Back in June I posted this article about what I had learnt from training for triathlons (so far). It was my first sports related post (which I related to developing your career) and it has made me realise the many parallels between sport and business. I can’t believe I’m talking about sport (again) in a blog post. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME??
So it wasn’t my most popular post by a long shot but there was a different quality of engagement. People have recognised me in Singapore at a couple of events and wanted to talk to me about my post. Kind and curious people who wanted to know how my training was going and was I loving triathlons? (1). I got to meet people I have connected with on LinkedIn but never had the opportunity to meet. I love the cross over from social media to actual social.
And I have learnt so much more about myself and training for something I didn’t think I could do.
You need to have a growth mindset
When I’m not training to be a mediocre triathlete I’m working in my day job. Recently I kicked off our new graduate development program. Our leaders welcomed the new graduates and gave an overview of the program. As part of the meeting, like all meetings we started with a “moment”.
The “moment” is part of the culture of the business and links to safety, compliance, people and other elements of running a business. They are short snippets of information that can take the form of lessons learnt or things we need to be reminded of. It’s quite a cool thing that is well embedded in the culture and a real organisational habit.
We have a catalogue of these moments to choose from or you can come up with your own. I chose a “moment” on having a Growth mindset because I thought it was relevant to being a new graduate. I liked the theme around just being smart is not good enough. Having good university marks is great but attitude will make the difference in their ultimate success.
As with most things there are unintended consequences. Good ones. As I was preparing to present this “moment” it got me thinking that I was a bit stuck in a fixed mindset at work. Feeling like my career was a bit in the toilet and not getting to work on things that give me energy and feed my soul, and there was nothing I could do about it. And you know what? A couple of the other leaders in that kick off session were feeling the same way. Business had been tough recently and many of our leaders are feeling anxious about what the future may hold and what their part in that future might be. A number requested a copy of the powerpoint deck I used. I suspect the “moment” did more for me and the leaders in the session than the graduates!
Triathlon training is the same. You have to approach it by having a growth mindset. You have to believe you are going to get better. Some days it’s hard though and I definitely haven’t had a growth mindset every day.
I have been going to track running sessions on Tuesday nights for 6-7 months. I’m still in the slow group and I’m still the slowest, or at least one of the slowest. Last week I felt that I was never going to get better because I finished the session last. There were definitely others who opted out of completing the full set but I was still running around at the end which kinda made me feel like a loser. Of course I have improved. I know this because:
- I know I can do the full set every Tuesday night (despite my brain working against me sometimes. Self-sabotage is strong.)
- When I finish the set I don’t feel completely spent
- I can now sleep after a Tuesday night track session. When I first started it would take me hours to get to sleep because of over exertion or too much adrenaline or something
- I don’t feel completely exhausted for two days after the Tuesday night session
- My fancy pants triathlon watch tells me I’m getting better
You have to keep stepping it up
I have learnt or perhaps it’s better to say, been reminded, that it’s better to be with people who are better at things than you. It’s fair to say that nearly everyone I train with is better than me.
A few weeks ago one of my friends who plays a leadership role in running one of the largest cycling group in Singapore posted on Facebook about a women’s only ride on a Thursday morning. It looked like something I would enjoy, but would I be able to keep up? Am I fast enough yet? Would I be able to ride in the group well enough? What if I slow everyone else down or am so slow I lose the group and get “dropped” (2)?
One of the great things about cycling is that it can be pretty social. Generally you ride in a “bunch” which consists of pairs in a formation that rotates, so while you are cycling along you get to meet and chat to other people. At the end of the ride there is often coffee! To be honest I like the social bit, but at the moment it would be better if I could just focus on not running into the person in front, listening to the shouts of what’s happening in the group, paying attention to what the cars, buses and trucks are doing around me and remembering to unclip my shoes at the traffic lights (yes I have moved to the dark side of clip in pedals).
So the people in this group ride together a lot and know each other well. They manage the group safely and are the most professional organised group I have ridden with to date. Just changing lanes was amazing. Completely coordinated and felt super cool to be part of this group.
The thing is I have been doing other organised rides and picking the slowest group to ride with. These groups are great for when you start out and have never ridden on the road or with a group. They help get you out there and give you confidence. But the last few rides I have done have been a bit scrappy to be honest. Clearly I have improved and need to go a bit faster with a more experienced group, but have been scared I wasn’t ready or fast enough. I was the best out of this group and it wasn’t doing me any favours.
So I stepped it up. I went on the ride. At the start I thought I wasn’t going to be able to keep up. I was running a bit late and in the dark, we took off from the meeting point fast and I was thinking I might just drop off the back, peel off, head home and get back into bed. Luckily the pace settled down and I thought “I’ve got this”. Then we got on a highway and really started to move. All my concentration was spent on focusing on the wheel in front and not running into anyone. Then we started to rotate in the group (changing riding positions so each person had a turn at the front) quite fast. Ahhhhgggg!!! There was talking and calling out and trucks beeping and whizzing by. It was scary and confronting and fun and crazy and sweaty and great. And then we stopped for coffee. Phew!
It was so much better to ride with this group and I learnt so much. At times in our career we don’t always have the best people around us to learn from. At the Business Chicks Movers and Breakers conference this year in Fiji, one of the speakers talked about having a “dream team”. A group of fantastic fabulous curated people around you that support, challenge, give advice and have your back. What a great idea! I have all these people I have met throughout my career who have developed me and challenged me and I could still contact and I know would help me. In 2019 I need to formally get my dream team together!
Having goals are super important
This year I completed 3 triathlons. Two shorter “sprint” distances in April and May and an Olympic distance in September. I got to October and had nothing planned for the rest of the year. And what happened to my training? It dropped off somewhat because I wasn’t working towards anything except making it to the end of 2018 (which is an ok goal in itself).
Switching back to work, we have kicked off the annual performance review cycle, which most people hate. It’s hated because we set goals at the start of the year and then rarely look at them until the end of the year. Sound familiar? I find it pretty frustrating as if the process is used well it’s a great business tool to get everyone in the organisation working towards the same things. That’s really powerful.
Where it falls down is that without people giving regular feedback it’s just a big waste of time and completely useless. This year we are trying to instil a continuous feedback culture and are asking Managers to think about giving feedback often. Each time doesn’t need to be an hour session where you deep dive into KPI achievement. It can just be a walk to get a coffee with some questions about how the work is going? It could be a regular weekly catch up on the phone.
People training for anything sports related get this. They don’t set goals at the start of the year, get on with training and then wait 6 or 12 months to see how they are going. That would be completely stupid wouldn’t it?
When you are training for a sport including something as nuts as a triathlon (3) you need constant feedback. Every time I do some sort of training I get feedback. It comes from the watch I wear which is telling me my heart rate, how far I’m going or how fast I’m pedalling or how long I have been training. I go to group training sessions where I get feedback in comparison to others (not always good) and feedback from the coaches and others around me. I get feedback from the data my watch produces and I speak to my coach every couple of weeks! And I get feedback from how my body is feeling during and after the training and how my clothes are fitting week to week. Finally I get feedback when I attempt to complete a race. *
Each piece of feedback is usually small and super helpful. Some examples include the running coach on Tuesday night telling me after running an interval that I am only 3 seconds behind the group in front. How motivating is that? Or my Coach telling me to walk through the aid stations during a triathlon. Mentally this gives me something to aim for during the run and a short break in what is my hardest leg of the race.
Imagine how powerful it would be if we could get leaders in organisations to do this? Give small snippets of useful tips and feedback. Imagine the impact on engagement and results? Unfortunately, (in my opinion) there are a couple of things that prevent this from happening. Firstly many organisations are not willing to invest in the time and expense to train managers and leaders on how to have effective conversations. The second is there is no redundancy left in most organisations. The ones I have worked for over the past five years at least, have cost-cut so deeply that there is little time and space to reflect beyond getting the immediate job done. Conversations are probably one of the most difficult skills to learn in organisations, but the most important. They help us build trust and create community. They help us connect and share. They help us give feedback and learn from our mistakes.
To be honest I didn’t realise I would learn so much from training and doing triathlons and I didn’t realise how much it would relate to my everyday job. I thought there might be learning how to swim, cycle and run but other stuff has been really great. Would love to hear about something you have been doing with unintended consequences like being able to apply learning from one situation to another.
(1) No I didn’t smack them in the forehead and no I can’t say I’m loving them. I love how my body feels after exercise and I love that my clothes are less tight.
(2) it’s like getting dropped by your boyfriend when you are 16 but you are older, less fit and wearing lycra and stuck on a road and don’t know how to get home.
(3) honestly I could have chosen just one sport to be bad at but no that wouldn’t be as fun as training for three I’m bad at would it?