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In the final round of the US Open Golf Tournament, eventual winner Dustin Johnson was in the middle of controversy during the final dozen or so holes of the match. The rules officials shared with Johnson and the media covering the event that he could be assessed a penalty because the officials felt it was possible that he caused his ball to move on the 5th green. There is a business lesson you can learn from the US Open Golf ruling.

The outrage expressed by the fans and fellow golf professionals was not so much about the ruling itself, but how it was communicated to the players. Although the rules official told Dustin Johnson and the other players that there could be a penalty assessed, his televised comments suggested that there was little if any uncertainty about their impending decision.

The Business Lesson

Business leaders sometimes hedge their bets in an effort to not close out an option. A junior sales associate might say that they want to pursue a certain customer opportunity. A software developer might suggest that they want to try a new angle on writing a piece of software.

Often managers don’t want to commit, so they give an ambiguous response. They might say, “I don’t know that I would pursue it that way, but go ahead and give it a shot.” The pursuits often fail for a number of unintentional reasons:

  • Since the answer was unclear, the associate moves ahead with anxiety. They are uncertain about whether they are proceeding with a blessing or a curse. So, the associate does not pursue the opportunity with vigor;
  • If the manager is not clearly in favor of the pursuit, then the organization is not likely to provide full support to ensure success;

In the US Open final round, all of the remaining players faulted in the closing holes. Each player was hitting shots in a cloud of uncertainty. As I watched the tournament with family and friends, we jokingly said, “Dustin Johnson is in the lead, or might be tied. We’re not sure.” The fans, players, and commentators were all uncertain. Fortunately, Johnson pulled through a decisive victory making the decision inconsequential.

What You Should Do Instead

When confronted with an opportunity, not making a decision is setting yourself up for failure. Instead of hedging, evaluate the opportunity. If you agree with the idea, great. If you think it is a bad idea, then you should say so.

Similar to the US Open golf ruling, a vague response leads to uncertainty, anxiety, and ultimately can erode morale and trust.

Take the All-Or-None approach: If you agree with the approach, maximize the chance for success and commit resources to ensure success. If you are not inclined to allocate resources, then abandon the effort.

As an example, many businesses fall into a trap of pursing sales opportunities, engineering projects, or other endeavors with half-baked support and limited resources. This approach is a waste of resources. Instead, commit 100% in areas you support, and 0% in areas where you are not on board.

By taking a stand and making a decision, you’ll position your organization for success, earn respect, and avoid wasting energy on partial efforts that produced limited success.

It’s Your Turn

What has been your experience with partial efforts? Do they work, or are they a waste of time and resources? Share your thoughts on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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