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Managing by the margins or managing the basics?

Posted: 29 July 2015
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I, like a hugely growing group of the population, ride bikes. It seems the cycling industry is masterful at coming up with new ideas to make us shell out dollars on the latest carbon, “OOOOooooo look at that new shiny thing”, moments or entice us into middle-age lycra. I feel somewhat righteous that I have (so far) avoided a more troubling mid-life crisis preferring instead the plethora of cycle racing options presented to me in the magnificent Pacific Northwest. Bike widget manufacturers are, in the main, magnificent at marketing – if it alleges to make me faster then I’m on it like Gollum pursuing a golden ring. If it’s not velodrome racing, it’s Crit and when summer is done it’s a welcome return to my days as an 8-year-old playing, as I do, in the mud racing Cyclocross. My wife just tuts, a lot! So…… back to the topic, ah yes, “Winning”. Well for me it’s a moot point in cycling but for Sunday’s Tour de France victor Chris Froome it was a formality in the end Froome (fellow Brit) triumphed in the yellow jersey parading as the champion does into the center of Paris up the Champs Elysees on Sunday afternoon. After 23 days covering 3,500 kilometers and burning 8,000 calories a day he was Le Champion. The Tour is known as one of the toughest, if not THE toughest, physical endurance events in the world, (The World Darts Championship aside of course) so winning is both a huge life commitment by the eventual winner but also the entire team. Froome rides for Team Sky led by Sir Dave Brailsford who has masterminded success for many cycling endeavors and Sunday’s victory was the culmination of yet another reinvention. A little background for you; in 2013 Team Sky was setting new standards, raising every bar and was seemingly unstoppable in their pursuit, winning as they did two Tours in five years. The formula was working, the time spent planning and sweating against a formidable and relentless group of competitors was well worth it. Twelve months later at the 2014 Tour de France the competitors made up ground, Team Sky lost their lead rider and failed to win a single stage of the race. The end perhaps? Had the usefulness of the investment, resources, creativity and innovation run out? I waited to see how the team everyone wanted to beat responded this year. I think it’s fair to say that Team Sky is “back” having dominated this year’s Tour. So how do we account for this resurrection? It seems the team took a step back and thought about what it would take to win again in light of the fact the rest of the pack caught up with their ideas, methods and drive. An obsessive nature to reinvent, a dogged determination against indifference and thoughtful, analytical-based reflection and seemingly they are pushing the limits; leaving the competition in the proverbial, and actual, dust yet again.
How many of us are culprits of saying things but not doing them with the conviction required to make our investment in people truly work? Mark Hollyhead, Senior Vice President Americas
I waited to see how the team everyone wanted to beat responded this year. I think it’s fair to say that Team Sky is “back” having dominated this year’s Tour. So how do we account for this resurrection? It seems the team took a step back and thought about what it would take to win again in light of the fact the rest of the pack caught up with their ideas, methods and drive. An obsessive nature to reinvent, a dogged determination against indifference and thoughtful, analytical-based reflection and seemingly they are pushing the limits; leaving the competition in the proverbial, and actual, dust yet again. In a few articles I’ve read many talk about cycling being a game of margins. I definitely relate to this sentiment but more so at work than in my very amateur velo activity. In one article I read, Sir Dave talks about changing the approach to pay for riders, choosing to pay top riders in salary and a stipend earmarked for coaching and personal development rather than simply out bidding their lesser-financed competitors. This certainly gave me pause for thought. Yes, we all want to employ good people, we all work within our budget and most of us preach the virtues of people development as a way to increase the value of our business. But how many of us are culprits of saying things but not doing them with the conviction required to make our investment in people truly work? By choosing a path to link an investment that clearly and unambiguously funds a colleague’s improvement was clinical, simple and brilliant. “You want to ride for the best team in the world?” “OK. You’re in, here’s your salary and here’s your performance enhancement investment program.” Developing people requires time and commitment by both employer and employee so anything that sharpens the clarity of accountability for continual betterment between both parties at the outset surely pay dividends. Similarly, Team Sky decided to spend more on creating the right environment. One example: Grand Tours are by their nature grueling feats covering hundreds of miles of high tempo racing. Not having riders eat and sleep in hotels, where the ideal nutrition and environment can prove challenging if not impossible, proved itself as an area for marginal gain. This year, Team Sky introduced mobile kitchens and mobile homes, which sound expensive, but consider the investment really. You’ve got a team of elite athletes riding 150+ miles every day in varying elevations for weeks on end. When finished a day’s racing surely the benefits of rest and sleep are just delivering on the basics to prepare for tomorrow’s toil. You create the environment to let your team thrive. Get the basics wrong and you can forget about the latest aerodynamic widget, your rider is just not going to be up for it. And who thought getting sleep was a competitive advantage huh? I’ll save you the workplace parallel, as I’m sure you can draw it for yourself. Simply put, if your team doesn't feel the culture is conducive to winning or valued and haven’t got the tools to do the job, forget the vision and the millions you might have to invest. You’ll never even start the race. I could go on with other parallels, in particular with data science and the use of information to improve but I’m sure I’ll be back with other thoughts on that in the weeks to come. For now, well done Chris Froome and all at Team Sky. Allez, Allez