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Matt Neff: What I learned from YouTube

By |  October 18, 2017 0 Comments

The YouTube rabbit hole. You’re checking out a highlight from the game you couldn’t stay awake for the night before, and next thing you know, you’ve been watching police dashcam videos for an hour. (True story, happened to um… a guy I know).

A few weeks ago, I somehow ended up watching a bunch of air traffic controller videos. As often is the case with losing time on YouTube, I have absolutely no idea how this happened. In any case, I realized as I was watching that air traffic controllers may be some of the most effective communicators on Earth.

They are absolute masters of the clear, concise transfer of information. All necessary information is relayed efficiently and when pilots need it — not before and certainly not after — in order to avoid confusion and overloading the pilot with too much information at once.

Effective communication requires not just the transmission of information, but also the receiving of and understanding of that information by the listener. In the case of air traffic controllers, they are speaking to an educated audience.

Because of their training, pilots not only understand the lingo, they likely are anticipating certain directions and know what information to expect at a given time and the general format in which the information will be delivered. This obviously allows them to be better prepared to receive the information and act upon it.

Because I’m alarmingly one dimensional, I immediately began drawing parallels between air traffic controlling and golf course maintenance. Obviously, the stakes are vastly different, but one of the main similarities between the two is frequently changing priorities and plans and the need for these changes to be communicated effectively.

When the grounds crew gets to the point where they, like pilots, start anticipating the next move and are familiar with your expectations and directions, you my friend, have a well-oiled machine on your hands. With the widespread shortage of labor in this business, getting the most out of the people on your staff is more important than ever.

Getting to that point comes down to consistency and education. By consistency, I’m referring to everything from consistency in your expectations to how you deliver instructions to the crew. As we all know, the crew tends to become familiar with your style of leadership and direction, and likely will understand and retain more of what you say if you do it in more or less the same way every time.

By education, I’m referring to telling the crew not only what needs to be done, but also why it needs to be done. I’m not talking here about lengthy agronomic dissertations that make most non-turf guys wish they were doing literally anything else but listening to you.

If it sounds like I’ve gone down that road a few times over the years, it’s because, admittedly, I have. If you watch closely enough, you sometimes actually can see crew members’ eyes roll back in their heads. In case I haven’t mentioned it, I’m a huge turf nerd. But briefly explaining why things are done a certain way will help your crew begin to anticipate and make good decisions on their own the next time they’re faced with a similar situation.

I’m certainly not suggesting that anyone start referring to 9 green as niner green. I think we all learned from the movie “Tommy Boy” that unnecessary use of the word “niner” will only get you mocked by your co-workers. But at the same time, considering that you may have just mercilessly torn a guy from his phone for 10 seconds to let him know his next job, clear and efficient communication will make everyone’s life a little easier.


This is posted in Columns

About the Author: Matt Neff

Matt Neff is the assistant golf course superintendent at Wedgewood Golf & Country Club in Powell, OH. He is a graduate of Malone College in Canton, Ohio, and obtained his turfgrass science degree from The Ohio State University. He has been writing for Golfdom since 2013.

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