then it’s off to the putting green where they work on their putting stroke. All of this happens every day - before they even go to work and hit their first “real” shot during the golf tournament. Then after the round, they will return to the driving range or putting green and work on any element of their game that gave them a little trouble that day.
Every one of them makes millions each year.
They have learned that they stand their best chance of success when they rigidly follow a daily routine that helps to reinforce the fundamentals of the game and commits sound swing mechanics to muscle memory. Phil Mickelson is widely acknowledged as having the sweetest chipping game in golf, yet every day at every tournament he is out on the practice green working on his short game, concentrating on each shot like it is the first time he ever hit it.
Now if one of these top golfers misses a daily routine, it does not mean he will not shoot a great round of golf that day. However, top golfers don’t say to themselves, “Hey, I didn’t do all the little things I usually do and I played great. I don’t think I need to do all that practice anymore.”
They know if they stop being diligent in how they prepare for every round of every tournament, over time, their game will start to decline. Professional sports are full of stories of young prodigies who were tremendous at their sport and then became either bored and stopped doing the work needed to keep their game at the highest level or became distracted by the trappings of their success. Dwight Gooden (baseball), JaMarcus Russell (football) and John Daly (golf) come to mind.
What does this have to do with the PHC industry?
It has everything to do with what separates successful companies from the also-rans in our industry. On many levels, successful companies are the most boring businesses in the world. The same thing happens every day and every week. There are very few days when a routine in operations is broken. The owners and managers have learned that the key to a successful business is finding an operational system that creates the desired outcome (happy customers and a healthy profit) and they ruthlessly repeat those processes every day.
There are unique systems in their call center, dispatch, service and sales areas right through to the finance department in getting a properly constructed P&L on the 10th of the next month. You can count on it. Go to their business at any time of the day or any day of the month and you can predict what will be happening - just like the top golfers at a golf tournament.
Downard SpiralWhat about those businesses that were once successful but are now struggling?
The simple truth in our industry is that most business struggles are self-inflicted and, from my experience, are centered on boredom or lack of discipline, not menacing outside influences.
I worked with a company for the last 18 months with a long history of success. This was a second-generation company that had been a clear market leader in its town for decades. We hadn’t seen the company execs at a Nexstar event in awhile, so I called them. They told me that business was off and had been for some time. The economy had hit the town particularly hard (everyone struggling thinks their town’s economy is worse than the rest of America, by the way).
We got into a conversation about how I might be able to help them get back on track. I started asking a few questions:
Do you see the trend in the answers here? The company, at one point, was doing all these things. They had to be - they were one of the best. Yet, in just a few short years, after stopping all the little daily routines, they were breaking even on a good month and eating into their modest cash reserves in the other months.
When I asked why they stopped training their technicians, I got an honest answer. “It got boring. I got sick of doing it every week. I didn’t like doing them in the first place so I just stopped. No one complained.”
There you have it.
It wasn’t the economy. It wasn’t competitors. It was lack of discipline and an unwillingness to do not only what they like to do but what they have to do.
I love golf and it seems like it would be a dream to play the game professionally at the highest level. But I have to imagine that at some point during Mickelson’s career, standing on a putting green practicing six-foot putts became boring. There is just no way that practicing six-foot putts every day can be self-satisfying. But professional golfers realize that the activity, boring by itself, is necessary if they are going to achieve the overall golfing score they desire.
It is the same for business. There are so many daily routines that owners and managers must do to have a successful business that are, well, boring. It is not that they are hard to do or require huge brainpower or strength. It’s just that they hold no particular interest to the person doing them, so they stop doing them and do something they like, which in most cases does not move the business forward.
Back In The DayIf your company has seen better days and there was a time when you were hitting on all cylinders, think back to what you and your manager’s average day, week and month were like. What activities were you filling your days with? Was there a twice-a-week breakfast meeting at 6 a.m. where you planned your week but have since stopped because other personal priorities have come up? Did you have a different dispatcher who, though perhaps not the most gentle soul, really drove the production of the technicians but is now no longer a part of the business and his replacement is not performing the job as needed?
Go ahead and make a list, right down to the insignificant tasks in your mind. Don’t forget to include those tasks that you no longer do but have delegated to others. It may be that the task is being done, but it is not being done as well as in prior periods.
Now get together with your team and consider each item on the list. What would help now? Then get after the list and replicate the activities, intensity and passion that you had during those successful business periods.
Successful Once AgainWe have all seen the comeback stories in sports. The former prodigy falls from grace, hits rock bottom and then rededicates himself to his sport. He is up early practicing and working hard. He goes back to all the things that made him successful in the past - hard work, focus, mentoring from successful coaches - and he gets back to the top of his sport.
In terms of the company I was talking about, management execs realized they needed to get back to basics and start doing all the little things they did when they were successful. We created a “To-Do Action Plan” with a deadline and name by each item and they went to work. We started to review the company’s income statement monthly to measure its progress.
The business didn’t turn around overnight, but within three months, it was back in the black and out of financial firefighting mode. Each month when we review their P&L, we go through the basics to make sure they are not getting off track.
Remember, if you get bored, your business could get real exciting. It is up to you to define if it is exciting in a good way by repeating solid business practices each day.
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