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By Marc Wilson
We all want success. And as we embark on a career, most of us want to be successful. But when I probe aspirations, “being successful” is usually a proxy for “I want the rewards / power /status of success.”
If you think that business success has different rules to success in sports, less reliance on discipline, more reliance on connections and things out of your control, reconsider or stop reading.
If your job is a ticket to a pay-cheque, is so-many-hours-per-day, stop reading.
Brutally, most of us will not be successful. We will not achieve stand-out performance. We will under-achieve our childish dreams. Choose:
- Continue to fantasize OR
- Get real and set your targets lower OR
- Confront the challenge and do what it takes to chase your dream.
Dreaming is important. It is the often the reason that we try at all. But the great achievers realise that a dream without a plan and action remains a fantasy.
“…in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.” — U.S. President Barack Obama
Obama was quoting “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
When I was younger and starting out, I think I marked a lot of my desires for success in positions or promotions I hoped to achieve. In the first draft of this article, someone remarked that I had not mentioned promotion once. That is quite a stunning reflection. I believe my experience and growing up helped me realise that promotion and position reflect a result of success rather than success in itself.
Many of us do fantasize. As adolescents, we dream of mansions and sports cars, of power and glory, of beautiful spouses and successful children. As we begin our career journey, these dreams inevitably meet reality. We may continue to deny reasons for the gap between dreams and reality, but many reach a realisation at some point that not everybody can be excellent – by definition. And that to be excellent, we need to be doing things better than those in our defined benchmark.
We fantasize for good reason. Life is hard. As we become more experienced, we discover that achieving success typically requires far more from us than we imagined, we are not all exceptional, success is often dependent on the support of others – and people and relationships are not predictable. Life throws curve balls – illness, family needs and financial constraints to name a few.
But if we are to undertake an adult approach to success, it becomes time to replace fantasy with a deliberate approach to achieving our dreams.
What is success? At its simplest, success is achieving a goal. Being successful is therefore achieving goals regularly. But to most of us, being successful is more than this. Being successful in many people’s minds equates to excellence. Excellence – exceeding standard performance, standing-out, being the best. And pointedly, the rewards most desire for being successful equate with those for excellence.
This is an important distinction. The definition of excellence seems to be far more closely aligned with the aspirations of those with the desire to be successful. The measures of excellence are far more objective and demanding than those of success.
We tend to apply different rules to business success. It must be balanced. It must be within its 9-to-5 box. Here is my challenge to you: if you desire super-achiever business status, why would the lessons learnt from Olympian sports success be different to achieving Olympian stand-out performance in business?
Olympic sports success is not balanced. It is not confined to a part of the day. Olympian sports success is obsessive. It is unbalanced. It is single-minded. It requires brutal sacrifice and pain (see the graphic to the left showing the cost and effort required to get into the Olympics – source: Voucherbox). Why would being the best in your business field require anything less?
I think we tend to create an artificial distinction because an Olympic goal might be confined to a target by the age of 30. Thereafter an athlete can retire to a “normal” life. Similarly, an overachieving student might single-mindedly pursue “top-of the-class” performance knowing that the pain and sacrifice will end with the award of a degree. A business career is part of most of our adult lives and sacrifice for that amount of time is untenable for most people. For this reason, careers like investment banking and management consulting tend to have short lifespans before achievers move on to a second phase. I believe that for this reason they tend to attract more employees seeking super-achievement before the “second-phase” – people will accept the discomfort for a short time horizon.
I believe that there are fifteen determinants to achieving business-career excellence.
1. Get real – look outwards
It is impossible for everybody to…. To read more click here.
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By Marc Wilson
You don’t take a hospital visit for surgery lightly. In fact, neither do good surgeons. Most recommend conservative treatment first due to risks and trauma involved in surgical procedures. Restructuring is the orthopaedic surgery of corporate change. Yet it is often the go-to option for leaders as they seek to address a problem or spark an improvement.
Restructuring offers quick impact
It is easy to see why restructuring can be so alluring. It has the promise of a quick impact. It will certainly give you that. Yet it should be last option you take in most scenarios.
Most active people have had some nagging injury at some point. Remember that debilitating foot or knee injury? How each movement brought about pain and when things seemed better a return to action brought the injury right back to the fore? When you visited your doctor, he gave two options: a program of physiotherapy over an extended period with a good chance of success or corrective surgery that may or may not fix the problem more quickly. Which did you choose? If you’re like me, the promise of the quick pain with quick solution merited serious consideration. But at the same time, the concern over undergoing surgery with its attendant risks for potential relief without guarantee is hugely concerning.
No amount of physiotherapy will cure a crookedly-healed bone. A good orthopaedic surgeon might perform a procedure that addresses the issues even if painful and with long term recovery consequences.
That’s restructuring. It is the only option for a “crooked bone” equivalent. It may well be the right procedure to address dysfunction, but it has risks. Orthopaedic surgery would not be prescribed to address a muscular dysfunction. Neither should restructuring be executed to deal with a problem person. Surgery would not be undertaken to address a suboptimal athletic action. Neither should restructuring be undertaken to address broken processes. And no amount of surgery will turn an unfit average athlete into a race winner. Neither will restructuring address problems with strategic positioning and corporate fitness. All of that said, a broken structure that results in lack of appropriate focus and political roadblocks can be akin to a compound fracture – no amount of physiotherapy will heal it and poor treatment might well threaten the life of the patient.
What are you dealing with: a poorly performing person, broken processes or a structure that results in poor market focus and impedes optimum function?
Many organisations I have worked with adopt a restructuring exercise every few years. This often coincides with a change in leadership or a poor financial result. It typically occurs after a consulting intervention. When I consult with leadership teams, my warning is a rule of thumb – any major restructure will take one-and-a-half years to deliver results. This is equivalent to full remuneration cycle and some implementation time. The risk of failure is high: the surgery will be painful and the side-effects might be dramatic. Why?
Restructuring involves changes in reporting lines and the relationships between people. This is political change. New ways of working will be tried in an effort to build successful working relationships and please a new boss. Teams will be reformed and require time to form, storm, norm and perform. People will take time to agree, understand and embed their new roles and responsibilities. The effect of incentives will be felt somewhere down the line.
Restructuring is often attempted to avoid the medium-to-long-term delivery of change through process change and mobilisation. As can be seen, this under-appreciates that these and other facets of change are usually required to deliver on the promise of a new structure anyway.
Restructuring creates uncertainty in anticipation
Restructuring also impacts through anticipation. Think of the athlete waiting for surgery. Exercise might stop, mental excuses for current performance might start, dread of the impending pain and recovery might set in. Similarly, personnel waiting for a structural change typically fret over the change in their roles, their reporting relationships and begin to see excuses for poor performance in the status quo. The longer the uncertainty over potential restructuring lasts, the more debilitating the effect.
Leaders feel empowered through restructuring
The role of the leader should also be considered. Leaders often feel powerless or lack capacity and time to implement fundamental change in processes and team performance. They can restructure definitively and feel empowered by doing so. This is equivalent to the athlete overruling the doctors advice and undergoing surgery, knowing that action is taking place – rather than relying on corrective therapeutic action. A great deal of introspection should be undertaken by the leader. “Am I calling for a restructure because I can, knowing that change will result?” Such action can be self-satisfying rather than remedial.
Is structure the source of the problem?
Restructuring and surgery are about people. While both may be necessary, the effects can be severe and may not fix the underlying problem. Leaders should consider the true source of underperformance and practice introspection – “Am I seeking the allure of a quick fix for a problem that require more conservative longer-term treatment?”
Photo by John Chew
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Recently Global Advisors hosted multi-stage ultra-marathon runner Daniel Rowland as he gave a talk about his training and racing approach. The talk happened prior to Daniel racing in the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2013 – a 250km multi-stage race that takes place over 7 days. Competitors carry their own food, bedding, etc – water and sleeping tents are provided.
Daniel Rowland winning the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2013 (picture Hermien Webb Photography, Facebook)
Daniel won in a course record time. Earlier this year Daniel won the Atacama Crossing – another 250km multi-stage self-supported desert race across the Atacama Desert (the driest place on earth) and part of the prestigious Four Desert Series. The Four Desert Series attracts some of the finest Ultra-Marathon athletes in the world who compete only for the prestige – there is no prize money. These two races are Daniel’s first two multi-stage races in his first year as a professional runner.
Daniel Rowland leads the Atacama Crossing 2013 field en-route to victory (Picture Shaun Boyte in Trail Magazine Issue 7 – dwrowland.com)
There is no doubt that Daniel is a talented sportsman – he represented Zimbabwe as a triathlete and trained as a potential Olympian. But there are many talented athletes that fail to achieve sporting success. What makes Daniel as successful as he is?
Daniel abandoned his Olympic ambitions to study a Business Science degree at UCT. He was selected as a McKinsey intern. Following this he went on to work for Anglo American in South Africa, Alaska and Chile. Two-and-a-half years ago, Daniel entered his first ultra-marathon beyond 50km – the 100 mile Sustina race through the depths of the Alaskan winter, and battling snow and night. Daniel finished fourth. Following Daniel’s blog (www.dwrowland.com) as an interested spectator and very recreational runner with no real ambitions of running an ultra myself, I was struck by the regimen that Daniel adopts to life in general and running in particular. Even in his early ultra exploits, Daniel exemplified a simple approach that underlies most key management theory – Plan, Do, Review (PDR).
Plan appropriately for the execution against the goals that you aim to achieve, Do what you planned to and Review your execution against the plan.
Click here to read more…
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