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Business Strategy vs Sport Strategy – similar or different?

February 15, 2011

So….are there more similarities or more differences? 

Win-win is an often used phase in business, which rarely applies in sport, which is typically win-lose.  Sport is the ultimate environment for competitive strategy.  

However even with this significant difference, winning in sport can be compared to winning in business, both are very results focused, whether it’s about points scored or profit, seconds on the clock or the right product.   So let’s explore the definition of business strategy within a sporting environment and the process of sporting strategy within the business context. 

From a business perspective strategy Porter (1996) suggests ‘competitive strategy is about being different.  It means deliberately choosing a different set of activities to deliver a unique mix of value’.  Prahald and Hamel (1990) propose ‘core competencies should be difficult to imitate’ which is congruent with Porter’s idea of strategic differentiation. Does strategic differentiation apply in the sporting context?  

Business examples of performing activities differently from rivals might include that of the low cost, no frills, airlines, who have successfully differentiated themselves from scheduled carriers, or Waitrose who combine the convenience of a supermarket with the quality, expertise and service of a specialist shop.  From a sporting perspective strategic examples of using differences in order to outperform rivals might include; creating a very difficult new movement in an ice dance routine, the unique mix of skills selection that will give a rugby team best advantage, or the rower with outstanding lung capacity

From a sport psychology perspective Butler (2000) suggests ‘strategy is a blueprint of desired action which takes account of exceptional factors (cf. differences) and anticipated possibilities.’    Butler adds that ‘A strategy should therefore facilitate and guide performance to meet the demands of each specific performance’.  Could these statements be applied in a business context?    

The desired actions Butler refers to break down into three stages, and I propose that these stages can be transferred into the business environment.

Strategy Stage 1 – pre-competition planning – determining what needs to be achieved prior to performance to facilitate optimum performance.  The following might be applicable at this stage to both business and sporting strategy; making best use of available resources (e.g. facilities, support team, equipment  cf. competencies, technology, finances, etc), physical (fitness, strength, stamina cf. environment, health, safety), mental (confidence, performing under pressure, communication cf. working under pressure, confidence, interpersonal skills), deadlines, logistics (e.g. transport, location, etc) and weighing up the pros and cons of the various options, and ‘what if’ scenarios.  

Strategy stage 2 – the competition plan – how you are going to win the day?  In order to make best decisions with regards to opportunities, risks and tactics (cf. managing opportunities and risks (Drucker, 1989)) will require analysis of team and opponents strengths and weaknesses (cf. SWOT analysis), what are your differentiators (e.g. speed, strength, skill), what are the core competencies (e.g. defence, mental toughness, communication); what are the conditions and current parameters of play (cf. market conditions, legislation, codes of conduct).

Strategy stage 3 – post competition analysis – exploration of what went well, not so well and what to do differently.  The strategic review enabling informed decisions around what activities, competencies, skills, behaviours, etc. need to be addressed so as to raise the performance level.  What should be continued?  Which ones are not so effective? How to be more effective?  What needs to change?

I propose that this sporting strategy process is equally applicable in a business context and is consistent with Porters (1996) suggestion that strategy involves creating best fit for company activities (e.g. having the right players in the right position for their skills and competencies), trade-offs (e.g. physical advantage of younger vs. skills expertise) and informed choices which are as much about what not to do as about what to do (e.g. whether or not to play a wild card at a world championship such as a young inexperienced player)

Whether they are gold medal winners or world record breakers, top sports performers and teams like highly successful businesses discover and maximise the potential of their differentiators.  Therefore whether developing strategy in sport or business the questions are likely to be similar, for example ‘what would you do differently if you were a new entrant to the market? Or, What would you do differently as a new entrant to the football premiership or America’s Cup? 

Butler, R. J. (2000) Sport Psychology in Action, Arnold, London

Drucker P.F. (1989) Managing for Results, Heinemann Professional

Porter, M.E.  (1996) What is Strategy, Harvard Business Review, Nov-Dec

Prahald C.K.& Hamel G. (1990) The Core Competence of the Corporation, Harvard Business Review, May-June

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Purpose, Planning and Preparation Produce Peak Performance – a revised 5 Ps

February 2, 2011

Last week we went to see Cirque du Soleil’s Totem which was absolutely amazing, literally high performance at it’s very peak, leaving me open mouthed, thinking ‘how do they do that?’.  Businesses might learn a great deal from Cirque du Soleil’s approach to successfully delivering such a fantastic performance, one that exceeded expectations on all levels, especially given the high risk element of many of the performances.   And  Cirque to Soleil produce more than fantastic performances – the whole organisation is a very successful business in its own right.

The 5 Ps (planning and preparation prevent poor performance), is an often cited mantra with regards to delivering a vision, initiative or project; achieving goals, targets or objectives.  So if that’s how to prevent poor performance, you might only end up achieving mediocre performance (remember you get what you focus on i.e, ‘preventing poor performance’).  So I think the emphasis should be shifted to ‘how to achieve great performance’ such as Cirque du Soleil’s which was polished, professional and beyond expectation.   So my suggested revision is to positively focused 6 Ps ‘Purpose, Planning and Preparation Produce Peak Performance.’  If anyone reading this has a different/more interesting positively focused revision I’d love to hear from you. (Thanks to Liz Gooster  for  suggesting ‘Produce’)

COMMENTS 5

Medals or money, what motivates you?

January 20, 2011

An recent article raised some interesting points in both sport and business about whether people are motivated by the ‘will to win’ or performance bonus  (The Road to 2012, Owen Slot, Saturday Times, 15 Jan 2011).  In Beijing there were some very large Olympic Medal reward purses.   All the Russian athletes and coaches got €100,000 and medallists the added bonus of a BMW, for the Americans and Germans  it was about £15,000/gold medal,  for the Chinese a massive $1 million/medal and the  Greeks and Thais about £200,000.  And yet motivated by their ‘will to win’ and underpinned by the team GBR values the fantastic athletes that made up team GBR exceeded expectations coming 4th in the medal table.

This got me reflecting on my own sporting motivation.  I competed at World Class level in paragliding from 1992 – 1997, a minority sport, with little media interest and the stars of the sport aren’t known outside the sport.  I was sponsored (with equipment  and travel expenses) and there was a small bonus for good results (pocket money compared to the sponsorship deals of mainstream sports stars).  I won World and European Championship Medals and set 3 World Records.  Like the majority of performers I wasn’t doing it for the money……I was addicted to and loved my sport and I loved it even more when I did well.   This is intrinsic motivation at it’s best and it is a very powerful form of motivation.  If we enjoy what we are doing, we want to do more of it, and the more we do, the better we are likely to be whether in sport, business, performing arts,  hobbies, etc – the best form of motivation is doing what you love to do.   

For me the financial performance bonus was a ‘nice to have’ whereas paragliding became an addictive ‘must have’ and I suspect this is the same for the majority of competitors, not least because you need to experience that enjoyment to put in the years of dedication to get to the point where financial rewards might become motivational competition.

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Want support to achieve your 2011 goals? Tips to find the best….

January 4, 2011

Made your New Year resolutions, now looking for great support to help you achieve your 2011 goals, and you might be feeling confused by too much choice.   As the coaching and lifestyle industries expand, providers are entering the market at an unprecedented rate and the standards of service range from excellent to very poor.  Here are some tips for choosing a professional service provider:

1. Check out the provider (e.g. web search, professional associations, Trading Standards), and ask questions.  Be confident you know whether they:

  • have the relevant experience, training, qualifications and/or accreditation for your needs
  • keep their skills and knowledge up to date
  • have membership of professional body, with Code of Conduct, Ethics and complaints procedure 
  • use an appropriate title (NB providers using protected titles must be registered with Health Professions Council www.hpc-uk.org/aboutregistration/professions or other regulator www.hpc-uk.org/aboutregistration/regulators/)
  • are insured to practice

2.  Before you commit

Discuss:

  • your expectations, challenges, issues and what you want to achieve
  • fees, payment terms, frequency and estimated duration of the service provision
  • how progress will be monitored and evaluated

And ask yourself: Is this beneficial for me right now?  Don’t be coerced into committing unless you are satisfied that the service is of use to you.

3.  Be aware:

  • if you have any doubts about the service, discuss these with your provider, and if still uncertain, seek advice from their professional body. 
  • many of coaching and lifestyle professions are unregulated however good providers are likely to belong to and be accredited by a professional body which requires evidence of a minimum standard of fitness to practice.
  • be wary of providers
    • with memberships which only require payment of a fee (i.e. do not set a minimum standard)
    • who hold ‘certificates of attendance’ rather than ‘certificates of competence’ or other appropriate qualifications.

And finally I’d like to wish you all the best in achieving your 2011 goals.

 

COMMENTS 1

Goals and motivation ‘Will I?’ vs ‘I will’

September 1, 2010

As coaches we help clients to clearly articulate their goals.  The well established GROW model starts with Goal and ends with Will.  A recent article in Scientific American Mind  by Wray Herbert reports on Ibrahim Senay’s  fascinating research into ‘willingness’ (see full article).  Senay found people in the open mind-set condition asking ‘Will I…..?’  were more goal directed, motivated and open to new possibilities, compared with those in the  ‘I will….’ condition.   Moreover those in the ‘Will I?’ condition were more intrinsically motivated (e.g. I want to) than those in the ‘I will’ condition who were more introjected (e.g. doing through self imposed guilt) in their motivation. 

From a coaching perspective I like the idea of the more open mind set of ‘Will I……?’ for both the potential increase in intrinsic motivation and also the power it might bring to exploring options, as Senay hypothesizes that  ‘it is because questions by their nature speak to possibility and freedom of choice’.

I tested this out on myself a few days ago – when given the opportunity to be a last minute participant in a swim across the Solent (between England and the Isle of Wight) with 8 days notice – and 2 days to decide and no time to train!   This would be the furthest I have swam non-stop for over 20 years, though in summer  I sea swim regularly for up to 15 – 20 mins.   When saying to myself ‘I will do it’ –  I noticed some nerves and anxiety holding me back from saying ‘yes’  – all those little ‘what ifs’ and also ‘this is a great opportunity, I really ought to do it’ (the introjected motivation).  However when I asked myself ‘Will I swim the Solent next weekend?’  I found myself wanting to say ‘yes’ and immediately moving into possibilities and solutions, for example, doing a test swim (50 minutes non-stop), contacting the organiser to find out about the logistics, risk assessment, safety cover, etc.   However was this because I’d already raised my awareness of the ‘what ifs’ before asking myself  ‘Will I?’ ?  I’m now interested to know how I would have responded if I’d asked myself ‘Will I?’ first and whether then asking ‘I will’, I would be more at ease saying ‘yes’.

So whilst Senay’s research suggests ‘Will I?’ to be more powerful in terms of goal direction and motivation it may be the order is key – starting with ‘Will I?’ to tap into the motivation and options and ending with ‘I will……..’  for commitment.    I will be testing this out and following this line of research with great interest, and welcome your thoughts and experiences.

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Courageous mindset shift

August 3, 2010

I’ve just been watching a TED.com video of Lewis Pugh, the amazing extreme cold water swimmer give a fascinating talk about being in the right mindset to swim across Lake Imja, at 5300m altitude in the Himalayas under Mt Everest.   Watch now >>  Being in the right mindset is crucial to success in both sport and business.

In sport different mind sets are required for different sports. For example an aggressive mindset is likely to serve you well if you are a boxer, but a calm, ice-cool mind set might serve you better in a target shooting sport. Equally depending on the situation the athlete may need to shift mindset during a performance such as in rugby from controlled aggression in a tackle to calm focus if kicking a penalty.

And in business, a market leader will have a different mindset to a high growth start up, a sales team a different mindset to a research team.  Also different stages of business growth will benefit from mindset shifts to help embrace change and move forward successfully. 

In times when change, creativity and innovation are key to success, practising mindset shifts can create new experiences and new perspectives from which to explore a challenge/task/strategy.  Lewis Pugh sums it up really well at the end of his talk leaving us with some great questions to ponder, which can be adapted to a business and sport environment by asking ‘what radical mindset shift can you take in your sport/business that’ll make that big performance difference?’

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World Class Business Leaders don’t have to be great at everything!

July 20, 2010

Research suggests they will be more successful developing 3-4 World Class behavioural strengths that really make a difference.   This comes from a fascinating book The Extraordinary Leader by Zenger and Folkman (2009) which, based on extensive research,  identifies sixteen key leadership behaviours that differentiate World Class leaders.  They also posit it is a myth to focus on weaknesses, that is unless those weaknesses are a ‘fatal flaw’, in which case they should be remedied.

I’ve been coaching business leaders for a number of years, and working with another very well researched model of Leadership Behaviours, (Schroder’s High Performance Behaviours) and not surprisingly whilst the clustering of behaviours  between Schroder and those of Zenger and Folkman differ, there are many similarities that can be mapped across the two models.  For example Zenger and Folkman’s Solving Problems, Analysing Issues and Innovation are very similar to Schroder’s Concept Formation and Conceptual Flexibility; and their Building Relationships can be compared with Schroder’s Empathy and  Self-Confidence. 

Zenger and Folkman’s model centres around the cluster ‘Character’ and they relate this to Credibility (Kouzes and Posner), Integrity (Bennis), telling the truth (Shaffer) and Principle Centred Leadership (Covey).   I would also add in to this list Roger Steare’s (www.rogersteare.com) recent work ‘ethicability®’ which explores rule compliance, social conscience and principled conscience.  A free on-line test can be found at www.ethicabilitytest.org

I’ve worked with many organisations who have developed their own leadership behaviour/competency models (often less elegant), and typically the majority of the behaviours can be mapped onto the well researched and validated models such as Schroder or Zenger and Folkman.

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Sarah climbing Old Coach Road, Lake District

Tough cycling climbs and tough business times

July 9, 2010

 Last weekend I cycled the Coast to Coast (C2C) route from Whitehaven on the Irish Sea to Sunderland, on the North Sea – 145 miles (on and off road) with over 10,000ft of pedalling uphill. The scenery was stunning, especially through the Lake District and over the Pennines. There were also some really tough climbs that required just getting into the groove, being careful to pace myself and appreciating the moment(s) – scenery, wildlife, animals, flowers, sunshine, mini milestones, support and encouragement from other cyclists, following winds and the reward of making it to the top, before a fast exhilarating descent to start yet another tough climb. On reflection there are some great analogies and metaphors for business in these challenging and tough times. As the saying goes, ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going’.

How often is it when faced with what appears to be a really difficult goal to achieve (a 7 mile uphill cycle) , our initial reaction is ‘it’s too difficult’, or ‘is it worth the effort?’. People who rise to tough sporting or business challenges tend to:

  • break them down into mini milestones (reaching each bend)
  • ensure resources are available and making best use of resources (avoiding burn out, refuelling with energy drink, support from others, following winds)
  • take time to appreciate the journey (scenery, wildlife) • enjoy the rewards of achieving the goal (feeling of achievement at reaching the summit, the views and/or cafe/bar at the top!)
  • enjoy the downhill speed, the time to recover and replenish resources (muscles). Caution on the descents though, whilst exhilarating be aware of the risks (tight bends, missing turnings, not knowing when to apply the brakes, etc!)

Sarah at top of Hartside Pass, Pennines

And then…….you are ready to take on the next tough climb, knowing you can do it, it is worth the effort and the rewards!

I’d love to hear what analogies and metaphors came up for you.

COMMENTS 4

Were the England football players in flow?

June 28, 2010

With the massive football World Cup interest and what appears to be the happiness of many around the world dependant  on the success of their nation’s football team, I was reminded of Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of flow and how actively participating in an activity (in any aspect of our lives e.g. work, leisure, sport) is far more likely to produce feelings of engagement and fulfilment than being a passive observer.   

In sport flow is sometimes referred to as being ‘in the zone’ and is key to peak experiences and/or peak performances.  I absolutely love experiencing flow, whether it be in my work as a business coach and sport psychologist, in the sports I’ve practiced (paragliding, sailing, cycling, etc)  or in any of my leisure time activities. 

However given the England football team’s poor record at the 2010 Football World Cup I’m left wondering why so many are content to put control of their happiness switch in the hands of a few overpaid and underperforming football players, and…. more interestingly which of the following 9 elements that contribute to creating ‘flow’, the players did or did not experience:

  1. having the right balance between challenge and skills
  2. body and mind are working automatically
  3. having clear goals
  4. receiving unambiguous feedback
  5. Concentration on the task in hand
  6. Sense of control
  7. Loss of self-consciousness, i.e. totally absorbed in what you are doing
  8. Transformation of time – i.e. so absorbed you don’t notice time passing
  9. Enjoying the moment

Do let me know what you think?

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Imposter Syndrome – feeling like a fraud

June 2, 2010

Do you ever feel like a fraud…… that you’re not as good as others think you are, fear that you’ll get found out or put success down to luck or huge effort?   Feeling like a fraud and being a fraud are very different.    Feeling like a fraud is what is known as  Imposter syndrome and has been attracting attention in the public and academic press recently.   Dr Pauline Clance and Dr Susan Imes research in the late 70s and early 80s started out studying successful women, however research over the intervening years on successful males and females found that men can also experience ‘feeling like a fraud’.   

It was a relief for me when I first heard about imposter syndrome  having  experienced  the ‘I’m a fraud’  thoughts and feelings when I set paragliding World Records, putting it down to luck ‘I was just in the right place at the right time’, or  ‘if I can do it then lots of other people can too,’  or with my academic/professional qualifications ‘it was an easy exam paper’ or ‘I must have found the easy route’.    However once I start to challenge these ‘feeling like a fraud’ beliefs I soon realised that to have been successful, took me years of learning and practice to become expert enough to be successful.   Yes, you might get really, really lucky and set one world record through amazing luck, or get a really good grade in an exam through the right question.    However I can’t put three world records down to luck, or a number of professional qualifications down to ‘stumbling on an easy route’.   

If the idea of ‘being caught out’ or ‘feeling like a fraud’ hits a nerve with you a couple of techniques that might help overcome imposter syndrome are:

«  Challenge the irrational belief(s)

  • make a realistic and rational evidence based assessment of your success

«  Feed your successful beliefs through

  • keeping a success diary
  • accepting compliments and positive feedback

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