golf hole surrounded by water
PHOTO: shutterstock

We can all learn from the masters, those who have perfected the difficult, and even managed to conquer the impossible. Master practitioners don’t just tell us, they show us by example how to achieve our goals.

Here are three lessons learned from the recent Masters Golf Tournament that we can apply to succeed at change management.

To Master Change

Full disclosure: I don’t play golf. I tried once at a customer advisory event at Kingsmill Resort and found that when it comes to golf, I am quite good at driving the golf cart.

That said, I am drawn to the drama that unfolds at the major golf tournaments. This year’s Masters, especially the final round, featured great performances from the field, and a comeback for the ages that demonstrated skill, teamwork and focus.

This is exactly what is required for successful change management, the disciplined approach to prepare, equip and support individuals to adopt change in pursuit of organizational goals.

Related Article: Why Your Strategies Fail to Create Change

Lesson 1: Technology Matters, But So Does Culture

Keeping in mind that change management requires attention to people, process and tools, and must respond to drivers of change like technology evolution and competitive disruption, our first lesson comes from the man who came from behind at the Masters … to tie for second.

Make no mistake, Dustin Johnson is no stranger to winning. He is only the third player in Tour history to win a Tour title in each of his first 12 seasons, and he now sits at one of the best odds for winning the 2020 Masters. But this year at the Masters, Johnson experienced what can only be called driver chaos, when damage required him to change out his technology — his golf clubs — mid-tournament. Yet he managed to rally to climb the leader board with an outstanding final round. How?  

To begin, Johnson is a master practitioner of his sport. Ironically, he is one of the longest drivers on the PGA Tour. At the Masters, he embodied one of the fundamental tenants of change management: success lies not only in perfecting the technology and the technical improvements, but also in the cultural attitudes.

This is the underlying principle of Change Acceleration Process (CAP), a discipline I have used to drive operational efficiency and productivity improvements in business. CAP can increase the success of change efforts by emphasizing not just the quality of the technical solution, but also how people will adopt and sustain change even in the face of difficulties.

So, it would seem mastering attitude can drive outcomes, even when your driver technology falls short.

Related Article: Change Management: The Key to Successful Digital Transformations

Lesson 2:  Successful Change Requires Collaboration

The headline story of this year’s tournament was Tiger Woods winning his fifth Masters, his 15th major championship and his first major title in nearly 11 years. This after personal issues and injury sent him, and to a certain extent the game of golf, into a decade-long tailspin.

The thing is Tiger did not win this year with the same skills he used to win his first four Masters: he had to change his swing to accommodate serious back injury and surgery. And perhaps more importantly it would seem he changed how he viewed his approach to the win.

Now recognizing the win as a team effort, Woods's comment to his caddy Joe LaCava following the tournament was: “We did it.”

Here then is a second tenant of change management. Change methods need to redirect or redefine the use of resources: to enact significant change, success depends upon the ability to act as a collaborative and committed team. 

Further we see evidence that the most effective change management techniques proactively involve the team mindset, making it more likely that behavioral change will be sustained. 

Related Article: Give Collaboration Sticking Power

Lesson 3: Be the Ball

Our final lesson from the Masters is all about the importance of focus, of mind over matter. As Ty Webb advises Danny Noonan in Caddyshack: to harness the forces of the universe in order to golf expertly, simply “be the ball.” 

This is prophetic advice given what happened with the weather at the final round of the Masters. On the day before, responding to an outbreak of severe weather across Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi, tournament officials decided for the first time ever to move the Sunday final round to an early morning start. This with the hope to finish before weather intervened.  

On Sunday, when the final group of the tournament — Woods, Finau and Molinari — approached the 12th hole, Molinari was in the lead. The green of this infamous hole is surrounded by water. Winds began to pick up, gusting over 20 mph. Molinari and Finau went in the water. Woods put his ball on the green.

As recounted in "How the weather helped make history at the 2019 Masters":

“… the trajectory of the tournament had been forever altered. In fact, 4 out of the 6 players in the final 2 groups found the water and made double-bogey. Tiger made par. Less than two hours later, the tournament was over, and not a moment too soon. As Woods was hoisting the trophy and putting on his fifth green jacket, heavy rain and lightning was closing in on the golf course.”

Here then is a perfect illustration of a third important tenant of change management: effective change strategy requires focus on performance optimization.

At the end of the day, it was a legendary master’s ability to focus that made history at Augusta.