How we can make 2013 as exciting and inspiring as 2012 has been the theme of many of the traditional ‘New Year’ articles doing the rounds this week. It was the Olympics and Paralympics of course that created the ‘feel good’ factor that swept the nation last year – but how successful has UK plc been at learning from the outstanding achievements of our athletes? An event being organised by Ashridge Business School next week aims to open organisations eyes to some of the opportunities being missed (Thursday 17th January Lords Cricket Ground London).
How we can make 2013 as exciting and inspiring as 2012 has been the theme of many of the traditional ‘New Year’ articles doing the rounds this week. It was the Olympics and Paralympics of course that created the ‘feel good’ factor that swept the nation last year – but how successful has UK plc been at learning from the outstanding achievements of our athletes?
An event being organised by Ashridge Business School next week aims to open organisations eyes to some of the opportunities being missed (Thursday 17th January Lords Cricket Ground London). Speakers including Dr Cath Bishop Olympian and British rower Graham Taylor Head of Coaching at UK Sport and Michael Cole BT Global Services will explore the personal operational and people lessons from the Games and help delegates see how they can use the Olympic legacy to boost their business in the year ahead.
Of course synergies between the world of business and sport have long been recognised. Athletes and managers are both equally concerned with achieving peak performance and getting the best out of their teams. Managers however don’t always understand how to apply some of the principles behind sporting success to the day-to-day management of their people. There is a real danger that if they are misused some of the practices can actually demotivate people and have a negative impact.
Managers have a tendency to label people as teams for example when their only link is that they meet regularly. They demand that people become more passionate and strive for gold standard performance – without understanding that passion has to be grown from within and that you can’t demand winning performance without telling people what actions they need to take in order to win.
Move away from these simplistic comparisons however and according to John Neal director of the Ashridge Sport Business Initiative it is possible to identify a number of practices regularly used in sport which were fundamental to our Olympic success and can make a real difference in the business arena.
Measures of success: It is common practice within sport for aspects of the game to be measured studied and analysed in a bid to identify the most effective way to improve team performance. The opposition is also frequently studied to pinpoint vulnerabilities and identify changes in tactic that will expose those weaknesses.
Detailed biomechanical analysis can also help individual athletes identify their strengths and weaknesses so that they work on improvements and measure progress.
It’s perfectly possible for businesses who want to make significant leaps in performance to apply this principle and identify the key actions that will give them competitive edge. It’s about gathering accurate data about performance setting clear and measurable targets monitoring progress and giving regular feedback. The work is detailed and painstaking but it will help organisations develop high performing teams able to consistently operate at their peak.
Making practice count: In most sports the amount of time spent actually performing at high peak is relatively low compared with the amount of time spent practicing. A top footballer or athlete for example may spend three to four hours a week performing competitively supported by maybe 20-30 hours per week of practice.
The time for’ practice’ and training in the conventional sense is limited in a business environment but this doesn’t mean you have to limit the amount of time you spend learning from practice.
This is where a coaching approach has enormous benefits. We can learn from everything we do in a business environment providing we are getting effective feedback from the previous activity and coaching advice to help us learn from our experience.
Visualisation: Business could also benefit from making use of the visualisation techniques used widely in sport. Top athletes spend a significant amount of time visualising exactly how they will achieve record breaking performance. Watch a high jumper before every jump and you will see him or her visualising their approach to the bar thinking through the layout and the way they are going to land.
In a business environment however people who are facing a tough challenge where high performance is necessary often do the complete opposite. They worry about what could go wrong thereby creating an image of themselves ‘failing’ in some way. If you’ve practiced in your mind the situation of failure more than you’ve practised the situation of success the scales are weighed against you before you start.
Shared Leadership: In the best teams while leadership is important it is not the exclusive preserve of one person. Sports teams often change their leader or have different leaders for different situations. A rowing team for example may look to one member for motivation or team tactics and another for technique or pace. In business what typically happens is that a team manager is appointed and given full management responsibility.
The reality however is that starting up a project is a very different matter to turning it around or significantly expanding the scope. Few of us have all the leadership skills necessary to achieve all three tasks successfully. To achieve maximum performance we need to learn to swap and substitute leaders in the way sports teams do.