April 14, 2015

Coaching a team of business athletes

Drawing from his experiences in the sporting world, management consultant, Kirk Peterson, is now helping Australian businesses learn from successful sporting teams and reach their premiership status. He shares the five traits of what he’s coined the ‘business athlete’.

As you’re watching your favourite sporting team do battle on the field this season, you might just learn a few new management techniques and discover a winning game plan for you and your team at work. That’s the view of Kirk Peterson, Managing Director of corporate training and consulting company Performance Shift.

Also a sports lover and high-level sports coach, Peterson says that managers who take some of the key principles in sport and apply them to business can ‘coach’ their staff and businesses to premiership status. “I think if corporates trained their staff like athletes they’d do 200 percent better,” he says.

Peterson, who’s helped develop staff for large companies like Woolworths and Flight Centre, originally established his sports-themed philosophy while running his own businesses in advertising and manufacturing. To get the best out of his team, he began drawing on his experiences as a coach to identify numerous qualities indoctrinated into athletes that translated into business.

“Before I started managing people I had a full head of hair,” jokes Peterson. “I realised people management was the greatest challenge I would face if I wanted to succeed. I decided to draw on my experiences from the sporting world and approach managing people like a game of football. Coaching them to become what I call ‘business athletes’.”

A winning attitude

Peterson says that one of the biggest differences between elite athletes and most people at work – and a key factor holding them back from better outcomes – is attitude.

“Seven out of ten people have a ho-hum attitude to work whereas people in sport don’t. [Sportspeople] want to be there and that’s because their intrinsic drivers are being pressed; they’re engaged. There’s not the high level of engagement in workplaces,” he says. “The biggest common denominator between high performing people in elite sport and in successful companies is that they focus on two things: ‘what do I want?’ and ‘how do I get it?’ Their attitude is positive, solution-centric and self-managed.”

He also believes that to get that level of engagement, managers should consider themselves as coaches – personalising their management approach to identify what motivates staff and, as a result, encourage better performances.

“The number one job a manager has is to fulfil their people’s untapped potential and to find their innate talents so they can manage people from their strengths and not their weaknesses,” says Peterson. “We get a lot more progress when we’re focusing on people’s strengths than when we focus on their weaknesses. They’re more engaged and motivated to come to work and so they make a lot more progress. And progress is the drug of success. When people get addicted to progress amazing things happen. Adrenalin and momentum is created by ongoing and continuous victory.”

Encouraging staff to self-manage

Motivating triggers differ from person to person, so it’s important that managers step away from a “one size fits all” belief when managing people. According to Peterson, managers should teach staff how to effectively self-manage – a trait elite sports people excel in.

“We need to manage people individually and I know [for busy managers] that’s a lot more hard work but if you truly want to get the most out of people you must understand that nobody is the same as somebody else,” says Peterson.

Another valuable lesson from successful sports teams is the attention to feedback. In the AFL, coaches tell their players what they’ve done well at the end of the first quarter, so they know how to do better and how to adapt their game plan to succeed.

“In high performance sports you get lots and lots of good feedback – whether you want it or not,” says Peterson. “In AFL they get feedback every quarter, after the game and they get a video tape. And then they get feedback on their individual game. But in business we have yearly reviews. And we wonder why we’re not getting it right.”

Five traits of a business athlete

  1. Self awareness: The ability to get the most out of yourself by intimately understanding your own key drivers, strengths, blockages and challenges.
  2.  Confrontational: The ability to address any situation with manners, professionalism and clarity, regardless of fear of offence or negative reactions.
  3.  Dedicated: Focused and loyal, they never take their eye off the main objective or waiver off course.
  4.  Positive: The ability to focus on the positive in every situation, no matter how challenging and to block out negative internal thoughts.
  5.  Self-managed: Accountable and takes responsibility for their own actions, they are self-motivating and know how to manage themselves effectively.