Using elite sport tactics in business

Corporate giant KPMG has noticed a number of things that business can learn from sport management

KPMG recently acquired a company built on implementing sports tactics into the workplace, marking the tenth acquisition by the big-four member.

 But what made a sports-based approach to management so appealing to the likes of a corporate giant like KPMG?  

“I think sport in management in many ways is a lot easier than business,” said Andrew May, CEO and founder of The Performance Clinic – and now a partner at PwC.

“Sport has definite timelines and an off season. There are also really clear guidelines around what everyone needs to do to win and progress.”

One of the aspects that May continued to emphasise was the missing ‘off season’ in the business world; while professional sportsmen have a recuperation period, business is “on 24/7 now”.

“The goal posts in business are constantly shifting, which is impacting the whole team at any organisation.”

Generally, May disagreed that business and sport are alike; “business is much harder to manage”, he said.

“That said, there are a number of things that we can learn from sport management.”

Performance management
May advised that when it comes to performance management, business professionals can take heed from the way that professional athletes are managed.

“Sports managers know the different levels, skills, and strengths of each individual player,” he said.

“Sometimes in business, managers leave things to luck – but now there are so many metrics we can look at to help people get the best out of themselves.”

He referred to data analytics and employee feedback, and even suggested combining the analysis of those metrics with the use of wearable devices.

“In the world of sport, it’s all about training and competing hard – but recovering hard is equally important,” May said.

“In the corporate world, ‘recovery’ is a luxury, not a strategic advantage.

“But we see it as an essential – allowing employees to switch off from work improves innovation and creativity.”

Utilising the analysis of employee wellbeing in performance management was also linked to May’s suggestion that workplaces can benefit from this particular sporting technique.

“Employers can now look at things like the hours of sleep their workers are getting, their resting heart rates or the amount of steps they are taking each day,” May said.

“This allows them to look at the whole emphasis on their ‘recovery’ from work – whether there could be an aspect of their working lives that is negatively impacting their wellbeing.”

Open communication
 According to May – who has 15 years’ experience in the field of elite sport, including stints with the Australian cricket team, basketball team the Sydney Flames, and the NSW netball team – another thing that sport teaches is regular, honest conversation.

“In the corporate world, there is unfortunately a lot of scheming and talking behind people’s backs going on,” he said.

“There is an openness and transparency in sport that we can bring into the corporate world.”

Overcoming workplace hurdles
May said there are key issues that are common among his clients – one being that the average employee is “overloaded”.

“Most workers have too much to do, and not enough time to do it in,” May pointed out.

“They’re on 24/7, from the moment they wake up until they go to bed.”

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Because of the ‘always on’ phenomenon of recent years, May suggested that people are becoming “distracted” from their personal lives.

“People are constantly distracted. They think that constantly responding to work is their job, when it’s not.”

The Performance Clinic offers companies solutions to this “overloading” by trying to give people back more time, energy and attention.

“Our methods have been developed with scientific rigour – we have proven that we do give people back more time,” May said.

But how exactly is this achieved?
The Performance Clinic uses key programs to improve employee wellbeing and ultimately their performance.

These include:

Performance Assessments 

 This program is designed to provide a report of how well or how poorly team members are managing their personal performance, focusing on four key areas:
•Psychology – the way they think
•Productivity – the way they work
•Recovery – the way they balance stress
•Physiology – the way they eat and move
The assessment consists of two behavioural surveys, a 90 minute health and wellness assessment, and 48 hours of ‘stress and recovery’ monitoring.

Personal Best 
Personal Best is a practical performance program designed to increase productivity, wellbeing and engagement. The program includes a pre-program and post-program performance assessment, comprised of an eight-week physical activity program, healthy mind eight-week ‘Positive Thinking Skills Training’, nutrition guidance and a workshop on team performance and behaviour change.

Performance workshops 
These 45 to 90 minute workshops encourage teams to think more positively, build healthy relationships, manage information overload, plan workflow effectively, and balance stress and with renewed energy. 
The organisation also offers an online tool that includes up to 25 modules delivered online to desktops, iPads and iPhones.

Working with KPMG
May said that there are “two primary levels” to how KPMG will utilise his techniques.

“We are offering our services to KPMG clients already,” he explained.

“KPMG has an amazing relationship with a great number of clients. Every business – from large companies to small ones, telcos to energy companies, government agencies – is looking at ways to improve performance.”

However, he warned that employers “can only mine someone so much before wearing them out”.

“You can only push people so much until you hit a breaking point,” May said.

“An unfortunate reality – especially in white-collar workplaces – is the insidious rise in stress.

 We’re giving people the fundamental building blocks to look after their minds and bodies. Looking after people helps them to bring their best to work.”

Clients were leveraging the service to improve balance and sustainability in their workforces, he added.

 The use of May’s techniques will also be used in KPMG’s internal workforce.

“It’s having a positive impact on the internal culture,” said May.

 He noted that one of the reasons The Performance Clinic’s approach will work at KPMG – and one of the reasons he was attracted to the company – is its “cultural set”.

“KPMG’s leaders lead by example,” May explained.

“I’ve had a couple of companies approach me in the last 18 months with acquisition propositions, but the right set was about culture, not money – KPMG is the right partnership.” 

This article has been adapted from a sister site, written by Chloe Taylor.