How to improve your business swing: operational excellence lessons from the golf course

Erik Tieleman Published at

Recently, the grand final of the PGA Tour and the race to win the FedEx Cup ended. For this event, the top 30 of golfers were eligible to compete and gathering for the final with big stake prize money. As I was for business in Atlanta, I seized the opportunity to experience this pinnacle event. What does golf have to do with business? Actually, a lot. It is amazing how these top performers go about their business. They push hard for achieving their ‘operational excellence’. With loads of integrity, accountability, continuous improvement and perseverance skills. Qualities that you need to develop in business to be successful as well.

The perfect round does exist, but most of time golfers have to grind. They should find the strength to keep the end in mind, especially on days when it is not working out. Top golf players have a profound faith and belief that results will come when you play to the best of your abilities: to not give up on your vision and ambition, to strive to be as good as you can be, every shot, every round, each tournament.

In business, you all recognise the daily fire fighting to meet customer demands, to fulfil the expectations of shareholders, to meet or beat the monthly budget. And you know this is not going away. You must be on top of your game, every day. Strikingly enough, many business leaders are sloppy with target setting, and leaving a lot of obstacles unaddressed in managing daily execution.

Continuous improvement

Like many other top athletes, golfers realise the importance of eliminating variance in their swings (drives and approaches), their chips, their pitches and their putts. Consistency in strokes is of the utmost importance to get high scores. So, they practice, practice and practice. Interestingly enough, not many businesses have measures and operating systems that evaluate how to get rid of the variation in their physical business processes. Let alone, that they consistently practice their capability. They all talk about the importance of reliability in their supply chains or operations. But only a few have a structured, disciplined systemic approach to dealing with all the variances in their daily business. Why choose to be a victim of your own ignorance?


Golf players should take accountability for their results. They are the only ones executing the shots. Although not easy, they must accept the outcomes, evaluate their game plan, adjust and move on. In business, this is often quite different. Too often, I come across leaders who tend to avoid responsibility for a result, or trying to find excuses why it is difficult to accomplish. They can take lessons from golfers: forgive yourself for bad shots. Forgiveness is an important step into taking accountability. Do not let the failure linger in your brain for long, because you should take care of your next shot (or business day). Do not let negative thoughts take the lead, but create a positive mind set towards executing the next shot (or customer order) to the best of your abilities.


One of the great values in the game of golf is integrity. You play the ball as it lies, even in difficult conditions. You play fair without violating the rules to your advantage. You behave in a way on and off the course that earns respect and dignity. Great business leaders also face reality as it is, are honest to themselves, deal with the facts and the data. There is no point or purpose in fooling yourself, hiding from data transparency ignoring the business data from your supply chains or operations. Better create the right behaviour and operating system (business rules) to perform.

Let’s learn from to the top players in the recent PGA Tour, their mental strength and their mind. Don’t give up or grind it out. Take accountability for your part in the supply chain. Continuously look for ways to eliminate variance in your business game. Keep learning to improve your skill, upping your game every day. Your results will come. There is always a next shot!

Erik Tieleman is Managing Partner Central Europe at R&G Global Consultants


Change management

Discuss this topic ?