Over the holidays I had the pleasure of playing a round of golf on the Blue Monster at Trump National Doral in Miami. I first played the course as a second-year golfer and shot a 96. This time, with an additional five years of practice, I shot a 102. Ouch.

This humbling experience reminded me that I love golf in part because it teaches lessons that also apply to life and to business. Here’s what I re-learned in Miami:

Adapt to change.  In fairness, the Blue Monster has gotten tougher following a recent “ renovation, but my main problem wasn’t the course.  My problem was that I failed to adjust my game fast enough.  Golf, like business, involves constant adjustment.  When you get a new club, you hit the ball differently.  When you change your grip, you hit it differently.  When you face a different course, you need to adjust your game.  In Miami, I kept going at my game the same way even though course had changed, and my results got worse.  I see companies make this mistake all the time in the way they approach their executive talent. The talent landscape is changing dramatically as the job market rebounds and the baby boomers retire, yet many organizations act as if they will always have easy access to new talent.  Face change head-on, adapt quickly, and you’ll have a much better chance at success.

Expect hard work. The Wall Street Journal recently quoted a golf expert advising new adult students to repeat the mantra, “it’s not that hard.”  I love learning new skills, but I’m not sure that’s the best approach. Learning to play golf as an adult frustrates those of us who expect to do everything well.  The game requires focus and a willingness to put in time and work, and there’s no point pretending those things are easy.  You’ve got to tell yourself, “I’m going to make this work.”  I’ve stuck with golf for seven years now and have a 19 handicap – pretty decent for someone who started in middle age.  Golf hasn’t been easy but it has been enjoyable; in fact, the sport has given me a whole new perspective on working through difficulty. I believe that, in golf and also in business, successis that hard.  The key is to enjoy the hard work.

Focus on fundamentals.  Golf inevitably comes down to fundamentals.  Pro Golfer Rory McIlroy recognized a need to go back to the fundamentals after signing a new sponsorship deal with Nike.  Leaving behind former sponsor Titleist for Nike meant switching from the Titleist clubs he had been playing and winning with to a set of Nikes.  The transition was anything but smooth.  Soon after making the switch, he withdrew from the 2013 Honda Classic, where he was playing poorly.  To his credit, McIlroy recognized the need for change.  The way he was swinging his new clubs, which was the way he swung his old clubs, was no longer effective.  He needed to relearn how to hit the ball.  At the time, his caddy expected that it might take a few months:  a few months of training in order to reap the benefits for years to come.  The choice paid off.  In 2014, McIlroy became the world’s top-ranked player and PGA champion.  When asituation becomes significantly more complex, you have to attack it by going back to basics.   

Of course, in business, you’ve also got to define the fundamentals.  I believe that a successful workplace starts with respect for people.  In any economy, with any technologies, great organizations are distinguished by great people. To attract the right people, you need to treat employees well in every way from showing basic civility to building trust through transparency.

In 2015, I’m on a mission to help re-humanize the workplace.   As increased business pressures, market change and a shrinking talent pool challenge organizations across sectors, I’ll keep focusing on creating deeply humane experiences for JBK clients, candidates and employees. 

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