When ‘no news’ is ‘bad news’

Mars Climate Orbiter (Photo: NASA)

One of the most common flaws in any business or organisation (or, according to my wife, a marriage!) is a failure to communicate.
Get it right, and you’ll reap the rewards. Get it wrong, however, and you’ll be in the doghouse.

History is rife with examples of poor communication.

One that quickly springs to mind is NASA’s famed $125 million Mars Climate Orbiter spacecraft which, in 1999, met a disastrous end as it smashed into the red planet following a nine-month voyage. The problem: engineers from Lockheed Martin sent raw ‘course correction’ data (based on Imperial units) to engineers at NASA (who had blindly assumed the numbers had been sent in Metric). Over that nine-month voyage, if even one person simply made a short phone call just to say “Hi” and confirm the numbers, a disaster could have been averted.

Back here on Earth, I receive stories from club golfers (and committee members) who often feel out of the loop when it comes to communications from their club.
Whether it is due to the club’s apathy, lack of communication skills or simply the desire to keep things “under wraps”, there appears to be a growing problem whereby club members are simply not receiving information that is important to them. From simple matters like a change of hours at the Bistro, to a more serious situation like changing personnel, budgetary issues or course closures/relocation, members have a right to be informed.

And according to readers, the communication problem isn’t confined to just clubs. Our governing bodies and associations are equally culpable. Over the years, I’ve fielded heaps of emails/calls from readers on topics like the national handicap system revamp/rollout (with “ambiguous dates on deliverables”), national course re-ratings/slope system (“very little communication at all”), the “silent” dismantling of Golf Access, etc.

To be fair, in some cases, information HAS been communicated from, say, the Associations to the key contacts at clubs, but the clubs have failed to pass the information on to members. Golf Australia, the state bodies (like Golf NSW, Golf Victoria, etc) and other associations generally send out regular communications, emails and newsletters that are packed with the latest news. And it is the responsibility of each club to pass this information on to the members (and not simply assume that the members will read it on their own).

In some instances, a club may defend their lack of communication with “No news is good news” or “Well, there just wasn’t anything new to say.” The problem here is that there is ALWAYS something to say.

Remember: every time you communicate with members – no matter what you say — you have an opportunity to improve the relationship. And building on that relationship is critical if you want to keep them as a member.

Even if you say “Regarding [project x]: there has been no further progress, but we are looking into…[etc]” you will get a much better reaction from members than simply staying silent. Silence, on the other hand, can breed suspicion, generate rumours and create an overall feeling of discontent by members.
If we draw some parallels with “Business/Customer Communication” we can shed further light on this.

For example, if you look at committee members as your “partners”, then the fallout of poor communication can be things like lower efficiency, unclear goals, poor leadership, lower morale, decreased innovation, increased misunderstandings and lack of trust. These are not good traits/results for a committee.
Likewise, poor communication to your everyday members (i.e. your “customers”) can result in poor retention, customer confusion, decreased customer life cycle, customer anger and long-term increased costs.

(Does any of this sound familiar in your club?)

Now, I’m not saying that clubs need to start disclosing confidential information. But when it comes to anything that has been communicated by the governing bodies/associations which is intended for distribution to club members—or for anything club-related that could have an impact on even the smallest number of club members –then clubs MUST do the right thing and pass it on, no matter how mundane it may seem, or how overloaded the key contact’s workload might be.
More importantly, remember that it is always better to “overcommunicate”. Studies have shown that, for a message to “stick” it must be heard/seen multiple times.

You can’t expect to send out one message and have everyone read/understand it the first time. Or the second/third time. Repetition is key.

Clubs have many communication tools available these days. From email, to newsletters, to notice boards, to flyers, Twitter, Facebook, websites… the list goes on. Use them all. There is simply no excuse to not take five minutes and connect with your people with a short note to say “Hi, here’s a bit of news.”

It’s not rocket science (as NASA found out).

 

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