Anyone can have a bad day at the office …

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However, when you’re Roger Federer, losing to the number 55 ranked player in the world when you’re the odds on favourite to win may feel like a disaster.  Especially when Roger had supposedly prioritised the US Open as a target slam to win this year.

Federer was clearly troubled, the conditions were difficult but the normally calm Swiss seemed particularly bothered at a relatively early stage by what was only a normal New York crowd.  Flushing Meadow does not have the serenity of Wimbledon and Federer knows it and normally seems to relish it, after all he’s won there five times.

Federer unusually let it get to him and it impacted his performance – a player who rarely serves a double fault served 10, his first serve percentage was inordinately low – 49% overall and in a long service game at the start of the second set just 25%.

Of course, challenging conditions happen to us all in a work context – we can’t always choose what happens to us but we can choose how to react.  This is more easily said than done – interactions with work colleagues can be emotive and challenging.  However, the challenge for us all, like Roger, is to stay present and when we do have a bad day at the office put it behind us and move on.

Of course, all credit to Millman though for executing his game plan and winning through to his first ever grand slam quarter final.

 

 

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Who’s in your support team?

 

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Yesterday Stan Wawrinka, on the long road back from injury, beat Grigor Dimitrov, 8th seed at the first round of the US Open.  It was a tough draw for Dimitrov, Stan is one of only five men to have won more than one singles grand slam title over the last 15 years (Feder, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray are the others).  Stan like Murray has won three, all under the guidance of coach Magnus Norman.

Norman has returned to Stan’s team this summer.  Norman, a former world number two singles player has justifiably built a reputation as being one of the world’s great coaches.  He has played at the highest level and has worked hard to develop his coaching skills since retiring as a player. He coached Robin Soderling, seeing him reach two slam finals and has been with Stan through his three grand slam wins.

On the other side of the court, Dimitrov is seen as an outstanding talent, who has not really fulfilled his early promise.  In Dimitrov’s box was Dani Vallverdu.  Dani was a promising junior, who was coached alongside Murray at the Sanchez-Casal Academy in Spain.  They became firm friends and, while Dani never made it as a player, he joined Murray’s team as a hitting partner.  Dani will have learned much working with coaches like Lendl, Corretja and Cahill and has subsequently had short spells with Berdych and now Dimitrov.  At 32 he is still developing as a coach.

Great coaching is principally learning to ask the right questions, collaborate with the player to get to a better place.  Norman is undoubtedly an outstanding coach.  Being a mentor is a different role, often seen as sharing experience with the player – which may or may not be relevant, as the player may not be in the same situation as the mentor has experience of.

We have worked with financial institutions and emerging companies in the innovation space over the last couple of years. We see many fintech ‘mentors’ – some good, some peddling a bit of experience in financial technology, but many only with low to mid-level delivery experience opportunistically using the term fintech and presenting themselves as experts.  While there are some with genuine expertise, some demonstrate significant gaps in their expertise – they are suddenly experts in how to grow an idea into a real business.  With experience comes the capability to cover relevant areas, including rigorous competitor analysis, product positioning or, most significantly plan for success. This involves ensuring the right leadership is in place, there is a clear vision, the culture and operating model framework is in place to facilitate growth.

Good coaching is incredibly powerful with the right coach and in the right context, being a mentor and providing expertise can also be valuable but there  is a need to be aware of the expertise and limitations that the mentor brings to the party.

 

Don’t forget:

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In the wrong gear?

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I cycle a fair bit and later in the year I’m doing a hundred mile sportive with a fair bit of climbing.  As I live in a relative flat area, at this stage in my training I often go up the few and small hills in as high a gear as possible – to build some strength in my legs. On a number of occasions I’ve had some smart Alec – usually the one descending while I’m huffing and puffing uphill – yell out ‘you’re in the wrong gear’!

Well, of course we could spend ages talking about giving directive advice without understanding the whole context.  However, it has reminded me of something that I’ve heard in a professional context on numerous occasions in the last few years – ‘delivering at pace’.  Without exception I’ve heard this phrase uttered by senior managers, all with similar characteristics:

  • Directive management style
  • Continually confuse activity with progress (pedalling furiously and sometimes not even moving forward)
  • Have unsustainable working practices, for example long working hours and unrealistic expectations around output

Of course, this leads to disengaged staff, lack of cohesion, lots of activity but poor performance.

This doesn’t need to be the case. We’ve consistently demonstrated over the last couple of decades that delivering change rapidly, with increased productivity, can be achieved far more effectively by putting the performance and well-being of the team to the fore.  An example of this at a major investment bank can be read here.

 

By the way – I’ll be looking for sponsorship for my ride in the near future 😉

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/andyaitkenhead

 

Rafa continues to demonstrate that experience delivers ….

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So, Rafa dropped the first set of his campaign at this years Roland Garros.  Diego Schwartzman clearly had him on the ropes prior to the first rain delay on Wednesday.  That and the subsequent overnight delay gave Rafa and his team time to re-assess and change the momentum in his favour.

In the semis he played Del Potro – the sort of big-hitting player that has troubled him in the past and he brushed him aside.

Nadal has seen most things on a tennis court over the decade and a half he’s been playing and winning in Paris. Like Federer and other experience athletes, they don’t panic in situation when they are under the cosh but see the challenges presented as another problem to solve and, if their initial game plan doesn’t work they will probe and experiment to find something that does,

It’s this mindset that defines them – they suffer nerves like the rest of us but don’t get debilitated by them.  With this continual love of what they do, the competition and the on-going challenge of overcoming the problems thrown at them, they’ve thrived and continued to deliver phenomenal performance and results beyond a point where most people in their sport have typically been in decline or have hung up their rackets.

The Great Manager and the … Not So Great!

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Well congratulations to the Divs for winning the English Premier League this season – as a long time United fan it grieves me to see it but Guardiola’s team have been exceptional  and illustrate the gulf in managerial class between the him and his noisy neighbour!

Don’t get me wrong – I was born just outside Manchester and am a lifelong United fan but some years ago I wrote a piece that illustrated the difference between Ferguson and Mourinho then but similar parallels can be drawn between Guardiola and Mourinho now – unfortunately it is Guardiola who is more Ferguson-like.  They are managers with  completely different approaches to football and man management.  Unfortunately, today Mourinho, the directive and controlling manager is in charge at United, who seems to make it more about himslef than the team, while Guardiola, like Ferguson, focuses on the team.

One of the  illustrations of difference is in Mourinho’s reaction after United’s loss to West Brom on Sunday, compared to Guardiola, after recent losses to Liverpool and United.  This week numerous newspapers and websites carried headlines along the lines of ‘Mourinho blasts players’.  In contrast, Guardiola, after losses to Liverpool in the Champions League and United in the Premier League, when interviewed talked about the joy of managing such a talented group of players,  He also described it as a learning experience for the team.  Ferguson, as United manager, never criticised his players in public – that was saved for the privacy of the dressing room.

There is a potentially critical impact on the psychology of the players – Gary Neville, former United captain under Ferguson, in a recent BBC interview, talked about how he’s found the world of business different to sport, while building his business empire.

“In both you have to have motivated people, and they have to enjoy what they do,” he says. “Also, in football and business you have to work the hardest you can every single day, and make sure you never give in.”

However, Neville says, in business – unlike in football – it can sometimes be difficult to achieve the “peer group analysis” he encountered in the high-pressure Old Trafford dressing room, where players would instantly acknowledge responsibility for mistakes.

“It can be difficult in an office for people to admit they didn’t do very well, or have fallen below standards,” observes Neville.

Ferguson, with his approach, bred an us against the world mentality, providing a bonding in which peer group feedback was the norm in the dressing room and players took accountability.  When the manager criticises the players in public it can lead to the players becoming defensive, feeling they may not have the complete backing of the manager and not readily accepting accountability for their performance when it is sub par.  Directive managerial behaviour exacerbates this.

When we see a lack of accountability in our teams we should look at the leaders or managers and how they behave, as well as ourselves.

Are You Using Your Noggin?

 

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Jim Courier, in his post match interview with Grigor Dmitrov, after his win over Nick Kyrgios, said ‘you used your noggin’.  The context – a tight match, with a number of twists and turns, was Dmitrov’s ability to change his return of serve tactics during the match, stepping in to give Kyrgios less time on the next shot.

In the BBC radio commentary, Leon Smith, British Davis Cup Captain, was asked about the top players dealing with the mental pressures of competing at this level and dealing with the various twists and turns in a match.  Leon has been close to Andy Murray for many years and while not giving too much away, he stated that Andy, like all the players at the very top of the game, always has a plan.

We may often think about the plan in the context of the project plan that’s put together at the outset of a project, or the agenda for a meeting or presentation.  However, for the top players, like Murray, there are two types of plan.  As Leon articulated, Andy Murray loves doing the analysis of his opponents and working out a match plan ahead of time and all top players do this.  However, what happens when the flow of the match goes against you, or your level of play drops and the doubt creeps in?

For the top players they plan for this.  Sure, changing the game plan may be part of it when the opponent is getting the better of you.  But what if it is a drop in your own level of play and your confidence in your own ability to hit the shots you’re capable of dissipates, as it does to all at some point?  The reason the very best remain at the top so consistently is not only that they plan for these eventualities too but that they have processes to help them recognise and del with these moments.  They practice them and are very good at putting them in place.

It’s a challenge for us in the work context as well, for example in meetings or giving a presentation.  We may put an agenda together but how do we respond when a senior person in the room spends most of the allocated time on the first slide of our deck, or wants to take the agenda in a different direction to that we envisaged.

It’s often difficult to find the time in our busy schedules to prepare for a meeting or presentation in the first place and then we are most likely to plan for it going a particularly way.  However, in reality given meetings rarely go as expected we need to think through potential options and learn not to be de-railed by them.  There are a number of different ways of dealing with these types of moment – winging it is rarely successful.

An initial recommendation would be to learn to stay present – different strategies work for different people.  It’s also worth remembering, as one military strategist put it many years ago ‘no plan ever survives first contact with the enemy’. There are a number of other things we can do – many of which we can learn from elite athletes – more to come!

Fast Fail – We can’t learn from our failures if we don’t admit them!

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Many of you will have heard or seen the famous Michael Jordan quote:

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Of course, in sport judgment about success or failure is usually clear.  In tennis there are no draws.  In football (soccer) at the end of the season there is one team that wins the league.

In financial services, the industry where I have done much of my work, there has been an obsession with agility and innovation in recent years and the term ‘fast fail’ (or fail fast) has become overused!  Of course, there is immense value in proving that something doesn’t work quickly rather than wasting months on some application or initiative that ultimately would have failed to work effectively.  There is even greater value in the learning we can take from these exercises.

There is a significant cultural problem, however, which is how do we learn in environments that do not readily tolerate failure.  In fact the cultural norms of top down directive management, where bad news does not easily travel back up the line, often lead to organizational denial around failure.

I remember attending a steering committee for a major programme at a global bank, where it became clear that items on the plan that should have been complete hadn’t even been started!  There was a distinct reluctance by some of the senior people in the meeting to even acknowledge this, never mind the consideration of changing the plan to reflect reality!  It would have meant openly admitting the next major delivery would not be achieved on a previously agreed date.

Top athletes like Jordan and Federer strive for success but readily admit when they come up short and learn from it.  How often do we attend job interviews, either as interviewers or candidates and have honest conversations about how we screwed up and what we learnt from it?

This one of a number of cultural traits in the corporate world that needs to be addressed!  More to follow, including lessons from the history of financial markets.