What can business leaders learn from Iron Man?

July 12, 2018

Business Leaders, if you feel good, eat!

‘If you feel good, eat!’ is the race day fuelling mantra of many experienced Iron Man triathletes. Take note business leaders, you should eat little and often whilst you can stomach it. If you wait until you’re hungry to give your body the nutrition it needs, you’ll have left it too late and you’ll be performing at sub-optimal levels. You’ll even risk hitting the wall (or ‘bonking’ as it’s known in triathlon circles).

It seems to me that many industry leaders could learn a great deal from this Iron Man fuelling philosophy in their approach to their business strategy. Indeed, I would go as far as to suggest that the best way to ensure that you complete the race (preferably ahead of the competition) is to keep your organisation’s products, processes and people well-nourished at every stage of the course.

Of course, many people know this already. However, all too often leaders fail to put it into practice because they are not willing to make the required investment when there is no apparent need to do so. Rather than constantly evolving and challenging themselves, these businesses become complacent and conservative. Mediocrity becomes the new goal. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ becomes the new mantra.

But the trouble with this approach is that, if you don’t invest, it is inevitable that you will at some point hit the wall. As any endurance athlete will tell you, this is not a pleasant experience. You simply can’t get past this wall, no matter how much you want to. You have to stop, refuel and re-energise. In business terms, this takes time, costs you more money and results in you losing ground on your competition, ground which you may never fully make up. It is the very definition of a false economy.

The three Ps

The better approach, therefore, is for business leaders to invest continuously in your organisation’s three Ps: its products, processes and people.

Investing in your product requires more than just making tweaks to your product to give your customers what they think they want. Henry Ford knew this better than anyone, allegedly stating that if he’d given the customers what they wanted he wouldn’t have manufactured cars at all – he’d just have sold faster horses. So, product innovation is key if you want to maintain a competitive edge, or steal a march on your competitors.

In the same way, when it comes to your processes, it’s a truism that if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got. With appropriate investment, your processes can always be improved, whether by increasing automation, better management of big data, or more intelligent analytics. In an increasingly digital world, businesses need to be digitally transformed; however, your digital solution also needs to be constantly reviewed to ensure that it is not just fit for purpose but fit for the future as well.

Invest in people

If you want to ensure the best possible returns on your investments in products and processes, it is essential that you also invest in your people. If you’re wondering what form this investment should take, Richard Branson summed it up well when he said, “train people well enough so that they can leave; treat them well enough so they don’t want to”. In other words, people investment isn’t just about upskilling your team with the hard and soft skills they need to perform their job better, it’s also about implementing a well-thought through employee retention strategy. Once again, the investment will be worth it, as the many studies on the link between employee engagement and customer satisfaction demonstrate.

So, if business is going well for you (you may even find yourself ‘in the zone’ – the holy grail for Iron Man athletes) that’s great.

But please, just remember to eat.

By Simon Horsfield, Employment Partner

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