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Jan's corner: business lessons from the Tour de France

As I write, the 2010 Tour de France is drawing to an end and I can’t help but see parallels between succeeding in this seminal cycling race and business.

Contrary to popular belief, cycling is far from an individual sport: certainly, to win the Tour de France requires individual talent. But history is filled with highly talented riders who never wore the yellow (race leader) jersey, or the green or dotted shirts either.

Tour de France team

Competitive cycling is about teamwork and playing to your strengths

An individual, no matter how strong, cannot make it over a 3,000 kilometre-long race alone. Technical, logistical, tactical and moral assistance from a well-organised and resourced team is key for cycling success just as small details and a few seconds, here or there, can decide the race winner.

These days, every racing team in the Tour has professional riders, mechanics, medical staff and dieticians, support cars with radios and the most advanced bikes. Just like in business, equipment and technology has become standard.

What did I notice that makes the most difference? Compatibility and collaboration of the people involved on the road and behind the scenes. They set and execute the race strategy (based on their team’s unique strengths) and make sure they quickly adapt their tactics when things change.

In difficult terrain (often climbing on narrow roads in high mountains) and in the face of severe and changing conditions (scorchingly hot sun and cold rain), along with fierce competition for the ultimate prize, even stars like Lance Armstrong depend on others. Without proper and timely support, they can lose a stage, or the whole race, regardless of their talent.

In the Tour, like in business, talent and strength can win a stage, but clear strategy and dependable teamwork are what wins a high placing in the overall standings.

It might sound obvious, but consider how interlinked you are. Who do you depend on to give your best performance day in, day out? Whose success depends on you? Are you geared up to win your race? Do you know the strengths, and weaknesses, of your team-mates? Performance in Le Tour is like performance in business: apparently ‘soft’ skills, like self-knowledge, trust and teamwork, turn out to be intrinsically linked to success.


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Head in the sand or legs that run…

Use conversation to get people's heads out of the sand

According to HR Magazine, employers fear their workforce’s lack of skills will hamper an enterprise’s recovery.

We are meeting more and more employees who we find in a state of paralysis or fear over the economic situation and, faced with job cuts and budget cuts, they feel less empowered to take action and are finding it even harder to see where they can add value. One option is to bury your head in the sand. Another is to create an environment where the team can get into flow and create some ideas to generate profit… ideas with legs.

This of course is the key to the success. Sometimes, just a simple discussion to get clarity about what would be of the most value right now can have a dramatic impact on the bottom line and, more importantly, confidence to continue doing it.

Following just a one hour performance consulting discussion last week with one of my clients, who has been experiencing this paralysis, they were able to create a £100k action that can be implemented immediately, at no extra cost to the bsuiness, just by doing some simple accountability restructuring within the team.

So go on, have a conversation about it. It’s not just about getting more training or developing new skills, sometimes its just about thinking differently.


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Jan’s Corner: success, regardless of where you are at half time

Many eyes excitedly followed the action at the FIFA World Cup in South Africa. The tournament presented an opportunity for every team to demonstrate their capabilities on a world stage, along with the pressure to perform when it really matters.

I like watching sport because it reminds me of both business and life. We set worthwhile goals, team up with others, plan, prepare and then deal with the challenges along the way presented by circumstances and other factors.

England has fallen in the first knockout stage. Does this indicate an inflexibility in adapting to the circumstances of the tournament? Certainly, in past competitions, teams have started poorly but made changes and rallied to win, as did Italy in 2006.

Watching successful teams playing at the World Cup, I noticed a few things that could make a difference in business as well:

  • Playing as a team – focusing on giving your personal best to the team and creating opportunities for others and making the most of everyone’s position and strengths.
  • Playing fully till the final whistle – especially when you are winning.
  • Enjoying the game – playing with passion and improving by learning from both successes and failures.

So, regardless where you are at an intermediate stage, with the right approach, this year can be as exciting and triumphant for you as for the eventual World Cup-winning nation.


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One size just doesn't fit all…

We’ve all been invited on courses of how to network better/more effectively. They are always run by some outgoing, extroverted individual who has no problem meeting heaps of brand new folks, who then take time to explain to everyone else just how easy it is to do! Of course they do – they all have a natural extroversion in their profile which makes it so much easier for them to do this!! It’s something they are naturally good at and therefore enjoy more.

Everyone has the ability to network successfully. There are different strategies that are more effective for the eight different Talent Dynamics Profile Types. There simply isn’t one size to fit all.

Now, I’m a Supporter Profile: we are natural, face-to-face networkers, great at building relationships quickly. We enjoy meeting new people and don’t enjoy the detail or the data analysis so much. Give me the choice of being in the office at my desk or at an event with 100 strangers – I’ll always choose the 100 strangers! It’s my natural talent.

I was at such an event recently. I had stood up confidently and shared my 60 second update on my company (extroverted profiles are OK with this public speaking as well). During the break I met with an Accumulator Profile. The first thing she said to me was “I wish I could be more like you!”.

I asked her why and she explained that, as a member of the legal profession, she didn’t favour these kind of events but had to do them. Many of her legal clients were expecting more extroverted and naturally-outgoing solicitors to work with! I really felt for her in that instant. I explained, that Accumulator’s make the most risk-averse of all the Profiles and are very well-suited to this role. They are the safest of all of the talent Dynamics Profiles and I assured her that, I for one, would prefer my solicitor to be an Accumulator Profile!

I also discussed with her some specific strategies she might like to employ with her networking that plays to her natural strengths.

So please don’t feel that you have to be this super-duper, over-the-top natural networker, constantly wondering why others are so much better at it than you.

Or the complete opposite, you find you are a natural networker but struggle with the detail in running your organisation. Realise your natural talents, utilise your natural strengths and find a team to support you with the talents that don’t come so naturally to you!


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Jan's Corner: know thyself — as relevant in business as it is in life

A sign at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi in Greece reads Nosce te ipsum or Know yourself. More than 2000 years ago, philosophers like Socrates knew that a meaningful life and a successful, prosperous society was based on deep self-knowledge.

What has knowing yourself to do with business in the 21st Century? Everything. Businesses exist for people and with people. More then ever before, people seek to discover and express their passions, talents, values and aspirations — to live a meaningful and fulfilling life — as customers, business owners and employees.

Those businesses that allow self-knowledge be an integral part of their philosophy and practice witness real magic.

How does that work? Knowing yourself and others knowing themselves allows for an unusual alchemy to happen, not just in business. Everyone sees their unique value and is appreciated for what they bring to the table. Differences are celebrated and effectively used. New opportunities and synergy is created when unique perspectives, natural strengths and passions are melded with those of others in total self-awareness of what the process is. Excitement is pervasive and no vision is out of reach.

Invest your time in knowing yourself, and understanding others below the surface, and you’ll be surprised at what happens.


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Are you enabling, or preventing, great performance?

Self-knowledge is vital to a leader

Your Leadership Style has a direct impact on business results

According to the CIPD: “…before people can become successful leaders, they do need certain attributes… self-knowledge, to understand their own strengths and weaknesses… these attributes will help to develop trust, without which, leaders will not command loyalty”.

It is widely accepted that if you want to improve your leadership capability and your business, a hugely important aspect to improve is yourself.

When we are coaching leaders or working with teams, we often find that improving a leader’s self awareness — through a Talent Dynamics Profile debrief or one of our 360 degree measurement tools — will have a dramatic impact on their and the team’s performance. Whether that be something as obvious as improving relationships with clients, understanding what motivates your team, or less direct blocks such as improving productivity or creating more efficient systems.

Sometimes leaders are trying to carry out a role in a leadership style that isn’t their most natural, which makes it harder to do. Other times, they are using their most natural style but finding it isn’t having the same ‘natural effect’ on their team as it’s a style the team don’t enjoy being led with.

Aware of your leadership style?

Take the Creator Profile, someone we have been working with, who has been trying to lead the team as a Supporter Profile. He has been so out-of-flow and finding it so challenging, and not in the least bit enjoyable. Guess what, neither has his team! Increasing his self-awareness is allowing him to start to play a very different role in the business, in a much more effective way, and is allowing members of the team to do the same.

How can I improve my self-awareness?

There are a variety of ways you can gather feedback and increase your self-awareness. It’s not the tool you choose, it’s what you do with the feedback that’s important!

Talent Dynamics Profile

We always start with the Talent Dynamics Profile Test, debrief and report, which gives you very specific self awareness and can be used in conjunction with coaching to really drive your performance. It has a very specific strategy related to each of the Profiles and so is extremely practical.

Recently a leader told me that, as a result of understanding his Profile, becoming more aware and implementing some strategies, he saw a 20% increase in turnover.

360 degree feedback

Gathering some feedback from those you work with can be incredibly powerful. Why not try and ask your colleagues some specific questions like:

1. How am I doing right now?
2. What do you enjoy about my leadership style?
3. What do you find challenging about my style?
4. What should I stop/start/continue doing?
5. Where does my style create the best results for the business?
6. How does my style inhibit the growth of the business?
7. How can I enable you to be even more effective?

Even just asking these basic 360 degree questions will be a great start and you may get some very interesting feedback. You can add some specific questions of your own as well.

When you ask the questions, ask at least five or six people. Encourage peers, direct reports and leaders to give you feedback. Always ask one person who you know will give you some challenging feedback – remember, there’s a reason why they will be challenging and perhaps increasing your self-awareness with that person could drastically improve that relationship!

Click here to see a short video on the benefit of using Talent Dynamics Profiles


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Jan's Corner: harnessing risk for growth

Business brings with itself the risk of failure. Understandably we spend an enormous amount of time and money to manage risks and avoid failure: this can shield a business not just from risk but also from valuable growth and potential improvement opportunities. Moreover, it can rob people of critical experience and learning, being better at their jobs and contributing more value.

You might have heard the story of Thomas Watson from IBM who called a manager into his office after he had just lost $10 million for the business. Upon reception, the manager said apologetically: “I failed, and I won’t be surprised if you fire me.”Watson famously replied “Fire you? Now that I have invested 10 million dollars in educating you? You must be kidding.”

Not everyone can afford to invest $10 million into one learning lesson but business people who deliberately embrace learning and growth have something in common. They are excellent at spotting new value-creating opportunities, even if it involves risking failure and at distinguishing between failures that steer the business compared with failures that could sink the business. They then plan to fail and enjoy experimenting with new things to learn and improve.

What opportunities in your business are you missing out on today, by avoiding mistakes that could stretch and steer you?


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Jan's Corner: making money or making a difference?

Sometimes when I hear business people talk, I get the impression we live in a mechanical world and businesses are nothing but lifeless money-making machines. While money-making is a vital business function, it cannot be the whole story, nor even the essence of the story.

If I said that the purpose of our lives is to eat and breathe, most people would immediately raise their eyebrows and ask: “There must be more to life than that? Something more meaningful.”

Why not the same for business?

What if a fundamental reason of being for any business was to provide a unique value to other people, be it a specific individual, community or market? This way the essence and focus of business would be not on making money but on making a difference.

You, your team and your business are here to make a unique difference to a community of real people. What if making money was just a measure of how effective you are at doing that, rather than an intrinsic focus?

If we expand the perspective of our true purpose and inject our passion into business, we might notice that making a difference results in making money, too. And it is enjoyable and meaningful as well.

Sometimes when I hear business people talk, I get the impression we live in a mechanical world and businesses are nothing but lifeless money-making machines. While money-making is a vital business function, it cannot be the whole story, nor even the essence of the story.

If I said that the purpose of our lives is to eat and breathe, most people would immediately raise their eyebrows and ask: “There must be more to life than that? Something more meaningful.”

Why not the same for business?

What if a fundamental reason of being for any business was to provide a unique value to other people, be it a specific individual, community or market? This way the essence and focus of business would be not on making money but on making a difference.

You, your team and your business are here to make a unique difference to a community of real people. What if making money was just a measure of how effective you are at doing that, rather than an intrinsic focus?

If we expand the perspective of our true purpose and inject our passion into business, we might notice that making a difference results in making money, too. And it is enjoyable and meaningful as well.


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