Making A Breakthrough

It’s strange how seemingly unrelated events can get you thinking. The two events below got me thinking about business performance in the current economic crisis particularly when it seems advice about what strategies and tactics to adopt in the ‘downturn’ has turned into an industry in itself.

The first event that got me thinking is related to a forthcoming business trip to Hong Kong. A colleague and I have been preparing to meet clients and speak at a number of business events including the Hong Kong and Australian Institutes. In a conference call with the CEO of our business partners based in Hong Kong, he pleaded with us not to use the R (recession) word. He warned that the culture of business people we will meet ensures they acknowledge the difficult times but they also believe that to focus too much on the negative will affect their ability to deal with the issues they face. It was explained that the word ‘crisis’ in Chinese is made up of two symbols, one meaning ‘danger’ and one meaning ‘opportunity’. We have been given clear direction to focus on opportunities as good business managers in South East Asia are already preparing their businesses to deal with the dangers.

The second event occurred when I recently facilitated a strategic planning day for the board of a well-known rugby club. Now I have to hold my hands up here, I have never been a great sports fan, International games have won my attention sometimes but I’ve never quite had the passion I’ve seen amongst colleagues and clients. What has always been interesting for me is sporting performance of individuals or teams and the similarities with business performance. 

One member of the board is an ex England player and very successful England Captain who knows a great deal about individual and team success. Sports f an or not, you could not fail but to be to be inspired by this sporting legend. As the day progressed and we discussed the performance on and off the field that c ontributes to success in the business of rugby, I realised we could have been talking about any business and the ingredients required for success.

As I reflected on the two events above they reminded me of four key characteristics. I’ve seen in those businesses I’ve worked with over the years that seem able to deliver sustained success, even through downturns (and I’ve been around long enough to have experienced the 70’s three day week, petrol coupons and daily power cuts!)

Sound financial management

Our business started in the early 90’s recession  (sorry to use the R word). We are embarking on a significant expansion plan during this one. A significant reason we are able to do so is the culture of sound financial management our Managing Partner (who is, incidentally, Hong Kong Chinese) insists on in good times as well not so good times. Through the media we hear daily of the tough decisions now being made about cutting overheads. Sadly some really tough decisions being made now are due to a relaxed approach to budgets and forecasts in the past. I recently read about one firm who were taking all unnecessary cost out of the business. When is there a time any business could afford unnecessary costs?  Even firms who should know better and who advise their clients about sound financial management sometimes need to practice what they preach!

Positive outlook

There is a great deal of fear about at the moment. Many people are, not surprisingly, fearful about their jobs, management are fearful about the future.  Yet fear (a factor of the perceived dangers?) can be such an overwhelming negative emotion that it can stop performance. In the sporting arena top athletes constantly live on the brink of failure, of losing, of being dropped, being injured or sacked. They train their minds as well as their bodies in order that fear does not affect their performance. They exude confidence and give their best even when the pundits tell them they will fail. There are many opportunities despite (or even due to) the current crisis. Those with a positive attitude tend to spot opportunities; they demonstrate confidence about their future and focus on taking action. Some are so paralysed by fear that too often they can’t see opportunities or if they do see them are frozen into inaction.

Personal performance

That famous England Rugby Captain I mentioned above told me all he ever asked of a player is that they do what the number on their shirt says asks of them and do it exceptionally well. Anything else they can give to the team is a bonus. The results that any company, firm or organisation achieves is the sum total of many individuals personal performance.  The best team captains or business leaders demand consistent high performance and create an environment where individuals can give their best. There has never been a time when personal performance has been more important both for our organisations and personally, especially if we are to avoid being dropped from the side.

Training and development

I asked a rugby coach what happens when their team loses or faces a difficult season. The response was ‘We train harder and longer’. It’s what you would expect. Training, I was told, has a huge impact on players’ skills and motivation. I guess no one would expect the coach to say “No more training until we start winning”!
The same is true of those organisations I’ve watched deliver sustained success over the years.  They are still investing in focused and relevant training to make sure that individuals can deliver the performance required of them. These organisations have recognised that they need people who are trained and motivated to give peak performance both now and when the inevitable better times return.  

This is not by any means an exhaustive list of characteristics required for sustained success but they are certainly four of the fundamentals.

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