Didja watch golf this weekend?

If you did, you might have seen Dustin Johnson’s soon-to-be infamous gaffe at the PGA Championship in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.  If you didn’t see it live, you’ve probably heard about it all over the news.  The short of it is that Johnson let his club touch the ground in an area of the course where doing so results in a 2 stroke penalty.  He didn’t know he was in such an area.  But had he read a bulletin sent to all players, he would have known.  He was even aware of the bulletin, but admitted to not reading it.  Therefore, he was unaware of the rules of engagement for that particular course.

The “rules of engagement” (my words, not the PGA’s) are the same for almost every course almost every time.  But they’re different just often enough that players should always ask themselves if there’s anything new or unique about the course (or tournament) that they need to know while competing.  Yet since the answer is almost always “no, there’s nothing unique,” players become lazy and don’t read the bulletins.

Johnson’s playing partner that day, Nick Watney, said:

“Honestly, I don’t think anyone reads the sheets.  I mean, we’ve played in hundreds of tournaments, we get a sheet every week.”

And I think that’s precisely why players should read the sheets (bulletins).  Because even though nothing ever seems to be different, small changes can have catastrophic effects.  Like the difference between making a playoff and finishing out of the running.

Today I met with one of my consultants for a simple check-in.  Nothing big.  We were comparing his different client engagements when it struck me that Dustin Johnson’s mistake is a good reminder for any and everyone to take with them to work.  It’s easy to think that every meeting is the same, or that every project looks just like the rest.  But every so often the rules of engagement are different, which is why it’s always important to ask.  Sometimes you can’t hold meetings after 4PM or before 9AM.  Sometimes you never invite someone’s leader unless something’s terribly wrong.  Maybe status reports due on Monday are always sent out before EOD Friday.

At least golfers get a sheet every week telling them what’s different about the coming challenge.  Corporate America doesn’t make it so easy.  That’s why it’s so important to ask, ask, and ask some more before big meetings or presentations, any time you kick off a new project, and certainly any time you switch departments or roles.

Even different departments within a company have different operating rules.    Finding an informal mentor to help navigate the unwritten rules is a good idea any time there’s uncertainty.  Even just to reinforce what you already know.  Always know the rules of engagement.

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