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Bradley Wiggins – lessons in teamwork

I enjoy a bit of sedentary cycling and have been known to jump on a Boris Bike.  But I have never really taken much interest in cycling as a sport.  Until now.   It has been difficult to escape the excitement surrounding Bradley Wiggins and his Tour de France victory.  When I began to understand more about how the race was one I realised that the real story was not so much about Bradley Wiggins but more about Team Sky.   We can learn a lot from this extraordinary team and its achievement.  And the lessons are just as important to business as they are to sport.

What I hadn’t realised (apologies to cycling enthusiasts who know all this) is that Bradley’s win did not come out of nowhere.  It was part of a masterful and finely executed plan in which each member of Team Sky played a crucial part.  What is most striking about the story is that any member of the team could (in theory) have been the winner.  But the plan was to achieve a win for the team by supporting Bradley’s progress through the course, employing tactics to boost his performance at every stage, thereby ensuring his success overall.  In other words the team were united behind a common cause which took precedence over any individual egos and aspirations.

Read any account of Team Sky’s performance and you begin to understand the very specific role that each member played throughout the race.  Bradley was the team leader who put in years of relentless hard work and stuck rigidly to his belief in winning.  Bradley had to acknowledge his weaknesses (he is apparently not the strongest climber) in order to get support from others in the team where he needed it.  Chris Froome, coming second overall, was prepared  to stand in if Bradley faltered.  He is a better climber than Bradley and could have sought more glory in the race.  But that was not part of the plan and so he held back when necessary. Christian Knees, a former champion, stayed at the front during the early stages to control any possible contenders to Bradley.  He helped Bradley by keeping him out of the wind for long stretches, allowing him to save his energy for the later crucial stages in the race.

This is impressive team work.  The vision to win was truly shared by all; the plan for achieving the goal was meticulously crafted and carefully executed;  and everyone involved understood their role in the process.  Wouldn’t it be great if more senior management teams followed this example?  In business, teams so often fail because individual members struggle to unite behind the common goal.  And yet executive teams in particular have a crucial responsibility to the organisation to deliver results collectively.  There is no room for personal glory or for defending your own territory regardless of the common cause.   Organisations which fail to address the ‘silo’ mentality are highly unlikely to succeed in the long run.

We should of course congratulate Bradley Wiggins for his win.  But we should also acknowledge the part each team member played in achieving this victory.  Their performance required a level of discipline and self sacrifice that few teams can muster.

Cable reforms won’t change bonus culture

Like many others I have yet to hear any reasonable justification for the extortionate salaries being paid to corporate executives and cannot comprehend the level of pay increases being awarded to some company bosses. The rewards paid, in most cases, appear to bear little relationship to performance or to risk. And even the top earners admit that they are not incentivised by money. Jeroen van der Veer, formerly chief executive of Shell said “if I had been paid 50% more, I would not have done it better. If I had been paid 50% less, then I would not have done it worse”.

But, the UK government’s plans to curb executive pay, announced by Vince Cable today, fail to address the problem and could even make matters worse. Like the measures recently introduced to increase the number of women on Boards, these proposals will change little, they represent unnecessary interference and yet more pointless bureaucracy. The government’s plans include requirements for more pay transparency, diversity on boards, remuneration reports and shareholder voting on pay deals. These policies tinker at the edges of a much deeper issue concerning the nature of organisations and corporate culture. I am sure that most businesses will find ways to get round the new requirements without making any fundamental changes to remuneration systems, management style, values or culture – and that is where change needs to take place. Sadly, organisations that do not truly value integrity, transparency and fairness will not suddenly change their ways as a result of new legislation.

How to get a return on your (training) investment

A recent article by Robert Terry in the Financial Times (FT) complains that, despite the significant sums spent annually on training and development by companies, very little of what is learnt translates into improved performance in the workplace. Studies shows that only 5-20% of the learning from training has any impact on the business. Given the current obsession with measuring everything against business targets, this is puzzling if not shocking. “Surely” Terry suggests “a training industry that delivers less than 20 per cent cannot be fit for purpose.”

He is right. Much of the training delivered globally, within companies or by universities, is probably ineffectual. Yet still many organisations fail to measure the impact of training on the business and individual performance. Terry suggests that one reason for this is the lack of any participation or involvement of line managers in individual staff development. He argues that managers fail to take responsibility for the learning and development of their staff and should be held to account for the transfer of training to the workplace. Trainers should also be more concerned with the application of training and how it will benefit the business.

As a leadership development specialist I take this issue very seriously and have long been promoting various approaches which help to ensure that companies and individuals get a return on their investment in training and development. First let’s look at business schools and the MBA – generally considered to be the leading international business qualification. I am a strong advocate of the MBA, but, despite the considerable cost of tuition, there is surprisingly little evaluation of how the qualification benefits business or its impact on individual performance. Many employers express the concern that MBA training is too divorced from the reality of business. Some are also reluctant to sponsor employees to take an MBA because of the risk that, once qualified, their employee will be off to find a higher paid job with better prospects. Many companies attempt to manage this risk by ‘tying in’ the employee with a contract requiring them to stay with the company for a certain period after qualifying. Well, it may stop them leaving but does this restraining order really help employers to get the most out of their highly qualified senior staff?

To be sure of a better payback, employers need to take a more considered approach to MBA sponsorship. I have always encouraged employers to address the following questions. Which employees would you select to support through their MBA training and why? How can the business get the best return from investing in MBA training? What are your long term plans for the development and progression of your most talented employees? While these employees are training, or when they are qualified, what new opportunities and challenges are you able to offer them? How will their new learning be applied in order to benefit the business? Dealing with these questions will not only keep senior staff motivated and engaged but will also help to ensure that employers realise the full value of MBA training.

Then there is workplace or corporate training. How do we improve the transfer of learning in this context? It’s true that some managers are too ready to shirk their responsibility for staff development, turning to HR to solve their performance problems with the wave of a wand or the provision of a 2 day training course. When I am asked to provide management and leadership training I spend some time during the planning stage with the CEO, line managers or ideally the management team. The aim is to get an understanding of the business, the people, the challenges they face and any specific performance problems so that I can make what I deliver as relevant and meaningful as possible. I want them to see my participation as an intervention in their company’s business process, picking up on what is already going on and developing ideas and actions for implementation in the future. It is essential to get the manager’s or CEO’s commitment to deal with any follow up and to support further development after my input. That way the training and development doesn’t end when I walk away.

Measuring the impact of training on business performance isn’t easy. But with a considered approach to staff development, the involvement of managers and input from trainers who are concerned with the application of learning, the returns can be considerable.

Specialists in leadership and responsible management

JPA’s consultancy services are based on our experience and understanding of people, their development and their relationships in business, particularly during periods of significant change.

Our approach is based on the philosophy that effective human performance in business (including effective leadership) is achieved by a holistic approach to learning which combines knowledge, experience and skills. The opportunities for working on all three together are so often missed, each one being treated in isolation.

At JPA we look at integrated growth: using skills and experience, for example, to develop knowledge in a specific area. Our philosophy is to develop a more strategic approach to organisational development, focusing on initiatives that draw together and utilise all the components of the person, situation and company in order to really make a difference.

We believe it has proven not only to be a more effective, accelerated approach to staff development but also one that has greater equity for the long term.

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