I write to you from my own home office desk to you sat, quite possibly, at yours. I wanted to share a few thoughts on how business owners and entrepreneurs can flourish and have their teams thrive in these straitened times. I’ll stick to just two themes: operating in a new context, and how success flows from focus.
By the time you read this, the vast majority of those who can will have been working from home for several days, initially voluntarily then under lockdown provisions.
Adapting to the circumstances
To make sure that your business operates at the highest possible level over the next few months, you need to set aside time to assimilate what is happening and take the necessary time to process what it means for you and your business. That is easier said than done.
If at all possible, you should plan a regular cycle to do this every day or every two days.
The daily briefings from the Government each afternoon have had significant impacts on how we conduct business from day to day. Finding time just after these announcements to pause and reflect on how your business might operate in light of the announcements is time well spent.
Over my career as a sports psychologist, I have encouraged sportspeople to use the time just after they’ve left the sports field to reflect on that performance. They may well be a spectator sitting on the sidelines after being substituted. Your brain is sensitive to feedback at this point in time, and the feedback loop will make sure that these messages are hard-wired the next time it comes to perform. That’s why golfers will swing again after a poor shot, or tennis players will dispatch an imaginary winning shot as they return to the baseline.
Copying that behaviour of assimilating information and using an instant feedback loop to reflect on the day or week’s performance is going to prove essential for your organisation over coming months.
Manage what you can and disregard the rest
In my home office, I have set myself up to peak perform. For me, the right mix of music, distance from any other noisy distractions and a window with a view is part of my routine. In the times when I can’t get to see people face to face, I have determined this set up to be optimal to me performing at work. Of course, your choices may differ, and your set up should accordingly too, but it’s definitely worth taking the time to set yourself up to succeed as an individual before you lead others.
Equally, if something’s not working, then change it. A new ergonomic chair, time working from a different room at home, an earlier morning start, a chat with your business coach. Sportspeople do this all the time, they remove the obstacles to their peak performance (or have others do it for them) and it’s a behaviour worth emulating.
One of the hardest things to achieve over the next few weeks will be an elite collective performance when your teams are dispersed. Yes, video has been a force for good in picking up on visual clues that previously went unnoticed on the phone, but video conferencing can also be hugely frustrating.
If we focus in for a minute on what the video conference is there for, then we can optimise our use of it a little. First, in possibly only 30 minutes, it condenses the face-to-face everyday experience of being in the office for some people. It acts as a water cooler for them, a moment to check in. So if you’re tempted to focus purely on business matters at this time, you might find that you lose your people. I’ve been on calls over recent days where MDs and CEOs have taken a different tack and have relaxed the rules about what is spoken about a bit. People sharing their family’s updates and glimmers of light from their day. Right now, this is core to the performance of your business: you have to find time for the personal as people are very worried. Humanity is king.
Of course, some of your people will prefer their new working conditions. High performing introverts may well flourish away from the scrutiny of the open office or a micro-manager where their work can be viewed in black and white.
There’s a balance to be struck here but you’ll probably find that naturally over the course of a few days, that less meeting time is spent on the personal.
When I think of those sports managers who have the best track records, they always made time for the personal and made sure that their treatment was personalised: Alex Ferguson, Juergen Klopp and Pep Guardiola are three obvious examples.
Part of your personal management, and your managers’ management is to encourage others to look after their own physical and mental wellbeing and ask for help when they need it. The reality is that even the best performers can struggle in isolation: minds drift, schedules can be ignored and energy levels drop.
Disregard the rest
You’ll also need to devise a routine that allows you to switch off. Giving your mind a break, maybe even enjoying increased contact time with those you live with, these are essential elements of the recovery part that’s needed to make sure that you can perform the next day. I’d suggest a ramp-off approach to the day, doing less, watching less, and maybe listening to more gentle piano music pre-bedtime.
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Your people need you to lead them. Look after yourself, and you’ll be well placed to look after them. If in doubt, ask yourself: ‘what would an elite sportsperson do?’ After all, winning business people aren’t so very different from elite sportspeople.