What can Amazon teach us about a high performing culture and environment?

Why (no 1)

In their corporate governance review for 2016, Grant Thornton reported on the FRC’s publication: “Corporate Culture and the Role of Boards.” This report was the result of an 18-month collaborative project to engage companies, investors and a wide range of stakeholders in considering culture. The report urged companies not to wait for a crisis before reflecting on their culture, and to focus on culture as a driver of long-term value. Grant Thornton reported that 86% of companies mentioned culture in their 2016 annual reports. 

Culture is a big ‘thing’ in sporting organisations at the moment.  In the past, Sir Dave Brailsford has said this: “You can’t get performance on a continuous basis over a long period of time through fear.” Whatever the real story at British Cycling, recent events have cast an important spotlight on the high performance culture.


What

What exactly do we mean by the ‘culture’ in/of an organisation? This is the view of Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, as set out in Amazon’s 2017 SEC filing:

“This year, Amazon became the fastest company ever to reach $100 billion in annual sales. Also this year, Amazon Web Services is reaching $10 billion in annual sales … doing so at a pace even faster than Amazon achieved that milestone.

What’s going on here? Both were planted as tiny seeds and both have grown organically without significant acquisitions into meaningful and large businesses, quickly. Superficially, the two could hardly be more different….. Under the surface, the two are not so different after all. They share a distinctive organizational culture that cares deeply about and acts with conviction on a small number of principles…. A word about corporate cultures: for better or for worse, they are enduring, stable, hard to change. They can be a source of advantage or disadvantage. You can write down your corporate culture, but when you do so, you’re discovering it, uncovering it – not creating it. It is created slowly over time by the people and by events – by the stories of past success and failure that become a deep part of the company lore. If it’s a distinctive culture, it will fit certain people like a custom-made glove. The reason cultures are so stable in time is because people self-select. Someone energized by competitive zeal may select and be happy in one culture, while someone who loves to pioneer and invent may choose another. The world, thankfully, is full of many high-performing, highly distinctive corporate cultures. We never claim that our approach is the right one – just that it’s ours – and over the last two decades, we’ve collected a large group of like-minded people. Folks who find our approach energizing and meaningful.”

Whilst Bezos refers to a culture that’s created over time, a study by Jim Collins, the well-known business consultant, places the leader of an organisation at the centre. Collins set out to discover what made some companies move from being good to being great. What enabled them to make that leap, and stay there? Collins and his team embarked on a 5 year study, selecting 11 companies whose stock returns had skyrocketed relative to other companies in their industry, and who had maintained this edge for at least 15 years.  They matched each company to another one in the same industry that had similar resources but did not make the leap. They also studied a third group of companies that had made the leap but could not sustain it. What distinguished the thriving companies from the others? Several important factors, as Collins reports in his book Good to Great, but one that was absolutely key in every case was the type of leader who led the company into greatness.  They were not larger than life, charismatic types who oozed ego and self-proclaimed talent. They were self-effacing people who constantly asked questions and had the ability to confront the most brutal answers- in other words those who were able to look failure in the face, even their own, while maintaining faith that they would succeed in the end.  They believe in human development. They are not constantly trying to prove they’re better than others, but they are constantly trying to improve.


Conversely, looking at the famous failure of Enron in 2001, many commentators put this down to a failure of mindset.  Enron was talent-obsessed, creating a culture that worshipped talent, and so forcing employees to look and act extraordinarily talented. It basically forced them into a mindset unable to admit mistakes, and so unable to learn from them.  

Interestingly, Bezos added this to the end of his statement above: One area where I think we are especially distinctive is failure. I believe we are the best place in the world to fail (we have plenty of practice!), and failure and invention are inseparable twins. To invent you have to experiment, and if you know in advance that it’s going to work, it’s not an experiment. Most large organizations embrace the idea of invention, but are not willing to suffer the string of failed experiments necessary to get there.


Why (no. 2)

We see it working as follows: organisations generally have a goal; an ambition. A destination that they are aiming for. This requires getting it right at three levels: strategy and structure; environment and culture; and people.  Sticking with Collins’ work, let’s use his analogy of a bus.  So to get to the destination, (i) you have to get the right people on the bus.  For us, more important than existing skillset is people with the right attitude and mindset, and a good diversity of thought and perspective. (ii) The right culture and environment is then key, to make sure you get the best out your people, and help them to help you as on organisation achieve your aims.  So what will the look and feel of your bus be, and what behaviours will you facilitate and encourage? Will your bus be steamlined, all sharp edges and cutting edge materials? Or will it be a green and environmentally friendly bus? (iii) Finally, your strategy and structure.  What road is your bus going to take? The fast motorway, or the slower country road? And what do you need to have in place to take that road?


Back to Sport

It’s important to remember that the piece around culture and environment isn’t soft and fluffy.  On the contrary, it is a key factor in driving success.  All UK Sport funded sports are looking at this now, and none of them will be doing so at the expense of winning medals.

What about rugby union, a sport where we have had an incredibly successful time post the World Cup. These, apparently, are Eddie Jones’ Standards for Building a Sustainable Performance of Excellence:

  • High work ethic always;
  • Passion for detail;
  • Get the right staff;
  • Create a learning environment;
  • Rules – make them very clear and understood;
  • Meetings – no longer than 15 minutes;
  • Communication – clear and concise;
  • Evaluation – clear criteria, no grey areas.

Imagine what his bus would look like?!

Conclusion

Getting this right can drive your organisation to achieve its goals.  And research is increasingly showing how key it is, across sectors. 

We’d love to hear from you if you’d like to find out how we can help. Please do get in touch on info@sportandbeyond.co.uk

What does a mobile phone advert have to do with women’s sport?

Some of you may have heard the latest government radio advert, aimed at stopping us all using our mobile phones in the car. It is a great example of behaviour change theory.


Why?

Theory alert……A quick recap on the behaviour change model that we apply. Based on the work by Dan and Chip Heath, in order to successfully bring about change, three different elements need to be in place.  You need to:

direct the rider;

motivate the elephant; and

shape the path.

In simple terms, the rider equates to the rational side of human beings and the elephant equates to our emotional side. No matter how much the rider might be aware of what the outcome needs to be, and what their behaviour should be, if their elephant is not motivated to get there, it’s not going to happen. Similarly, no matter how motivated the elephant is to get to the destination, and ‘behave well’, if the rider doesn’t know how to get there, it will simply be churning up the ground in the same spot.  Even where both rider and elephant are ready to get going, if the terrain is obstructive, getting to the destination will be extremely hard, meaning the rider and elephant are more likely to give up.

The advert…..So how does this apply to the radio advert.  This is where it gets clever. The advert starts by appealing to our elephant. The first thing mentioned is that the penalty for mobile phone use has gone up to 6 points. And a maximum fine of £2000.  Almost as an afterthought, the real danger, the fact that we might kill someone, is mentioned.  Why this approach? Because the advert is focusing on the emotional ‘hook’ that is immediately relevant to us, the one that we can relate to.  Losing £2000 and getting 6 points is tangible, and immediately disadvantageous. The prospect of killing someone is more remote, harder to relate to, and less tangible, despite the fact that that is the exact and tragic outcome the advert is seeking to avoid. 


The next step of the advert is genius.  It is a clear example of directing the rider. We all know we shouldn’t be using our phones in the car, but are we clear on methods to avoid doing so? What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity.  So the advert gives us a clear direction – put your phone in your glove compartment.  It even goes as far as to rename the glove compartment your phone compartment.  Simples. 

The final area, shaping the path, is provided by the constant repeating of this advert.  This strand of the model is aimed at making the good behaviour easier to carry out, and the ‘bad’ behaviour harder to carry out. Think back to the days of early cashpoints – did you ever take your money and leave your card in the cashpoint? Well done if you didn’t, but enough people did to make the banks frustrated. So they took a simple step to shape the path – you can no longer take your cash out, until you have removed your card! Part of shaping the path is helping people to build habits, and constantly repeating this advert, on a radio channel, that many drivers listen to, will help shape that path.


And the link to women’s sport…..There are so many wonderful initiatives going on in women’s sport at the moment.  A few of them are highlighted below, with an explanation as to how behaviour change theory is relevant:

  • England Netball’s Back to Netball campaign – Shaping the Path for women wanting to return to netball. This also works to Motivate the Elephant, as it creates a ‘herd’ of women taking part, encouraging others to want to join – behaviour is contagious, and an elephant likes to follow a herd.

 

  • #SheRallies – the new LTA female coaching campaign, backed by Judy Murray, to help ‘activate’ many more women into tennis.  The campaign’s focus is to train up a series of ‘activators’ across the country, who can work to activate more women and girls into tennis.  Part of this will be looking at what works already (we call this ‘finding the bright spots, and it is a key element of Directing the Rider) and part of it will be giving the activators clear instructions and guidance on what they need to be doing (scripting some critical moves for the Rider).

 

  • SportsCoachUK’s Reach campaign – again, a campaign that has been created to raise awareness and inspire more women to get into coaching as well as encourage current women coaches to develop their skills. These campaigns serve to Motivate the Elephant, both of the coaches and activators (they want to join this herd) but also of the end recipients – women and girls.  Their elephant is more likely to be motivated if they are being encouraged into sport and physical activity by someone in their community, who is like them, and understands their lives and needs.

 

  • Women’s Sport Trust #BeAGameChangerAwards – a great example of finding and rewarding the Bright Spots (Directing the Rider) and Motivating the Elephant (an annual get together and celebration of all those working hard in this space – who wouldn’t want to join this herd?)

 

  • Viewing figures – do you know one of the main reasons why the GB Women’s hockey final at Rio was watched by so many people? Because it came on the tv directly after a big football match, which many people were watching in the pub.  Lots of pubs flicked their coverage over to the hockey, and bingo – a captive audience. A great example of Shaping the Path – tweaking the environment to encourage the behaviour that you want.  This concept is being repeated in so many sports, from cricket through to rugby, with initiatives aimed at two key areas: (i) making it more appealing for women and families to attend sporting events; and (ii) encouraging more attendance in general at women’s sport events. 

There is much that still needs to be done to continue the momentum behind the upswing in all areas of women’s sport in general, but these examples show how careful planning, and a strategic approach, can reap rewards.  If anyone would like to find out more about our behaviour change model, and how it can drive the success of your initiatives, please do get in touch catherine@sportandbeyond.co.uk.

We have also had strong confirmation of a Shaping the Path effect in our training delivery, through the overwhelmingly positive responses to our female only courses, both in the coaching sphere, and in our female leadership programmes.  Again, to find out more, and see how these courses (aimed specifically at building confidence and impact) can drive the performance of women who work in sport, please do get in touch catherine@sportandbeyond.co.uk

Building your confidence to drive your performance

This piece was originally produced for CYBG as part of their International Women’s Week focus.


In 2015, the England Women’s Football team, known as the Lionesses, came home with a bronze medal from the World Cup in Canada. A huge achievement for the team, surpassing all expectations. Marianne Spacey was (and still is) the Assistant Coach of the team, a successful woman in what has been very much a male-dominated world. She has given this advice: “Believe in yourself, have an aptitude to learn and go knocking on doors to keep putting yourself into positions where you can get better.”

But how good are we as women at doing this? These are some of the statements that we have heard from women we have worked with, across both business and sport.

“I know I can do a good job, I just wish I had more confidence in myself.”

“The men I work with just seem to have this belief that they can do things.  And they are stronger at communicating this. I don’t have that and it’s frustrating as I feel like it’s holding me back.”

“I need to build up my confidence so that I can do a better job for my team – they need to have belief and confidence in me, so I need to have it in myself.” 

As a training and consulting company, the main benefit we aim to bring for the client organisations we work with is to drive high performance.  For many of the women we work with, this means helping them to build, and communicate, their confidence.  Let’s unpick some of the key areas that go into this.


Know yourself

“Before you can be someone, you need to know who you are.”

I can’t stress how important this is.  Whilst my first qualification was as a tennis coach, I then went on to work as a corporate lawyer for 13 years. The legal fraternity is not perhaps renowned for being the most self-aware set of people. However, doing a work-focused behavioural profile, which then prompted me to spend some proper time to understand my strengths and the way I operate at work, was a revelation.  My areas of best contribution are working with and through people, and achieving results. I am not particularly motivated by rules and procedures, or the need to feel secure.  Understanding this gave me a much better picture of ‘who I am’ at work, what my strengths are, and where I should be focusing my energies.  Whilst still in law, this meant a focus on client relationships and then training. It then led me to set up Sport and Beyond, where our entire focus is on developing people into high performers. 

This is why the first step of so much that we do at Sport and Beyond is a behavioural profile (we use the Thomas International suite of profiles as they are robust, accessible and extremely reliable).  It drives the first of our three key outcomes for clients: UNDERSTAND.


Build confidence

So how does this then drive an increase in confidence, and what other follow on steps can help?

Leveraging your strengths

Once you understand your strengths, leveraging them and building on them will enable you to perform at a higher level, and so build your confidence.  The belief in spending learning and development time on building on your strengths, rather than focusing too much on your weaknesses, is gaining greater currency within business. Of course it has been a central tenet within sport for a long time.  At Sport and Beyond we particularly love this quote from newly appointed England cricket captain, Joe Root: talking about the 12 month period where his performance really moved up a gear, he said: “Peter [ex-England coach] definitely got the best out of me, along with the rest of the coaching team.  When I came back from Australia I realised that a lot of the time I was trying to work on things I was not good at, putting all my energy into that rather than spending more time strengthening the stuff I am good at.”

Peter Drucker, renowned management consultant and author, applies this to business in the following way.  He has said that we should waste as little effort as possible on improving areas of low competence. It takes far more energy and work to improve from competence to mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence – and yet most people in most organisations concentrate on making incompetent performers into mediocre ones.

Don’t use this as an excuse to ignore your key ‘limiters’ of course. Yes, it’s important to concentrate on any areas of weakness that are holding us back. But don’t try and fix all of them, and try and shift the balance from too much focus on these to more focus on building up your areas of strength. This drives the second of our key outcomes for clients: FOCUS

What and Why

Often we lack confidence and are nervous about something but we are not sure why.  It might be a presentation we have to give. Or it might be nerves before a big meeting. Sure it’s a big meeting, but have you analysed why you are actually nervous?

The What and Why process helps many of our clients.  What is it that you are nervous about, and why.  So yes, it might be nerves before the big meeting, but what in particular are you worried about? Is it that you might not present your points well? Or is it that they won’t listen? Or won’t agree with you? Or something else? Once you’ve drilled down, then we can work on dealing with the concern, and building confidence around it.

Preparation

“Just because it’s common sense doesn’t mean that it’s common practice.” 

Sometimes the simple things are worth repeating, over and over again.  Whatever you are doing in life, the more prepared you are, the more confident you can feel going into it.  This doesn’t mean that you have to have all the answers (which is impossible) but it does mean that you have planned and prepared for the task in hand.

Experience

“You draw from your experiences. You draw from your failures. And every day is a learning day.” 

Those of you reading this with many years of working life under your belt can smile at this point. One of the great things about getting older is the experience that you have gained. However, there is a proviso to this. You have to use that experience wisely, and make sure that you continually learn from it.  Don’t rest on your laurels. The quote above is from Victoria Pendleton, the Olympic gold-medal winning cyclist who gave herself a year to convert to being a jump jockey, speaking the week before her (successful) big race.

Challenge yourself

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Having that growth mindset, a willingness to challenge yourself and accept that you might fail, is a whole topic in itself, but is key to building up confidence.

Try and view challenging tasks as an opportunity to learn and grow. Aim to succeed at the task, and in any event you will learn from it and grow stronger as a result.  Think of the ever growing chasm between those who have this attitude, and those who don’t.  Others don’t try new challenges, so they do not learn and they don’t grow.  That makes them even more fearful of new challenges, because they lack the experience or success in taking on new challenges.  Meanwhile, the others are growing stronger all the time.  Even if they have a setback on a challenge, they still learn and grow.

Mia Hamm, one of the greatest female soccer players, has said: “All my life I’ve been playing up, meaning I’ve challenged myself with players older, bigger, more skilful, more experienced. In short, better than me….Each day I attempted to play up to their level….and I was improving faster than I ever dreamed possible. “

This mindset, and approach, feeds into our final outcome for clients: EXCEL.


Threats to confidence

So what can knock our confidence? What can challenge our ability to feel confident in who we are and what we do?  It’s important to consider what these areas might be, so that you can deal with them and drive forward.  For each and every person it differs but common themes include:

  • levels of self-esteem;
  • others around you;
  • lack of experience;
  • too high expectations;
  • lack of a strategy; and
  • focusing too much on what has gone wrong.
  • Acknowledging what it is that’s holding back your confidence, gives you the power to then address it.

I will give the final word to Eleanor Roosevelt as this sums up something that we also see time and again with women – when under pressure, the goods are produced.

“A woman is like a tea bag: you never know how strong she is until you put her in hot water.”

 

Emotional Intelligence Podcasts

Listed below are the ConnectedCoaches Emotional Intelligence podcasts with contributions from Sport and Beyond.

As with our blogs, we hope you enjoy listening to the podcasts and welcome your comments and thoughts. 


1. Emotional Intelligence is integral to becoming a great coach

Understanding the concept of emotional intelligence (EI) can help coaches boost performance levels and grow and sustain participation in sport. So get your brain in gear as we explore what it is and how developing your EI will help you get the best out of your athletes.


2. The inside story: The value of Self awareness as a tool for improvement

A little introspection can go a long way. By exploring your emotions and understanding your inner self, you WILL improve your coaching. The benefits of practising self-awareness and getting some valuable ‘insider knowledge’ are such that you really cannot afford to ignore this advice from ConnectedCoaches content champion Catherine Baker.


3. Dealing with feelings: The importance of getting your heard around emotion perception

Emotion perception is a key component of emotional intelligence. In the third chapter of the series with behavioural expert and ConnectedCoaches content champion Catherine Baker, we explore the inner world of emotions, and discover how recognising and managing them in yourself and others can significantly improve your coaching.


4. How to develop behavioural agility in your coaching to get the best out of yourself and your coaches

In part four of the series on emotional intelligence, we look at recognising when to dial up and dial down your emotions because this can be key to getting the best out of your performers.


5. Smells like Team spirit: How to create a winning culture through the use of Emotional Intelligence

Developing a positive team environment, with tight social bonds between players and coaching staff, is instrumental to sustained success. In part five of the emotional intelligence series with ConnectedCoaches content champion Catherine Baker we explore the important role empathy, relationships and social awareness play in establishing the perfect club climate.

Competent to Mediocre, or First Rate to Excellent?

I wonder how many of you reading this can answer yes to the following? “In our organisation we take the time to understand our people as individuals, what their strengths are, and how we can get the best out of them?” And what about this statement: “In our organisation we don’t just spend our L&D budget on generic training, but on training that is specifically tailored to each individual.”

This is what happens in a high performing environment. Is it what happens in yours? 

Focus on Strengths, not Weaknesses

Some readers may have heard of Martina Navratilova, one of the greatest female tennis players of all time.  She wasn’t always that great. When she defected to the West towards the start of her career, she certainly hadn’t distinguished herself by that stage.  So what caused the change? What transformed her career? Well, Martina worked out what her strengths were, and worked hard to enhance and leverage them.  She realised she was naturally athletic and strong, and so she focused on building up her strength and fitness. No woman had ever trained on those areas to the extent that Navratilova did, and it brought her incredible success; and at the same time she changed the face of women’s tennis.

We know from our knowledge of working across sport and business that this is an area where sport trumps business hands down.  Athletes are generally much better at recognising where their strengths are, and leveraging them.  Partly this is helped by the data that is available, pretty much immediately, on performance.  However, it’s also helped by a mindset that knows the benefit of doing this.  Another story from the 80’s era illustrates this well.  Daley Thompson, GB decathlete, was determined to win a second gold medal in the 1984 LA Olympics. Chased hard by Jurgen Hingsen, he knew that there was only one event, the 1500, that he was vulnerable in. So he went to see a world-renowned coach, and asked him about improving his performance in this weak event. The coach thought about this offer and told him that he wasn’t prepared to help him improve at the 1500m. What he would do was help Thompson become so strong in the other 9 events that the 1500 would become irrelevant. The strategy paid off. In LA Thompson entered the final event, the 1500, knowing that as long as he finished, he had already won gold.

Peter Drucker, the renowned management consultant, educator and author, has said that we should waste as little effort as possible on improving areas of low competence. It takes far more energy and work to improve from competence to mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence – and yet most people in most organisations concentrate on making incompetent performers into mediocre ones.

Understanding what you are good at, and placing more emphasis on this than on any weaknesses is also of course a central tenet of positive psychology.  It leads to elevated vitality and motivation, a greater sense of direction and higher probability of goal attainment, not to mention increased self-confidence and productivity.  (Clifton & Anderson, 2001-2, Hodges & Clifton 2004, Peterson & Seligman 2004).


How can this work for you?

So how can you take this concept and apply it to your organisation?  We use a simple but hugely effective process:

  • Identify your people’s strengths by using a robust and easy to take behavioural profile which is British Psychological Society-registered. The profile focuses on behaviours at work and provides a fantastic insight into how people operate and what strengths and value they bring to their roles. 
  • Design a training programme, focusing on individual needs, with an emphasis on leveraging strengths.  So we might provide some of your team with training on listening skills, others on effective delegation or presentation skills, and so on. 

To finish with a more recent example from sport, how about this from Joe Root, arguably England’s best batsmen at this moment in time. Talking about the 12 month period where his performance really moved up a gear, he had this to say: “Peter [Moores] definitely got the best out of me, along with the rest of the coaching team.  When I came back from Australia I realised that a lot of the time I was trying to work on things I was not good at, putting all my energy into that rather than spending more time strengthening the stuff I am good at.”

For those of you reading this and saying “but what about the things we are not good at, but that are really important for our roles…?” Joe Root’s story has an answer to that as well – invite us in and we will tell all! 

Your People and the Ghosts of Christmas Past

As you reflect on the year just gone, and look ahead to 2017, perhaps whilst sipping (yet another) glass of mulled wine, how would you answer this question? Is your people strategy working?

Are you recruiting the right people? Are you retaining your best people? And are you developing your people to enable them to drive your organisation forward?


Why is it so important?

For those of you who say: “Why should I care?”, let’s see if this helps.  Grab a piece of paper, and draw an arrow across it, left to right.  Go on, try it, what have you got to lose? At the tip of the arrow, write what your organisation is trying to achieve. For example, it could be ‘Excellence.’ Or it could be ‘To be the market leader.’ Or ‘to hit a turnover figure of x’.

Then put three horizontal lines across the page. You may have one already, from your arrow. If so, make this your middle horizontal line, and add one above and one below. Alongside the top one, write strategy. Alongside the middle one, write culture and environment. And alongside the bottom one, write people.

Now imagine that your organisation is a person.  So the top line, strategy, represents the overall ‘shape’ of your organisation; how you are set up and structured, what your overall strategy is, and what mechanisms and structures you have in place to facilitate this. The second line, culture and environment, represents the character of your organisation. How you go about things, how you act, your beliefs, values etc.  The bottom line, people, represents the individual limbs of your organisation, the actual people you have in place to achieve your aims, and how you use and develop them. 

All these layers are interlinked, and when we talk about your people strategy, this ‘hits’ at each of the three levels. 


What matters most – skill or character?

Now within your people strategy, where do you put most of your focus? Is it on their skill base, is it on their experience, or is it on their approach and attitude? And how does your environment work to get the best out of your people?

Do you hire on skills and fire on attitude, or recruit for attitude and train for skill?

To put it another way, do you want to know what happens if you want to become a fighter pilot in the military? You spend six months in officer training.  And that six months involves no flying at all. Why? Because it’s only worth teaching you the technical skills if you can pass the teamwork and leadership stuff first.  The Red Arrows takes a similar approach – from a one week selection process, only 20 minutes is devoted to a skills test.  The rest is an extended informal assessment of cultural fit.*

What about sport? We have blogged before about the culture and environment of the New Zealand All Blacks, the most successful rugby union team in the world.  One of the key aspects from the All Blacks is that no one is more important than anyone else, and that they all, from the captain down, have to bring the right mentality and approach to being an All Black, even if that means sweeping the sheds at the end of the day. 


The perfect team…..

We will return to sport shortly, but those of you who are regular followers of our blogs will remember Project Aristotle, and the light this huge research project shed on what goes into the perfect team. Fundamentally it came down to a couple of key behavioural norms - essentially listening to one another and showing sensitivity to each other’s needs. What Project Aristotle taught people within Google is that no one wants to put on a ‘‘work face’’ when they get to the office. No one wants to leave part of their personality and inner life at home. But to be fully present at work, to feel ‘‘psychologically safe,’’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations. We have to bring the ‘human’ to the workplace.  

So understanding those you work with, as individuals, is key.  Two of the biggest success stories in sport this year demonstrate the impact this can have.  First, the GB Women’s hockey team.  One of the most significant factors in their turnaround, from a hugely disappointing performance at Bejing in 2008, was the awarding of central contracts, and the impact this had in terms of the squad spending more time together and getting to know each other better. As Kate Richardson-Walsh, the captain, said: “I was part of Team GB at the Olympic Games in 2004 and 2008, but everything really changed in the run-up to the London Olympics in 2012, as the women’s hockey team won a National Lottery grant enabling us to train full time.” This meant also that they could spend much more time together as individuals, eating together as a team, going out together as a team etc. All of which bonded them as a team and enhanced their understanding and empathy with one another. 

And now to Saracens, winners of the double last season – the Premiership and the Champions Cup.  Time together, as a squad, outside of their ‘rugby environment’ is key to them.  In fact just today they are off to the slopes of the French Alps, as a squad, to get to know each other even better in a different environment.  Watch out on the slopes…..! 


Take the time to get it right in 2017

So, whilst sipping your mulled wine over the Christmas break, what is your answer to the question posed at the beginning of this piece? Is you people strategy excellent? If not, why not? And why not see if we can help….

*taken from Justin Hughes, former Red Arrows pilot, writing in the HRZone. 

Making an impact

Making an Impact

We all want to make an impact. When we speak. When we interact with others. And when we do things. Why? Because making the right impact means that we can achieve our goals.

But how often do we think about the best way to make that impact? How to get our message across in the most effective way? How best to ensure the desired effect when doing something?

This is something that we have been focusing on quite a bit recently.  It is of course a topic that’s been in the news recently. It’s also something that we’ve been working on increasingly with women in the workplace. 

So what are some key things that can make a difference to the impact that you make? That can ensure you have the effect you would like?


Prepare

 “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” (Abraham Lincoln)

One of our favourite quotes.  The point being, the more thought and preparation you put in beforehand around what impact you want to make, and how you can best make it, the better the outcome is likely to be.  Say I have a management team meeting coming up, and there is a key outcome that I would like. I want to get approval for some budget to be released for a project that I want to roll out.  The more preparation I can put in beforehand, the more likely I am to make the correct impact and get the right result.  So I will consider what my message is, how best to deliver it, when during the meeting to deliver it, and how I will be backing it up.


Headline

Keep your points short. Attention span is not that long. Start with your headline, and then follow up with background information.

How many times have you sat in a meeting where someone has spent ages explaining the background, before actually coming up with their point? By which time most people have switched off.  Which means the headline idea is unlikely to land, and stick.

This is something we cover in our high performing communication workshops.  Research has shown that you get people’s full attention for such a short space of time (can you believe that it’s only around 7-10 seconds, before people’s brains start making connections and thinking of other things?) So use that time wisely.


Consider your audience

People often spend so much time thinking about the impact they want to make, and what they want to achieve, that they forget to consider the audience.

So imagine the situation above. You’ve worked hard to clarify what you want to say.  You are going to headline. You have your back-up information. You are sorted.  And yet you still get nowhere in the meeting.  Your messages just do not hit home, and not just because you only got your slot at the end of the meeting, when everyone had had enough.

Considering things from other people’s point of view is absolutely key. This links in with behavioural theory, and specifically how you motivate people.  Let’s say I want my Board to agree to a cost-cutting exercise throughout my area of the organisation. Imagine that I work for a hospital trust that runs five different hospitals, and we waste ridiculous amounts of money in a whole range of areas. One of the most stark examples is our purchasing of surgical gloves. Rather than buying them from one supplier, different departments, let alone the different hospitals buy them from different suppliers, at vastly differing prices. We have 25 different kinds of gloves that we purchase! I have been trying to get this message across to the board – I have all the facts and figures to hand, and to me it is an obvious priority – we are effectively burning money! But I just can’t seem to get through to the board. They don’t want to focus on it, and have other priorities (in their eyes) to deal with. This is driving me mad.  Then one day I spend some time reading about behaviour change, and specifically the need to ‘find the feeling’ of my audience.  This teaches me that I have to do something that motivates their emotional brain to care about this.  So what do I decide to do? I collect up one pair each of the 25 different pairs, and tag each with the price paid.  At the next board meeting, rather than presenting the board with facts and figures, I just slowly lay out the gloves, starting with the cheapest, and finish with a line of 25 pairs of gloves, all which look very similar, and all which do the same job.  The mouths of the board gape open, I have grabbed their attention, and found their ‘feeling’…..


Persistence

Sometimes it doesn’t happen straight away, and you have to find a way around, rather than hitting an issue straight on. As the fabulous Baroness Sue Campbell has said in the past: “I’ve learnt to say ‘ok the door is shut, I’ll see if I can get through the window.’ And if the window is shut I’ll dig a tunnel into the house, and if the tunnel’s not available I’ll burrow through the roof. In other words, there’s always a way round things.”

This links in with the concept of persistence, something which we talk about a lot in our high performing programmes.  The thing about persistence is that it can be make or break.  Too many people fail because they give up too easily. But we like to focus on a concept which we call ‘intelligent persistence.’ And this relates both to what you are being persistent about, as well as how you are going about it.  Another of our favourite quotes is this, from Stephen Covey: “In the busyness of life it’s easy to work harder and harder, climbing the ladder of success, then arrive at the top only to realise that the ladder has been leaning against the wrong wall.”

So when you’re looking to make that impact, persistence is key. But make sure that’s it’s the right thing to be persistent about.

For more information on any of these areas, or more information generally about how we can help, please do get in touch via info@sportandbeyond.co.uk

 

Does Your Business Take An Olympic Approach - Part 2

Part 2 of - Does Your Business Take An Olympic Approach?

This is the approach that Adam Peaty, gold-medal winning swimmer in Rio, takes to his job: “The idea of making the team but not pushing the team forward was not really an option for me.  Me and my coach push forward every day.   I’m not going to settle for just this. I’m going to push forward – I’m sure every gold medallist says this but me and Mel operate differently and we are always pursuing excellence and self-improvement. If we’re not doing that I don’t really see the point.”

Success.  Great leadership. High performing teams. Winning attitude and mindset. Fulfilling potential. 

These are all things that individuals and businesses aim for. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a perfect solution for each of these? Life of course does not work that way. There are, however, some common factors that are consistently proven to contribute to these areas.

In Part 1  we started to look at some of these key factors. In this Part 2 we continue to do so,  carrying on with the 3m diving board analogy.


To be able to dive well off a 3m board, I need to practice hard and in the right way

A coach’s job is to improve their athlete’s performance.  It is as simple as that.  To do this, they need to make sure that everything the athlete does leads towards that goal.  The aim is for continuous improvement. As Mel Marshall, Adam Peaty’s coach, said after his gold medal winning swim: ““I just want to keep helping athletes and finding the answers that are needed to help them get the most out of their performance……I just want the opportunity to help athletes realise their potential.”

Within this, the concept of purposeful practice (also known as ‘deliberate practice’) is key.   What it means that not all practice is equal, and that in order to really develop, you need to make sure that what you are doing is purposeful and will contribute effectively to getting you to your end goal.  See what one of the most successful basketball coaches of all time, John Wooden, says on this:

“You have to apply yourself each day to becoming a little better. By applying yourself to the task of becoming a little better each and every day over a period of time, you will become a lot better.”  He didn’t ask for mistake-free games. He didn’t demand that his players never lose. He asked for full preparation and full effort from them.  If players were coasting during practice, he turned out the lights and left. “Gentlemen, practice is over.” They had lost their opportunity to become better that day.

As Sean Fitzpatrick, legendary All Black, once said: “The best sports people in the world practice more than they play. Business people should practice too.  They should go home at night and analyse their performance.”

Do you?


What small changes can I make to enable me to get better at diving off the 3m board?

This is one of our favourites, as it can be applied so instantly to improve results, provided it is understood and done in the right way.  What we are talking about is marginal gains.  Whilst this concept came to fame via British Cycling (who still follow it stringently today – have a look at this for the latest area of focus https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2016/aug/15/team-gb-cycling-saddle-sore-medals) it was around for a while beforehand, notably being put into practice by Sir Clive Woodward. According to Woodward, one of the tenets of the 2003 World Cup winning rugby team’s success was the willingness to do 100 things just 1% better. Woodward called these the ‘critical non-essentials’ – a fresh jersey at half time, the same bus for every game, a more inspiring locker room at Twickenham.

Some of the key areas looked at within cycling include body percent fat figures – these go down to 4% for the 2 weeks around the Olympics. As these are dangerously low levels, they have to be very carefully monitored, with the athletes at much greater risk of illness, but the power to weight ratios that are so key can make a huge difference. In Rio Team GB wore new suits – huge amounts of technology go into making these as figure hugging, and efficient, as possible. Even one little fold in the arm can have an impact on speed.

So as a concept it’s about breaking down all the elements of what you/your business does, seeing what improvements can be made, so that the whole adds up to so much more. 


What’s your 3m board?

So for you and your business, what’s your 3m board? What does success look like for you as an individual, and for your business? And how can you apply these concepts to the aims noted at the top of this piece?

A final analogy with sport to bring all of this together. As noted earlier, a coach’s job is to make sure their athlete is the best they can be.  What does this require?

  • A belief that they as a coach can and should keep improving and developing;
  • A belief that their athletes can keep improving and developing;
  • The right environment and culture to drive this improvement.

A coach needs to do this with an eye both to the short term as well as the long term (whilst UK Sport works on an 8 year cycle, questions would have been asked if success at London was sacrificed for success at Rio – just look at what happened to Stuart Lancaster). A coach also needs to do this within the context of their funding constraints, and the interests of their stakeholders.

How many of you reading this can relate to this? 

Does Your Business Take An Olympic Approach? - Part 1

This is the approach that Adam Peaty, gold-medal winning swimmer in Rio, takes to his job: “The idea of making the team but not pushing the team forward was not really an option for me……..I’m not going to settle for just this. I’m going to push forward – I’m sure every gold medallist says this but me and Mel operate differently and we are always pursuing excellence and self-improvement. If we’re not doing that I don’t really see the point.”


Success. Great leadership. High performing teams. Winning attitude and mindset. Fulfilling potential. 

These are all things that individuals and businesses aim for. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a perfect solution for each of these? Life of course does not work that way. There are, however, some common factors that are consistently proven to contribute to these areas.

In this piece, Part One of Two, we will start to examine some of these key factors. And as we have all been going Olympic-crazy here at Sport and Beyond, we will be using examples from sport to illustrate the factors.


We can all dive off a 3m board

How many of you shook your head on reading this title?  To those that have, hopefully we can convince you to start nodding your head….

Based on the ground-breaking work carried out by the marvellous Carol Dweck, what we are focusing on here is the concept of a growth mindset.  We have blogged about this before, but in a nutshell this is the belief that our abilities are not fixed, our ‘talents’ not set in stone. On the contrary, our brains are just like other ‘muscles’, and have huge capacity to develop and ‘grow’. Through application, effort, hard work, and focus, our abilities can be cultivated.  If we seek to challenge ourselves, and see mistakes as opportunities to learn and develop, rather than things to be avoided, we enable ourselves to improve at whatever it is we are working on.  By focusing on the process of learning, and doing, we achieve a better outcome than we might ever have thought possible.

Did you listen to any of the interviews with the medal-winning athletes? If so, did you note the focus on learning, developing, challenging themselves, getting the process right, and what they can learn from their failures. Andy Murray was particularly eloquent after his Wimbledon success this year in saying: “failing’s not terrible….Just don’t be afraid of failure. I’ve learnt from all my losses.”

Whilst this concept was developed in the world of education (if you get the chance and haven’t yet, do have a look at Carol Dweck’s first piece of research which set all of this in motion – where the choice of six words in feedback to some student’s had a huge impact on their performance) and is prevalent in sport, it is also increasingly being picked up in business. 

Jim Collins, the well-known business consultant, set out to discover what made some companies move from being good to being great. What enabled them to make that leap, and stay there? Collins and his team embarked on a 5 year study, selecting 11 companies whose stock returns had skyrocketed relative to other companies in their industry, and who had maintained this edge for at least 15 years.  They matched each company to another one in the same industry that had similar resources but did not make the leap. They also studied a third group of companies that had made the leap but could not sustain it. What distinguished the thriving companies from the others? Several important factors, as Collins reports in his book Good to Great, but one that was absolutely key in every case was the type of leader who led the company into greatness.  They were not larger than life, charismatic types who oozed ego and self-proclaimed talent. They were self-effacing people who constantly asked questions and had the ability to confront the most brutal answers- in other words those who were able to look failure in the face, even their own, while maintaining faith that they would succeed in the end.  They have the growth mindset, as opposed to a fixed mindset. They believe in human development. They are not constantly trying to prove they’re better than others, but they are constantly trying to improve.

Conversely, looking at the famous failure of Enron in 2001, many commentators put this down to a failure of mindset.  Enron was talent-obsessed, creating a culture that worshipped talent, and so forcing employees to look and act extraordinarily talented. It basically forced them into a fixed mindset, the opposite of a growth mindset!


We can all pull off a synchronised dive with our team mates….

Linked to this concept, but in a slightly different context, is the key issue of team performance. In our last blog we looked at what goes into the ‘perfect team’ (courtesy of some fabulous research done at Google) but here we are going to link it to the growth mindset.  One of the requirements for a great team is ‘psychological safety’ - a group culture that the Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson defines as a “shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.” Now does this remind you of anything?

A researcher called Robert Wood carried out, with colleagues, a great study on group processes and the impact of a fixed versus a growth mindset.  They created thirty management groups with three people each.  Half of the groups had people with fixed mindsets and the other half had people with growth mindsets. Those with the fixed mindset believed that “People have a certain fixed amount of management ability and they cannot do much to change it.” Those with a growth mindset believed “People can always substantially change their basic skills for managing other people.” Each group worked together for some weeks and were given a complex management task.  From a start of similar ability, as time went on the growth mindset groups clearly outperformed the fixed mindset ones.  Those with the growth mindset profited from their mistakes and feedback far more than the fixed-mindset people. But what was also fascinating was that they were much more likely to state their honest opinions and openly express their disagreements as they communicated about their management decisions.  Not only was everyone part of the learning process, they did not descend into ‘groupthink.”

This last point is key, and well-illustrated by sport. British swimming has had great success in the pool in Rio this summer.  One big change they made after London 2012 was to take on Nigel Redman, a former rugby international with no experience of the swimming world.  Why? Because they wanted an outsider who could come in and question accepted practice and conventional wisdom. The appointment has proved its worth in gold.

Cycling provides another good example of this.  Sir Dave Brailsford has always had a huge focus on building the right team, with the right mix.  For him, this meant bringing in experts from all sorts of disciplines – he was one of the first to bring in a psychologist (Dr. Steve Peters), and expert nutritionists.  What did he do with Team Sky when he wasn’t having the gains he wanted at first?  Tim Kerrison is a former rower, former rowing coach and a former swimming coach. Brailsford became aware of him during irregular get-togethers between coaches from swimming, rowing, cycling and sailing in the mid-2000s. When Sky struggled in their first attempt at the Tour de France, Brailsford offered Kerrison, this absolute outsider, a job and then let him spend the best part of a season merely observing. Kerrison looked, listened and learned and put together a plan. It is one that has seen Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome win successive Tours.


We hope you’ve enjoyed reading this. As ever with our blogs, we would love to hear your thoughts and views – do let us know, either via email (info@sportandbeyond.co.uk) or twitter. 

In Part Two, to follow, we will be examining:

  • to be able to dive well off a 3m board, I need to practice hard and in the right way
  • what small changes can I make to enable me to get better at diving off the 3m board? and
  • what’s your 3m board?