What Professional Sport Can Teach Corporates

The top four characteristics of high performance

In this series of articles I will share what I learn from being a Professional Athlete and how this can be applied in the corporate world. Recently I spent two weeks in a very high-performing environment at an Ironman Triathlon training camp in Hawaii. My experience on this camp enabled me to see up close and personal what it takes to be a professional athlete, and what factors lead to high performance. This aligns closely with the work I currently do, which is focusing on people capability and developing potential into high performance. From presenting at businesses across Australia and New Zealand, I have distilled the many factors to performance into the following key four:

1. Immediate and Relevant Feedback

The importance of feedback is prevalent in professional sport. Whether it be split times in the pool, a coach on a scooter next to you giving immediate feedback on bike technique, or looking at your pace during the run. This feedback enables you to adjust your effort, technique and approach during training so that performance can be maximised in a race situation. In a corporate environment feedback is often given too late, for example at a quarterly performs review, or is not relevant. I work with managers on providing feedback as close to the event as possible, and in a constructive way, thus giving their team the best chance of improving.

2. Do not FEAR failure

For constructive feedback to work it must take place in an environment where failure is seen as a learning opportunity, not something to be feared. A great example of this is the CEO of HCL, Vineet Nayar, who shared his 360 feedback results with the entire company, and urged his management team to as well. By sharing his vulnerabilities and shattering the belief that the CEO was perfect, he gained a huge amount of trust and respect from those in the company. In sport you cannot hide from failure because it is so black and white, you either win the race or you don’t. If you don’t, then it drives you to improve.

3. Control the Controllable

I have learnt, through my experience of being a professional athlete that you cannot waste energy on those things you can’t control. A great example is the weather. Instead of putting energy into worrying about how windy it is going to be on race day, I focus on what I can control, such as wheel selection, clothing, etc. I have been working extensively with a large Dairy company on developing high performing teams. They are constantly hit by crisis driven by things they can’t control. We have worked on reducing the amount of stress related to trying to control these things and instead put that energy into such activities as scenario and risk analysis – controlling what they can control, being prepared for every eventuality.

4. Purpose and Passion

I believe that this is the most important factor that drives high performance, whether it is in the sport or corporate environment. It is very hard, near impossible, to make it through the tough periods when you don’t have a purpose you are driving toward, or if you aren’t passionate about it. Ask any professional sport person what their goal or purpose is, and they will be able to tell you exactly what it is, probably in a great level of detail. It is something you visualise during those hard training sessions. The first step to this in a corporate team is coming up with a solid Vision Statement that the team can be motivated by. I make sure that this statement is on every desk, visible every day. corporate