November 5, 2009

Should You Be Golfing For Business? Absolutely.

Via the Commentaria of the excellent blog, I found a very interesting post by life-coach and author Keith Ferrazzi, who wrote "Never Eat Alone" and "Who's Got Your Back." On his own website, Ferrazzi asks the question "should you be golfing?" - in which he talks about business golf with former professional Merryl McElwain. McElwain offers some sound advice and points out that golf is the only sport one can play and conduct an extensive business-oriented conversation at the same time, and that it is not expected that a player be an expert at the game to not only play "business golf" but also enjoy doing it at the same time.

True, all of that. The most interesting part of Ferrazzi's entries are in the comments that follow his article. For example, Diane Gulyas writes:
"I started golfing 25 years ago to get closer to my husband and have found huge benefits in business relationships. Today, I am able to get quality time on the golf course with top leaders from major Asian corporations in Japan and Korea. As a woman leader, that is huge."
Indeed it is. This is an excellent example of why business golf is a great tool, and one that should not be lost on any executive or employee that deals with customers on a regular basis. Those folks should keep in mind that sometimes it is more important to meet with their clients and customers on a setting comfortable to them (the customer) and there, it is more likely to achieve a positive desired result than perhaps one might attain at a venue the customer is less than enthusiastic about. For example, if your customer is not a big fan of hockey, but loves golf, wouldn't it make more sense to take them to a golf course for a round as opposed to an NHL game?

I can attest to that in my own right. When I finished college, I went to work for the Sumitomo Electric Corporation's new fiber optic facility in Research Triangle Park, NC. When Sumitomo was establishing that facility, they brought dozens of Japanese executives, engineers and technicians to America from a sister plant in Yokohama in order to transfer expertise to the new American employees.

The Japanese folks were far from home, in a country where many of them were not experts in the language and in a place with a culture literally completely foreign to them. Many of these men were huge golf fans, and when they found out that I loved the game, instantly the talk at work turned to the best places to play. Almost to a man, none of them knew that they were less than an hour's drive from the famous courses at Pinehurst, and not only that, that it was possible for them to play on those courses. In Japan, a round of golf was extremely expensive and often incredibly exclusive, and playing on a great course was a semi-annual treat, especially for the lower level men.

Once I saw their enthusiasm, I knew exactly what to do: I made arrangements for some of the guys to play in Pinehurst the next weekend and I went along to make sure that the language barrier presented them with no problems. Naturally, I also took my own clubs. It was a spectacular late autumn afternoon with crisp blue skies atop verdant Pinehurst courses, and these fellows had the time of their lives. The language and cultural barriers disappeared, and for a few hours, we all spoke "golf" no matter what our native tongue.

And me? What did I "get" from this day? Well, let's say I was very popular with them for setting them up to do something they loved in a place they knew of but didn't realize was within easy reach. The best thing was that our senior managers noticed this and called me onto the thick carpet the next week for a chat. I wondered why the president of the American subsidiary wanted to talk to me, as our job functions were worlds apart. When I arrived in his office, he rose from his desk and smiled, bowed and offered his gratitude. He told me that I had done a great thing for the company by helping bring "all of us together." He said that was one of his major worries was meshing the two workforces - the Japanese and the Americans - and that the afternoon of golf had gone far to ease his mind.

Now, I'm no hero for arranging a tee time for a few men, but I accidentally did something that is huge in business: relationship building. I did this in difficult circumstances from management's point of view, but for me, it was nothing. It was just hanging out with my new co-workers, sharing something that we did have in common: a sport we loved.

Think of that the next time you consider a client meeting or one with a traveling employee: if that person is an avid golfer, there is no better place to forge a relationship not only personally, but professionally as well.

1 comment:

  1. Nice job ! And Pinehurst to top it off. That's good thinking.

    I've met a number of people who complain about business being done on a golf course - mostly women who didn't know what they were talking about. (one question usually ended the problem - "do you play golf ?" when the answer came back "no" - end of discussion) A few hours on the golf course narly always beats a few hours sitting in an enclosed office.


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