Are your people ‘Fit for Success’?

Posted in : HR Updates on 20 May 2015
Angela Schettino
Think People Consulting
Issues covered:

In recent years there has been a growing interest in the role and correlation between physical fitness and physical capacity with the achievement of high performance. There does seem to be a pattern amongst very high performing business leaders and physical fitness and regular exercise. In terms of personal leadership development however, most business leaders are familiar with the idea of goal clarity, of the importance of measurement and feedback, of positive mental attitude and emotional intelligence, but ...

...the idea that physical fitness and basic healthy hydration and nourishment can play a significant role in business performance is still absent as a core element of most business performance coaching.

We suggest that many organisations may be missing a trick, given the strength of evidence aligning elite performance in any field and physical fitness. We are just one year away from the 2016 Rio Olympics and as you read these words there are thousands of people engaged in the business of elite performance, many of these people have crossed over into the business world to share their insights and successes, not least the coaches and psychologists involved with the highly successful GB Olympic squad of 2012. What makes for ‘elite’ sports performance has been increasingly brought into the business arena, and more specifically management and leadership development.

Can this apply to us?

You may believe that top athletes are in a different league, coached to hone their natural talent in a way which many of us ‘mere mortals’ should consider beyond our reach. We think that this elite group are born with some sort of ‘performance gift’ which allows them to drive their abilities to super-human levels and that the kind of approach applied in their case would not apply to a normal crowd.

This is the first mistake, according to the top sports psychologists, coaches and athletes who have made the transition into business leadership and management development. Top athletes are as reliant on improving physical fitness, mental discipline and improving self confidence as the next person. There are some key performance improvement messages which are proving to be absolutely transferrable, endorsed by the likes of Dame Mary Peters, Sir Steve Redgrave, Sir Alex Ferguson and Lord Sebastian Coe to name a few.

Here are a selection of the ‘rules’ of performance, developed by sport psychologist and business coach Dr Chris Shambrook (sports psychologist to Olympic rowing team gold medalists):

  1. It never gets easier, you just perform better (be dissatisfied with the status quo).
  2. Love the one you are with (love the conditions you are working with, even in the toughest conditions, learn to work with them).
  3. Be boring (Be great at the technical bits of the job – so you can build your energy, mentality and resilience aswell.)
  4. Talent is overrated – hard work isn’t (relying on strengths is lazy – building them is what matters). Hard work generally beats lazy talent.
  5. Everyone should have a performance improvement plan – It is not remedial, it is a way of life in elite performance.

Body, Mind, Emotion and Spirit 

There are now a number of models which draw distinct correlations between sporting and business elite performance. The key themes tend to reflect the four essential elements, namely the body, the mind, the emotion and the spirit.

The traditional approach to high performance training in business deals only with the mind. Physical capacities can often be ignored but are crucial to encouraging sustainable performance and achieving an ‘ideal performance state’. The ‘ideal state’ was described in a high profile article following research conducted over two decades and culminating in ‘The Corporate Athlete’ published by Harvard Business Review.

This ‘ideal performance state’ is reached by focusing on and building rituals around the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual capacities. Physical capacity (health and fitness) is the foundation, followed by emotional capacity (to ignite or drain energy), mental capacity (to focus) and spiritual capacity (to motivate).

The research concluded that people perform better over a sustained period of time when they feel strong and resilient physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

The research points out that it is obvious that senior people can perform successfully even if they smoke, drink and weigh too much, or lack emotional skills or a higher purpose for working. But they cannot perform to their full potential or without a cost over time—to themselves, to their families, and to the organisations for which they work. Put simply, the best long-term performers tap into positive energy at all levels of the performance pyramid.

Do you recognise this trait in your top performers? How can that be mirrored elsewhere?

Fitness leading to greater success is demonstrated in the recently publicised case of Michelle Mone, who made her initial millions running Ultimo. Following personal and business difficulties, Mone decided to get back to basics and get into shape physically and mentally. Since 2010, Mone has lost eight stone in weight. She runs between 3-8 kilometres a day. Her social media accounts are peppered with pictures of her daily runs and gym sessions. Her business success has soared as she has become stronger and fitter. Mone attributes much of her renewed and notable business success on her focus on fitness;

"When I was eight stone overweight, I got tired more easily, I would get exhausted and I wasn’t always positive," she said. "When I started to lose weight , doors started to open."

‘Work Fit’ could be the new Well-being

How many organisations have invested any thought or aligned people strategy to what are considered to be the foundations of elite performance (body, mind, emotion and spirit)? There is never a quick win or an easy solution, however starting at the beginning and encouraging a ‘work fit’ culture is a great starting point.

Could ‘work fit’ be the new approach to ‘wellbeing’? There is certainly a compelling business case for investing in interventions which target the foundations of elite performance.

‘Work fit’ programmes are beginning to develop either under the umbrella of ‘wellbeing’ or as a specific focus on supporting an overall improvement in physical fitness and mental resilience. Some key components include;

  1. Access to healthy nutritional information and education, providing proper nourishment breaks and healthy eating /drinking options.
  2. Allowing employees to join targeted health and wellbeing programmes in which they have access to diet planning, fitness monitoring and coaching.
  3. Incorporating elements of ‘mindfulness’ and meditation into all standard performance training and coaching.
  4. Providing daily opportunity to join a 10 minute pre/post- work ‘meditation’ session which may incorporate elements of Yoga practice.
  5. Provision of core fitness programmes, including opportunities for ‘physical activity’ to be built around the core day and incorporating a culture which condones and encourages physical endeavor and fitness
  6. Individual and group coaching on resilience and cognitive behavioral control (maintaining attention to task despite simultaneous difficult emotions).
  7. Incorporating all elements, focusing on body, mind, emotion and spirit into elite development programmes.
This article is correct at 19/10/2015

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Angela Schettino
Think People Consulting

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