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Added by Craig Steel
Continued: Similarities and differences between sport and business

It’s time to look at two levers you have to pull if you want to build a high-performance culture.

Female athlete close up with intense look during workout

Following on from our previous blog about the difference between business and sport, it’s time to look at two levers you have to pull if you want to build a high-performance culture.

Although performance and productivity are critical to organisational success, very few businesses know how to improve them other than through the provision of better technology (research shows that virtually every performance gain achieved in the past century can be attributed to technological advancements rather than the ‘unlocking’ of human potential).

If you are serious about improving the performance of your business, you have to look to your people for without a doubt, they are your only sustainable point of difference. In other words, every other differentiator you can get your hands on can also be purchased by your competitors; meaning if you are not winning the war on talent, you are unlikely to win in the long run.

This is something sports teams understand whereas business leaders appear not to. Coaches get the fact it is the performance of the players who take to the field that will determine the success of the team on the day. It doesn’t matter how smart the toys are they use to prepare themselves, when it comes to game time, it’s all about their players’ ability to deliver the outcomes they are after.

So let’s take a look at the levers:


Lever 1 – Strategic relevance

In sport, people understand the absolute importance of every role on the team. For example, if we were to look at a rugby team, we would notice that on the back of each player’s jersey is a number. Their number doesn’t reflect their order of ‘importance’, it highlights their ‘position’ on the team.

In the world of business however it is different. If each person in the majority of commercial entities had a number inscribed on their back, it wouldn’t identify their position on the team, it would reflect their ‘status’ in the business. In other words, we would see the CEO with No. 1, then each executive level leader with a different number on their back and so it would go on down through each level of the business until eventually, every front line member of staff would be given a number to remind them where they sit in the pecking order.

To break the back of this impediment, you have to change the thinking from one of ‘status’ to ‘strategic relevance’. In other words, you have to ensure your people understand their importance to the business is not determined by where they sit in the structure, but by their ability to deliver the outcomes the organisation requires from their role.

The interesting thing that happens when businesses get this right is they transform people’s ‘sense’ of relevance to the business rather than supporting their assumption that they are only as important as their status in the business suggests.

The reason this is vital is because, as we (SIP) discovered many years ago, a person’s sense of importance to the business determines their engagement in the business. In other words, staff engagement is determined by how ‘relevant’ a person thinks the leaders believe they are to the business and its future.

For this reason, every organisation could experience a significant improvement in their people’s engagement (and as a consequence, their performance), by increasing their relevance to the business.


Lever 2 – Personal bests

The predominant point of focus for every athlete is producing a personal best. However, in business, the idea of personal bests tends to not even enter the psyche.

Although the value of embedding such a mind-set is obvious, few organisations think it’s possible. One of the reasons for this is because most wrongly assume that unlike athletes who want to get better every day, their people don’t.

Contrary to such a view, we would suggest the majority of employees entering a business are engaged just like an athlete however, because of the way most companies operate, many lose their sense of excitement and with it, the appetite to push themselves further.

The point about personal bests is they apply to everyone irrespective of their role. By instituting the right process (and developing the leadership capability to apply it), any business can shift the conversation in people’s heads from thinking about what they are up against to thinking about how to get better.

This personal best ethos is critical to the performance and productivity of every business for it not only ensures people understand the importance of their role, it focuses them on what they are doing to help it win thereby deepening their commitment (and with it, their enjoyment in being a part of it).

Unlike sportspeople, leaders often assume their people lack the will to win. However, what they can’t refute is that their people’s lives are just as important to them as an athlete’s life is to that athlete. 

If we accept this is a given, we will come to realise that every person wants to succeed (contribute) irrespective of their position. The problem however is too few people are given an opportunity to be their best because so few organisations highlight the importance of their role let alone help them get better at it.



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