Mind the Gap

I've never been to London on the underground transit system, commonly referred to as the Tube, but I've heard the phrase mind the gap. And apparently so has every Londoner, as that phrase repeats at every underground stop. The purpose of the recording (and signs plastered along the platform and train) is to remind commuters as they're getting on and off the Tube to be aware of the gap that exists between the platform and the train, so they can safely enter/exit.

That would be a great sign to have in my own home and office, and maybe even have my own recording wake me up each day telling me to mind the gap. Why? Because a gap exists.

In every aspect of your life and my life, a gap exists. It's an abyss that separates perception from reality, intentions from actions, what is said from what is heard, and so on. It exists in both our personal lives and our professional lives. Personally, it might be the difference in where you are and where you want to be. In the workplace, it can be the reason strategies don't get executed or plans don't get implemented. It's likely the cause for senior level expectations not being met by frontline employees.

If it didn't come across already, let me be clear: the gap is bad. And the bigger the gap, the worse off people/plans on both sides of the gap will be. 

Unlike London commuters, no one can avoid this gap to some degree (not even when you're aware of it), but there are certainly steps that can be taken to bridge or even shrink the gap, preferably the latter. Bridging the gap is a quick fix for problems that have slowly eroded both sides, increasing the expanse of the gap. Shrinking the gap is the long-term solution, but requires effort with every decision and every action.

After all that, you might still be asking, "What is this gap you're talking about?" The gap I'm referring to is that theoretical area that contains all information in its purest form. That information might be in the form of communication, intentions, actions, commands, data or even emotions.

Read here if you want it explained with mathematical logic: If you think about it in a geometrical sense, it's the difference between Point A and Point B. A straight line exists between the two, but even the shortest line contains some information, otherwise it would be one point. Think of that line as the loss of information from Point A to Point B. The longer the line (the bigger the gap), the more information lost.

Read here if you want it explained in a cute story, based on actual events: Two guys were hiking through the Andes Mountains and happened to get separated. We'll call them Zac and Robert to keep it simple. After days of wandering and searching, they finally found each other, but were on opposite sides of a deep, wide canyon. Fortunately, Zac had a very long rope in his backpack, whereas Robert chose to find his resources in nature. In this case, it made sense for Robert to yell out to Zac "Throw me a rope!" across the great divide. However, Zac misunderstood what Robert had said (it was also very windy that day) and thought Robert had said "Throw me a bone!", which didn't seem to make a lot of sense considering the circumstances, but Zac complied and threw the jawbone of a nearby dead mountain goat to Robert, then went on his way. Not being as resourceful as he had earlier thought, Robert later died of starvation in the Andes Mountains, just a few hundred yards from a Burger King. The gap in this story is the literal gap that existed between Zac and Robert, which caused the miscommunication, and the eventual death of Robert.

Discover the Gaps

As I mentioned, there are many different kinds of gaps. The first step is uncovering where those gaps exist. That's something that we've been working on with our own clients, as part of our Sports180 process. It's hard to tailor a campaign, strategy or even a message if it's unclear what is expected by those receiving your message. Do they feel the same way about your brand, athletics programs, or mission as you do? And they does not necessarily mean fans. It starts internally. How does your own athletics organization see itself? Is everyone on the same page from the top down, and across all departments? With the revolving door of employees that often make up an athletics department, it's important to be clear about long-term goals and how that relates to everyday activity by all employees. Is everyone pulling the rope the same direction?

Get to the Root

If you've determined what those gaps are internally or externally, it's not enough just to acknowledge it, build a quick-fix bridge, and move on. Get to the heart of the matter. You've probably heard it said that if you ask "Why?" five times, you're likely to get to the real problem. Don't stop short, you've got to keep digging to figure out why the gaps exist in all areas before you can address them.

It Starts with Communication

D1.Ticker/Athletic Director U. had a great article that discussed the gap between leadership and employees, and why strategies often start off strong but fail to get executed properly, or not at all. In most cases, it starts with communication. In the world of athletics, communication silos are often a problem, as departments don't have daily interaction with each other to make sure all parties are heading toward the same goal.

It's Every Day

It's not enough to sit down with your entire staff once or twice a year and talk about your annual goals. Sure, it's important to do this, but if you're not making it a point to reach those goals each and every day with every employee, you'll never have success in hitting them. It's a challenge to keep everyone heading the same direction every day, but by doing a few things you can make the long-term goals more manageable.

• Give everyone a voice and hold them accountable: There are times when a top-down approach will be needed in communicating overall department goals. But there should be more instances where middle management and frontline employees are involved in formulating those goals. Employees want to be a part of the process, especially if their daily activities are centered around these long-term goals. It's also much easier to hold employees accountable when their voices have helped to shape goals, strategies and objectives.

• Form teams and assign tasks: Too many cooks spoil the broth. Limit the amount of big meetings you have, they're generally a waste of your resources. Once you have your long-term goals and assignments for which departments will handle certain aspects of those goals, break it down into smaller objectives, smaller groups, and shorter meetings. Make sure everyone in a meeting is involved in some way, and has a task assigned. Otherwise, you're just wasting their time.

• Hold team members accountable: Or even better, make the smaller teams hold each other accountable. Short check-up meetings are helpful, but don't overdo it. Employees don't need a babysitter watching over them, and they'll feel more responsible for the results if they've done it on their own.

Find the gap, mind the gap.