Sure elite athletes like Tiger Woods, Lionel Messi and Kobe Bryant are extraordinarily gifted athletes. Each of them, however, are also renowned for their fanatical work ethic. They are dedicated to practicing their sport to perfection.
Elite athletes practice 90 percent of the time preparing for the 10 percent when they actually do perform. In practice, they are focused working on their weaknesses more than on their natural strengths. They repeatedly fail in certain parts of their game until hard practice
prepares them for potential success.
Yeah, Kobe Bryant may make a fade away jumper look effortless but that was only possible after hours and hours of sweating in many different gyms.
There are countless stories of the next great “Ken Griffey Jr.” who flame out never living up to their natural potential. In most cases (barring injuries) these athletes never had the same drive to practice like the true elite athletes. Practice can make perfect.
True successful business people are just the same. Many have natural gifts, but almost all of them are tireless workers who practice their trade. Yet, businesses often do not recognize this. They do not allow for proper “practice” of their people and create a culture of continuous improvement (learning), particularly with their sales and marketing teams. Hard and adequate practice makes better business teams in a highly competitive marketplace.
Product groups need to practice listening repeatedly to adequately meet customer demands. The organization needs to improve its process for attaining customer and market feedback in agile but structured manner, which takes practice and trying different approaches regardless of failure.
A company needs “practice” selling its solutions over and over again from a product marketing, sales as well as customer support perspective. How much time does your sales team really “practice” selling versus just performing in front of customers against competitors? In my opinion, most organizations do not value sales training enough.
Elite athletes all put tremendous effort to their trade. They have succeeded with both hard work and natural talent. Businesses need both from its people as well to become elite in their own right. Invest in training and create an environment of continuous improvement through hard work. And play to win!
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The executive board of SDL just concluded its quarterly meeting at headquarters in Maidenhead. We welcomed our new CMO Grant Johnson who will be asked to be a ‘change agent’ in terms of driving company brand awareness with clear, compelling messaging. Currently, SDL is known more by its individual products (Trados, Tridion, SM2, etc) than by the overall company brand. Given the fast evolving nature of gobal CXM and the demand for faster, easier and more measurable solutions, we need to get the market to understand the breath and depth of the SDL CXM platform beyond our best of breed point solutions.
Grant already has a full plate and I look forward to his immediate impact.
These face-to-face meetings are great touch points for the divisional heads to share ideas on forward strategy and to make sure that we are all aligned in the overall company vision. The meetings are less about spreadsheets and more about how to collectively position ourselves to be successful in our fast-growing marketplace. There is seriousness about the business and the work ahead, but also optimism about what can be done on a long term basis for improving global customer experience.
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So, you look in the mirror and notice putting on some weight. You want to look better, like you did when younger. Remember your glory years? What should you do? There are a lot of diet choices: Atkins diet, South Beach diet, Weight Watchers diet… etc.
While each of these diets work in the short term by generally cutting your caloric input, the best way to lose weight sustainably is to change your lifestyle. Today’s fads for losing weight are not very sustainable for the average person. For me, just the thought of dieting is a sure way to start gaining weight because I get stressed about giving up something that I want to do (eat). It would be much more sustainable to develop a lifestyle that avoids massive amounts of calories and promotes physical activities. The subconscious habits of the your day should naturally promote a healthier lifestyle. This means a more slower, deliberate change but one that has a chance to stick.
This is exactly the same for persons wanting to change other areas for self-improvement. Reading a book about how to be more empathetic may get you to be more sensitive in the short term but unless you are able to incorporate into your lifestyle (ingrained into your subconscious as a habit), your efforts will wane over time. I’ve been trying to improve myself most of my life but only a few things have really made itself into my subconscious. What I’ve learned is that a few gradual changes are sustainable while a dramatic wholesale change usually is not.
Obviously, this concept is true for business as well. We see so many new management fads and new “disruptive” market approaches. There’s already a DNA to your business and making wholesale changes probably won’t work in the long term. Identify a few key changes for your organization and work to ingrain them into the fabric of the company culture – and keep evolving your business that way.
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As a leader in business, I do not expect (nor do I want) managers to always make the same decision as I would in any given situation. How limiting and dangerous would that be?
I believe that a variety of perspective among capable people will eventually lead to the best possible decisions. In order to nurture a sense of ownership and to fuel confidence, empowering managers and employees in decision making is critical to getting the best results. I’m always encouraged when I hear teams in a heated, passionate exchange without my direct involvement. I walk by those meetings in the office with a big smile on my face. That signals “buy-in” and sense of ownership. If a leader can drive a team of capable people to that point, ideas and strategy will be effectively refined. A vision, a culture shouldn’t be about one person, but about a collective group. That’s the exponential secret to human ingenuity. That’s why empowering decision-making throughout an organization is so important.
Of course, you can’t have just a free-for-all environment without some guidelines. There needs to be structure around the empowerment bestowed on the team. For me with my leadership team, I ask that they clearly understand our business goals and priorities. Then, I ask that they understand what my thought process would be in most situations. In the end even if the decisions go in a different direction, I’ll still be supportive.
I want to leverage the collective intelligence of the whole team. In order to do that, I need to create an environment that enables people to take ownership and risks in decisions being made every day. Having people around who mimic me serves very little value to the organization. Having people who think through how we normally come to a decision but then formulate compelling reasons for a better decision, that’s invaluable.
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“Hey, are you having fun yet?”
That’s a question I occasionally ask people I work with. It’s not a rhetorical question. I really want to know. Fun can be different for each individual. Some people find coming up with new ideas fun. Others love putting teams together, or closing a big deal. Regardless, it’s important that people are enjoying what they are doing.
The nice thing about that question is that it makes people stop and think about their work in a different light than they normally do. The question re-enforces a positive attitude about work or makes one re-evaluate what they are doing. The question may have a corrective or therapeutic effect on how someone is approaching work.
The key is to look for an honest answer. If someone is a bit dismissive in answering, dig a little deeper and let the other person know that you are really interested in the answer. In most cases you’ll then get a thoughtful response. People aren’t often asked questions regarding their emotions at work. It’s nice to be asked if you are authentically interested.
So, are you having fun yet?
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No one will mistake me as detail-oriented person. My head is usually in the clouds thinking of things in concepts. That’s why I admire those who pay so much attention to details. I need them around me to make things happen.
Some of the really smart people I know are extremely good at solving problems at a very minute detail. They can think at a level of detail that is extraordinary, thus solving great problems of business and of the world.
However, these people sometimes need help to see events around them in the larger context. They are so stuck in the details that they lose focus of the bigger picture. In my business, we’ve transformed ourselves from a service-oriented business to a product-focused business over the last couple of years. During that time, we’ve nearly doubled our staff and had been acquired twice. In that context, we’ve accomplished a great deal under very difficult circumstances.
Yet, on a day-to-day basis, we face many frustrations around our execution. It’s during these moments that I need to put into perspective all that we’ve accomplished, and the progress we’re making toward our goals. I need the efforts of all the smart detail-oriented people to get us to our goals. And sometimes they need me to remind them of how we are doing relative to a the bigger picture.
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Today in Seattle, people are extremely excited about the recent success of its football team (Seahawks). Such success is not normal for this town which has had one major championship (NBA championship in the 197-79 season) throughout its sports history. That franchise (Sonics), by the way, is no longer in town. While the Seahawks are still three difficult playoff wins away from a championship, people are excited about the foundation that has been built. This team is having success with a nucleus of very young players.
The recent progression of this team has some valuable lessons for any leader. First of all, owner Paul Allen and his executives were decisive when they planned to “go in another direction”. They let big-name coach Mike Holmgren go without offering him even a front office position. Then, they fired the “coach in waiting” Jim Mora, a local favorite, who was groomed by Holmgren after just one season. They had a plan in mind. They aggressively went after USC coach Pete Carroll and gave him extensive power, including authority over the general manager (inverse of the normal hierarchy). Thereafter, Paul Allen stood by his commitment by getting out of the way.
In the first two years, Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider made 502 player moves! They wanted to completely overhaul the team culture. The team became younger, bigger, faster and meaner. While Holmgren’s system is known for its finesse and intricate execution of his complex offensive system, Carroll and Schneider built an intimating in-your-face team. The transformation which took around two-and-a half years is astonishing.
As a business executive, I admire the decisive, “all-in” moves by the team’s ownership. You cannot change an organization in a “transitional” manner. You need this level of decisiveness. No doubt those were difficult decisions given the popularity of both Holmgren and Mora within the community. Furthermore, Carroll and Schneider were not afraid to make mistakes as they re-built the team. Five hundred and two transactions is a lot of experimenting and changing to build the team that they had in mind. Without question, some of the experiments were failures but they believed in their approach and were clear on their eventual goal to build a young, tough-minded team that can effectively run the ball and play stifling defense.
There is a lot that any leader can learn from the new Seahawks approach.
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