I’ve recently started hitting golf balls again after a gap of ten years. Reading Bounce by Matthew Syed helped convince me that talent is a misnomer and that it’s practice that counts. So when I was asked whether I played golf I said, despite all the evidence, that I did. And so I now find myself less than a month away from a corporate golf day.
Golf has provided fertile ground from which many metaphors for life have been drawn. And here’s one on the subject of change. As part of an attempt to lessen my embarrassment at the forthcoming golf day I’ve been visiting a driving range. The other day I found myself next to a fitting bay. A gentleman in his late 50’s was being assessed by a professional. There were video cameras and laptops and plenty of gadgets all designed to assess the swing and to find the perfect balance and the most appropriate clubs. The man being assessed was clearly in the market for new clubs and money, it seemed, would be no barrier. He was a cheque book looking for a cure. And then the golf pro asked him whether he’d played any other sports when he was younger. The man replied that he’d been a cricketer. The pro nodded sagely and then asked his killer question. If, he asked, the man had been given the world’s best cricket bat, how much better a player did he think he would have been? Frankly, said the pro, if he didn’t sort his swing out then new equipment would make little or no difference. The cheque book man was crestfallen. He realised that the pro was right. It wasn’t the clubs, it was him.
So here’s the point: change comes from within. It isn’t something that can be bought off-the-shelf from expensive consultants; or something that can be achieved by buying the latest gadgets. Launching internal blogs or Facebooks sites doesn’t turn someone into a great communicator. Good communication is deeper and more fundamental than that. Buying expensive processes just because they worked at another company doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re right for your business. The job of the change consultant, like the golf pro, is to help create the environment in which change can happen naturally. Buying expensive consultants, like buying over-priced golf clubs, may make you feel good but it misses the real point. Good clubs can make good players play even better, but they can’t turn bad players into superstars overnight. The good pro works with you to make change effective rather than just selling you a set of new clubs that you don’t really need.