olympic athletes

What if we thought like Olympic Athletes?

October 16, 2015

What if we practiced 90% of the time and only performed 10% of the time?  That’s what elite athletes do….they spend most of their time figuring out how to get the most out of their body – how to get themselves to the top of their performance game, so that when they get on the field, the court or the track they are fully prepared to WIN.  What if we did that at work?

What if we understood, that like athletes, our employees come to work every day in hopes of winning?  Would that change the way we managed them?

Performance Management: Would we wait until the annual performance review to give them feedback, or would we give feedback to them real time?  Let’s consider the elite athlete…. An Olympic swimmer hires a coach to help her make it to the games – the coach designs the practices, watches both real time and on film to track how the swimmer is doing.  Together they analyze the performance, make tweaks and the swimmer tries again. And again.  And what if during that practice the coach notices that the swimmer’s left elbow is dragging, thus slowing down her pace, however minimally.  Would the coach wait until the year-end review to give the swimmer that feedback?  OF COURSE NOT. That’s actually silly.  Yet, this is what we do at work.  We wait to give the feedback until the “appropriate time” in the performance review cycle.

If the coach were to do that, here’s what might happen:
– The swimmer would likely not know herself to lift their elbow.  She wouldn’t improve the .10% of a second that was necessary to make the difference between fourth place and the gold medal.
– The swimmer would continue to practice not lifting her elbow, and when she finally got the feedback, it would be much harder to unlearn the old way and then to relearn the new way – instead of just making the minor correction at the time.
– The swimmer would never really trust the coach again – because the coach allowed her to do it the wrong way rather than to have the difficult conversation about making a change.

That whole scenario seems ridiculous and contrived.  Here’s how it really plays out: The coach would scream into the pool, ‘LIFT YOUR ELBOW’, and the swimmer would lift her elbow, and that would be the end of it.  There would be no drama, no feedback models necessary to figure out the best way to offer the feedback.  The coach would give the feedback, the swimmer would incorporate the feedback and be better prepared to win.  If the coach didn’t deliver the appropriate feedback, he would likely be fired.

And then, imagine if at the end of the year the coach gave the athlete a ‘3 out of 5’ for a performance rating.  A 3 out of 5 is good he’d say.  You met expectations, you did exactly what you set out to do!  Again, that sounds ridiculous.  How could an Olympic athlete actually be a 3?  Very likely, the swimmer would not get back in the pool for that coach again.

Why then at work is that whole scenario OK?  Why do we assume that the feedback is going to be taken in the wrong way?  Why do we think that not giving the feedback is acceptable?  What if we treated employees as though they were striving to be the best they could be.

What if we assumed employees had an intention for greatness and we acted as if it were our job to guide them there? 

Would we act differently with that frame?

Goal setting works the same way.  The Olympics are every four years.  That’s a big, hairy goal.  In fact, at work, that is so big we might actually call it a “corporate objective”.  And the goal itself is actually to qualify for the Olympics.  And then there are micro-goals under that – personal bests,  national competitions, and key qualifying events (among many others).  There is a tremendous amount of effort and sweat, and successes and failures that lead up to those micro goals, which drive the big goal and corporate objectives.  Four years’ worth in fact.   Yet, together the coach and the athlete sit down and chart the course – when are the trials, when are the world championships, what races can we do to get ready for those?  How can we practice?  Where is it OK to fail, and where do I have to be at the top of my game?  What else can I do to fully develop – what are the ancillary things that will make me more successful (sleep, nutrition, exercise, stress, etc)?

Do we really think about those things at work?  Or instead, do we run from one thing to the next, not really understanding how everything fits together?  Can we work with our employees to create meaningful short term micro goals that drive the bigger organizational goals, that ultimately lead to being the best in the world?  An opportunity that realistically comes along only once every four years?  Can we identify those corporate objectives, vs. the goals and micro goals and then understand the “near and clear” steps it takes to achieve those?

Can we focus on getting a teeny bit better every day, rather than trying to go from good to perfect in one conversation?

And can we make the leap that our employees want and expect that kind of coaching and feedback from us in order to help get them there?

We have Olympic Athletes hidden among us at work.  Those people that need the right coaching, the right feedback and the right type of goal setting to just help them be the best they can be…and in some cases we’ll never know it, because we give them a 3.  And then they fire us (or move to another company), or become so disenfranchised that they actually give up.  And because of our process, our system, our fear…they don’t reach their potential.  That’s the exact opposite of the job of a coach.  What if we operated as Olympic Coaches instead of managers at work? Maybe we’d get Olympic Performances.

Why is Food Always the Answer?

July 11, 2015

Why is Food always the answer?

I mean, it makes sense, when you think about it logically. Food is fuel, it’s calories. And calories are energy. And energy fuels, right? So logically, it makes sense. But in the day to day decisions and judgements we make about life, it seems that lately, regardless of the question, food is the answer.

When you are from NY and spend your entire life surrounded by great food, it’s not a surprise that life revolves around it….when it’s raining, you order in Chinese. It’s just what you do. And, similar to Pavlov’s dog, now, even though I’ve been out of NY for over a decade, when it rains I still always crave Mu Shu Pork and Lo Mein. The good news about this is – I live in Phoenix where it hardly ever rains…which is great because they really don’t know how to make Chinese food out here. But, I will not judge.

Moods can be changed, managed and enhanced by the right food. Arguments can be settled, milestones celebrated and families reunited with some great pasta and crusty bread. Broken legs and scraped knees can be mended by a creamy macaroni and cheese, and love can form over a plate of sashimi.

But, I’m talking about more than this. I’m talking about performance. I’m talking about even at work, the answer is always food.

For three years I had the great fortune to work at the United States Olympic Committee. I worked side by side with some of the world’s most elite athletes and their coaches. I watched as they conditioned their bodies, trained and practiced their sport with energy and determination. I learned that it was a package deal; that elite athletic performance came from a combination of the right balance of focus, preparation and recovery. And I don’t just mean physically.

These athletes spend a significant amount of time setting goals – understanding exactly; to a second or a millimeter, what it will take to go for the gold. They think about the qualifying competitions and work backward from there. They create mini- steps, short term milestones that will lead to great success. This takes a huge amount of focus – both mentally and physically.

The physical focus takes the form of energy management. When do they practice, train, and then recover? What do they eat that will drive this focus? How do they fuel their body, and their brain to take them to the next level? When do they rest? How do they recover? I learned that there is passive recovery – we laymen call that sleep. And there is active recovery – things like massage, meditation, visualization.

The question becomes simple – why do we expect that we can demand elite performance out of ourselves and our teams – yet we don’t value the things that drive elite performance. “Wait a minute, you’re saying, “but I do value those things. I eat well, I sleep and I even workout sometimes…..” Yet, we don’t value it enough to see it as our obligation to those things and people we care the most about. Taking care of our body translates to understanding what your family needs from you – YOU. We don’t view exercise as something that will drive our energy and mood such that we perform better at work either. We never make the connection between how we eat and the success at the meeting we just had. And when we only get 3 hours sleep the night before we simply drink a lot of caffeine and complain to our colleagues.

Elite athletes use food as fuel. I’ve seen them eat A LOT of food, and really enjoy it – but the good news for them is, they need that fuel to power them through their relentless practice to be the best in the world. They are also very careful about when they eat what…..

But, here in Corporate America – we don’t really think much about that. We have “fast food”. We actually call it that – food that is fast, so we don’t need to think about it, we can just gobble it down regardless of what it might do to our performance. We have cafeterias – some of which are actually subsidized by the company for whom they serve, and yet they still don’t pay attention to how the food served there will fuel their employees. I don’t want anyone on my team eating meatloaf and mashed potatoes at lunchtime and then trying to come work at optimal performance levels – do you?

I pay attention to what I eat. I eat clean – I really do. I eat a lot, admittedly, but I eat healthy food that is very nutritionally sound. I also own a gym. I work out A LOT. I love working out and I love being at my gym, so it makes it easier for me than for most. However, I’m gaining weight lately and I feel sluggish, and my clothes are not fitting right. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t care as much about what the scale says as I do about how I feel. And I feel sluggish. “I can’t believe It”, I say to my trainers, “I workout so much!” “What are you eating?” is all they want to know.

I’ve been going to yoga for over a year religiously. I love it. I’ve seen a huge change in my flexibility and balance and at 50 years old, that’s really important. Yoga challenges me, teaches me to be mindful and how to breathe to calm myself down. I love that. There is an advanced yoga workshop coming up in a few weeks. I don’t feel like I’m advanced yet, but after a year, I’m certainly better than where I started. So, I asked my yoga instructor if he thought I was ready for the advanced workshop. He mentioned a few poses and asked how easily I was able to do those. “Pretty well”, I explained – “but that big toe standing balance – I can’t get that one. I’ve been trying for a year and I can’t seem to progress”.

Guess what he asked me? “What do you eat?” ARE YOU KIDDING??? I can’t do big toe standing balance because my eating is wrong?? “Do you eat meat and dairy?” he said. “Yes”, I said, “but I don’t eat fried foods, I limit my sugar and I eat tons of vegies”. He said “meat and dairy cause a lot of inflammation. You can’t do big toe standing balance with inflammation in your body”.

My husband is a chef. He cooks delicious food; mostly healthy but still delicious. Going to great restaurants and having an amazing “foodie” dinner with a big, bold glass of red zinfandel is one of the top three joys in my life. Food plays a critical role in my life. Yet I’m a high performer in almost every area of my life and I strive for nothing less. I have high expectations and I’ll do whatever it takes to reach them. I’m never going to stop eating. I enjoy meat and dairy, more than I enjoy doing big toe standing balances, so I’m going to make that choice. I’m going to continue to go to great restaurants and eat great food when I want to – but it will be my choice and I’ll do it mindfully. I will never stop caring about what goes into my body and I’ll never stop taking care of it. It’s all I really have, and all my kids have. But there is balance, and there are choices.

But fundamentally I guess, I still have to ask….why, oh why does it always come down to the food??

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