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From Average to Elite: Unveiling the Secrets of Performance Improvement in Business through Elite Sport Parallels

OPINION PIECE: Andrew Hurt explores the hidden secrets of performance improvement in business through the lens of elite sport.

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In the fast-paced and competitive world of business, organisations are constantly striving to achieve peak performance and rise above the average. Interestingly, the world of elite sport offers valuable insights and parallels that can significantly enhance business performance. This article explores the hidden secrets of performance improvement in business through the lens of elite sport.

The components of performance in various domains, including business and sports, are skills, structures, and mindset. Each of these components plays a crucial role in achieving high levels of performance and success.

The performance equation:
Performance = Structure • Skillset • Mindset

In sport, this is sometimes described as:
Technical + Tactical + Physical + Logistics + Mental.

The Performance Triangle is a simple visual method of analysing overall performance by breaking it down into these different components. The reason for doing this is

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that it makes analysis more effective by identifying those aspects of performance that require development. They provide a degree of specificity for exposing areas of weakness while acknowledging areas of strength and capability. The Performance Triangle shows that all components are important and all require development. Let’s look at each of these components.

Skills:

It helps to focus attention on a balanced approach to skill development. Elite athletes dedicate countless hours to training, honing their skills, and continuously improving their performance. Similarly, businesses can and could benefit from implementing deliberate practice, skill development programmes, and ongoing training initiatives. By investing in the development of their workforce, organisations can create a competitive advantage and foster a culture of excellence. In my experience taking time out of the business to practice skills is rare or at the very least sporadic and lacking in discipline and consistency.

Research by IBM/Bersin(1) found that 74% of executives believed they have been helping employees to increase their skills knowledge in order to work in a new way, but only 38% of employees agreed that this was the case.

As we begin a summer of intense rivalry between England and Australia in the Ashes, for all the talk of a more relaxed culture in the England camp that gives the option to the players of as little practice as they wish one man two hours before the fun started on the first day was getting his eye in. Alone on the vast playing area Joe Root was being fed ball after ball from the coach. How apt then was it that it was his contribution that stood out on Day 1. This dedication to become the best batter in the world had Joe Root practicing for an hour a day batting on one leg for balance during the Covid pandemic.

Structures:

The prime issue in performance is the control of attention: if we know what to place our attention on at any one time and can do this successfully, we have the greatest chance of success. Therefore, the key to effective performance is having a clear framework or structure that provides guidance about where our attention should be placed to complete a task.

In this way, structures can be seen to provide both the overview and the detail. They allow the individual to see or know where they are in the process and what they should be doing to be effective.

Consider this in Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace: 2023 Report(2). In the Middle East and Africa 23% of employees are considered, when measuring Employee Engagement, as Loud Quitting: These employees take actions that directly harm the organisation, undercutting its goals and opposing its leaders. At some point along the way, the trust between employee and employer was severely broken. Or the employee has been woefully mismatched to a role, causing constant crisis.

In such a dressing room in any sport it would be clear that the coach had lost the dressing room and ultimately he or she would loose their job; yet we accept this level of active disengagement in the workplace.

Mindset:

By learning from elite sport, businesses can understand techniques for managing stress, building resilience, and performing at their best even in challenging circumstances.

We all acknowledge the profound impact of mindset on performance. From the sports arena to the corporate world, individuals with an ability to perform under high-stress situations consistently outshine their counterparts. They conquer challenges with resilience, embrace setbacks as opportunities, and effortlessly adapt to new situations. But here’s the captivating conundrum: while skills and structures have well-defined methods of development and improvement, mindset seems to defy practical application.

The mental processes that are going on inside the head of a consistently effective performer with focused attention are substantially different from the mental processes typical of performers who do not succeed because of diverted attention. Sports commentators wax lyrical when discussing the mental side of performance, but rarely do they get beyond remarks about competencies such as confidence, motivation or belief.

The mental side of performance or mindset , is actually a skill that can be learnt or practiced To make these differences as clear as possible. Gazing has developed a tool Red2Blue to support the skill of having focused attention and a positive mindset.

This focused attention or staying on task was a key strength for Sally Gunnell in her career as an athlete. A skill as she says that could be learned through practice and dedication and could be the difference if the other components of performance were in place.

In today’s competitive business landscape, organizations must constantly seek ways to elevate their performance. By uncovering the secrets of performance improvement in elite sport, businesses can gain valuable insights into goal setting, mindset, training, teamwork, resilience, and performance under pressure. By adopting these principles, businesses can transcend average performance and propel themselves towards the elite, achieving remarkable success in their respective industries.

1 Garr, Stacia and Mehrotra, Priyanka. 2021. Unlocking the Hidden C-Suite Superpower: People Analytics. https://www.visier.com
2 Gallup The State of the Global Workplace: 2023 Report

Opinion Piece: Andrew Hurt

andrew.hurt@gazing.fze

www.gazing.com