10 Business Lessons you can learn from a Professional Cycling Team

 Cycling is booming in the UK, road cycling particularly following the success of Bradley Wiggins at the Tour de France in 2012.  The roads are busy with new bikes and men in lycra!  I write a popular road cycling blog after getting into the sport in 2008 and have been learning about it ever since.

One common misconception I initially had about professional cycle racing is that they all set off at the same time and race as individuals, with the strongest cyclist going over the line and winning the race.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Professional road cycling is a team sport.  Here’s a short post with some simple observations about how it all works with some business lessons thrown in: -

  1. They back a winner.  Bradley Wiggins was the nominated Team Sky rider to win the Tour de France before they had even turned a pedal. The entire race had been planned around him, training camps, team selection and race strategy.  What/who are the products/people in your business that you should over-invest in and build a team around?
  2. Every rider has a clear role/function.  Each brings something different to the party.  You can’t win the Tour de France without being backed by mountain specialists, riders with big engines to take the wind, and good all rounders.  Appreciate every member of your team if you want to get over the line and build teams with differing skills and attributes.
  3. Air resistance is key.  Cyclists hate wind, unless it is a tailwind!  All their technology from clothing, bike position and equipment is designed to reduce drag.  What are you doing to reduce drag in  your business?  When did you last overhaul how and why you do what you do to speed up?  A cycling team would be re-assessing/re-inventing pre, during and after race season.
  4. The only time a rider races as an individual is on a Time Trial.  This is the so called race of truth when there are no other riders to ride behind or ride with in a group.  This involves riding at a controlled heart rate, often high up in your heart rate zones to deliver power smoothly and in a measured way across a set distance.  This means that although are part of the team, you also need to deliver a good result when the spotlight turns on you individually.  Although you may have a brilliant team, you also need to ensure that you encourage specialism for those moments when you need individuals to perform against specific outcomes/tasks/projects.
  5. A road captain keeps his eye on changing tactics on the ground.  Although the team will have already planned their race, they need to adapt their tactics as the race unfolds.  The road captain will be keeping an eye on his own team mates aswell as feeding back intelligence to the team car and race directors about how other riders are performing. Like a market, conditions change rapidly and you have to be ready to adapt.  Make sure you have feedback mechanisms to get ‘real time’ feedback into the business which can be acted upon.  Who are your road captains in the market?
  6. The lighter and stronger you are, the faster you go up hills.  Successful climbers are normally very low in weight, but incredibly strong.  Their appearance can be deceiving.  Technology will take you so far, however your body weight and strength are key.  Consider whether you are carrying any excess weight in terms of process overhead, you need to be lean in conjunction with the right technology to compete in the market.
  7. Riding in groups is key.  Cyclists ride in large groups (pelotons) wherever possible.  By doing this, it can reduce effort needed by around 25%, with the wind rushing over the group as it breaks through the wind.  This takes incredible trust as they are riding inches away from each other at considerable pace as competitors.  If one rider makes a mistake, the whole group risks crashing.  An important lesson in trust here and putting your faith in others plus the importance of collaboration to achieve your end state.
  8. Every bike is set-up “inch-perfect” for the rider.  Everyone is different in terms of their shape and riding style, there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’.  Like an organisation, if you use a ‘one size fits all’  approach with people or customers, you’ll quickly become unstuck.  Modify communications methodologies to suit your market/audience.
  9. Marginal Gains.  Team Sky particulalry work on a methodology called “marginal gains” which aggregates tiny 1% improvements in everything, to add up into larger benefts when consolidated.  An example of this is shipping mattresses and pillows for each specific rider so they get a good nights sleep every night.  Great lesson here in excellence and continuous improvement.  The pillows is recognising that an off-bike improvment can dramatically affect on-bike performance.  What are the surrounding processes to primary functions in your organisation which could do with improving?
  10. Prize Money is Shared.  Given one rider is given such significant resources to be the person on the podium, it would be pretty gut wrenching to see him take all the benefits.  Prize money is generally shared out amongst the teams, including the back room staff to motivate/encourage a team ethic.  In a business, a salesperson is normally the equivalent person on the podium, make sure you search out all the backstage contributors and reward them too.

Learning from BIG businesses….

Yesterday I spoke at the Cheshire Business Expo (organised by Profile Communications) on what small businesses can learn from big businesses and leaders of big businesses.  I covered quite a lot of content but wanted to summarise some of the key points here for the people that attended as a reminder of the key takeaways.  Bullet form for easy digestion: -

Big Companies

  1. Have a clear vision.
  2. Have the right people, in the right seat.
  3. Understand their economic engine.
  4. Are disciplined in Thoughts, Words and Actions.
  5. Don’t just have a plan A, but also a B) Big and C) Contingency.
  6. Know what their main effort should be to deliver the vision.
  7. Have a stop doing list.
  8. Confront the brutal facts.
  9. Act quickly on poor performance at all levels.
  10. Spend more time thinking about the future.

Successful Leaders of Big Companies

  1. Manage their emotional state.
  2. Make evidence led decisons.
  3. Look to data  and facts.
  4. Check assumptions.
  5. Spend more time creating than reacting to things.
  6. Are focused on “being their best” not comparing to others.
  7. Are open to everyone and everything.
  8. Have their mind, body and soul aligned.
  9. Effectively delegate and spend their time coaching/aligning others.
  10. Know their Ding!

I spoke quite a bit about emotional intelligence, here are a few additional articles for you to read: -

  1. The Ocean of Opportunity (all about the future and not looking back).
  2. Fly TWA (why you should put thoughts and words into action).
  3. AFD-MO (why you should just forgive everything and everybody as the only moment is now).

Raising Dough (From Investors)

When your business starts to grow, it may need investment from a third party.  Wherever you look, whether it be government backed initiative, private equity or an angel investor, there are some things you should box off to give yourself the best possible opportunity of succeeding.

Here’s 10 tips to help get you on track.  It’s not exhaustive as there are other things, but you should be able to demonstrate that all these areas are covered before attempting to engage or you could waste a lot of time and credibility  (if anyone would like to add anything, readers I’m sure would really appreciate any further comments): -


  1. Properly define how much you need and when. (Put together an integrated financial forecast combining cashflow, P+L and balance sheet).
  2. Define what the investment is to be used for. (cashflow, capital investment, stock, sales and marketing?).
  3. Outline with intellectual property you have and how you have protected it. (this is absolutely key if you are developing your own products.
  4. Be open with everything your information (under non-disclosure). (due diligence processes will wring out all the detail, so don’t hide anything upfront it just wastes time).
  5. Define your market, your customers, the opportunity and your assumptions (People get this wrong all the time by not being clear about their strategy or size of potential market).
  6. Tell your story as to why you are the person that can make this happen. (A lot of investments are made by backing quality people, what experience do you have that will make an investor feel you are credible?  Chemistry is important for new investors).
  7. Have three plans.   A) Achievable B) Big with more investment C) Contingency if A doesn’t work.  Investors see a lot of dreamers who have concocted a flight of fantasy sales plan.  Give comfort by thinking through the options to drive credibility and clearly show countermeasures in advance.
  8. Define the exit period, to whom and how for the investment.  You invest this, you get this back by this date.  If the business is to be sold to who?  What sort of multiples have been used in that sector thus far?
  9. Keep communications regular, consistent and honest with your potential investment partner.  Deals invariably go through lots of highs/low, stops/starts and tension.  Work through every bump, problem by problem and keep communicating honestly and openly.
  10. Choose the right partner.  There is money out there in various channels, including angels.  If someone offers you money, it’s likely you have a good plan.  Take time to ensure the investor fit is right, adding value to your business rather than just being a funding source focused on the exit.  Most importantly, always take legal advice!

And here’s a bonus one – Keep your emotions in check.  If it’s your business and you’ve grown it from an idea to a trading business, it’s very easy to become emotionally involved in negotiations or the due diligence process.  Investors have specific tools/techniques to value things, critique things and test your assumptions.  Don’t take it personally, step back, detach and keep your eye on the end result.

Inspiration Injection…..

I do wonder sometimes about who are the high-profile role models for Generation Y+Z to base their lives upon.  Most of what is in the media is sensationalist reality television depicting lifestyles dominated by drama, micro-celebrity and the pursuit of money plus things to artifically elevate social status – not great for our next generation of young people.  Hopefully the London 2012 Olympics did it’s job in “inspiring a generation” of young people to take a different pathway inspired by different values of teamwork, personal success through hard work and recognition through personal sacrifice.

I spent a day at a conference yesterday , where two keynotes speakers inspired me, enter stage left – Sir Ranulph Fiennes OBE and Roger Black MBE.  Fiennes our greatest living explorer and Black a great former Olympian.  I seek out opportunities to hear stories from people like these as there are always transferable lessons from their achievements and timelines to transfer into your own.  These two guys are great role modes with bonefide achievements and life lessons.  I’ve bulleted five key points from each speaker to share and added some further thoughts in italics: -


Roger Black MBE

  1. “My Silver medal was my Gold”.  Perhaps one of the most profound comments of the day and one that I totally identified with.  The day he ran his own best race in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, he came second to perhaps the greatest athlete of that time, American – Michael Johnson.  Rather than say he failed, he re-framed the way he looked at that to say that he ran his best possible race and won a silver medal.  He walked away from that track knowing that he had delivered his full capability, in the moment.  When he looked in the mirror, he could say there was nothing else he could of done on the day and the result was the result.  He felt proud that he performed to his best when needed – This is a powerful lesson in moving on and acceptance, when all you aim to deliver in life is your personal best then it leads you to a really great place of accepting who you are.
  2. “Have the courage to change a winning formula. ” Black re-counted a race when they turned the conventions of running a 400m relay upside down by putting him as the first man, not the last, in order to beat the dominant Americans.  The night before they realised that they could not beat them conventionally and had to put immediate pressure on their competitors. The result was a thrilling race which saw them execute their plan perfectly and win – A great example to always question what, why and how you do things – are your competitors planning to switch their running order to outpace you?
  3. “Wanting to win isn’t enough.“  At the Olympics, every athlete wants to win so everyone is in the same place mentally, which neutralises everyone.  He spoke of the need to develop your own “need to achieve” which transcends “wanting to win” into a greater purpose.  I think this is a great metaphor for life, I see so many people “wanting to be successful” but not being driven by the purpose of “why they want to be successful.”  When you switch “I want to be successful because I want greater status in society” (short term happiness) to “I want to be successful so that I can help others less fortunate” (long term happiness) see what happens to your purpose and your results.
  4. “Champions are reactive, they are pro-active.”  Linked back to point one but a different point.  There was a time in Blacks career that he kept a close eye on his rivals, comparing race times to his, getting feedback about their winter training camps or form.  He spent a lot of time comparing himself to them and then trying to fine tune against them.  At one point he received career changing advice from a coach that he had to stop comparing against them and focus on running his perfect race.  I wrote a blog on this theme called “Being Your Best” which you can read here.  Bottom line is this, focus on your own potential, not others.
  5. “Talent is not enough unless properly applied.  “  Black was a talented runner, with a physique perfect for the 400m.  He has been gifted the physical attributes to run very, very fast.  He had the talent.  However, to maximise that talent he needed the right people around him to demonstrate how to use it.  Successful running is about many different things including tactics and he had to listen and learn to refine his talent to become world class.  If you are trying to be world class in your business, then don’t do it on your own.  Get great non-executive directors, hire great talent – the best you can afford, go to conferences and listen to how world class people achieved, read white papers around excellence in your industry and most importantly – develop yourself.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes OBE

  1. “You can sack someone on an expedition but you can’t get rid of them.“  If someone isn’t performing in the middle of the Antarctic, you can say “you’re fired” but there is nowhere for them to go as you’re in the middle of nowhere.  Candidate selection is vital for the expeditions that Fiennes leads, it’s also vital for business.  Spend time at the front of the process – particularly with key hires – to ensure best fit.  
  2. “We go for any record that any human has never done before.” How do you frame that?   Achieving what most think is the impossible.  Using your frame of reference as to what everyone else things is unchartered territory.  Are you confining your thoughts to the market as defined by everyone else or the potential of the market in a completely new unchartered way?
  3. “We had nothing but morse code for communication with the outside world. “  Describing one of his major expeditions which saw him circumnavigate the globe, a feat to which this day has not been repeated and took him three years, Fiennes described a world without GPS, satellite navigation and mobile devices.  He and his companion – Charles Burton – had each other and morse code only for communication with hunanity.  They mapped regions of the world for the first time ever, by hand for the great good of humanity.  Can you imagine life without a device, wireless access or 24/7 communication?  Are you comfortable with your own company?  Can you sit and think without agitaton to be connected?  Can you imagine having to walk for thousands of miles over ice, which is constantly moving only navigating by a compass?  The lesson here is all about the growing need to be connected to the matrix in order to feel in touch and the growing need for things to be automated which ultimately stops your brain doing the work.  It’s not a bad thing to be out of touch, to allow your mind to drift from “attention” to “possibilities.”
  4. “Have mental ammunition at the ready.”  A question came about how Fiennes kept going in some of toughest conditions on the planet, ravaged by frostbite, in constant pain with huge distances still to travel.  He said he had “mental ammunition” which he always fired at his brain to overcome the overwhelming need to stop.  Ability to cope under pressure and mental toughness is a fantastic quality, which you can personally develop.  You’re potential to achieve is far greater than you imagine and your pain threshold far further than you might think.  Have your own mental ammunition ready for the tough times to dig you out of a hole.  Good ammunition are things like: – “Pain is temporary, quitting is forever,” “How bad is this compared to being diagnosed with a terminal illness.”  Get some perspective and push on through.
  5. “I recruit on motivation.”  Many of the people that accompanied Fiennes on his expeditions were unpaid, took time out of their lives and risked their livelihoods to accompany him.  For Fiennes this meant that their purpose was not money or status, but the adventure.    Fiennes knew that these people would give every last drop in their tank if they had to because they had nothing to lose.  Fantastic lesson to find the fanatics in your business whose purpose is all about the adventure and the experiences. 

11 Predictions for 2011

I’ve got the Mr. Sheen out on my crystal ball, given it a good clean, stared deeply into it and seen the future.  Saturdays lottery numbers are 7, 9, 22, 28, 35, 42 – buy a ticket now!

Seriously, thought I’d have a go at laying down some thoughts about where I think the world is moving for 2011.  In no particular order (and they may change as this is my first bash after thinking about this on the way home from work last night).

  1. Crowd-forcing. Inspired by Crowd-sourcing.  The crowd pulling together to pressurise/threaten brands through negative on-line chatter and peer pressure.
  2. Digi-paranoia. Fuelled by the Wikileaks scandal, people will become more paranoid about their on-line breadcrumb trail.  They’ll protect more of their digital assets, through pre-approving and using trusted platforms.
  3. Talent thaw. 2010 has been a tough year for finding good people, the hatches were well and truly buttoned down and movements frozen.  As confidence returns, we’ll start to see the talent market thaw.
  4. Life caching. As micro-moments continue to be recorded in the cloud by mobile devices, we’ll record/upload more data electronically than at any other time in mankind (despite paranoia trend, sheer qty of GB/TB on the web will make 2011 a record year).
  5. Friend Filtering. 2011 will be the year of quality over quantity.  New social media start-up Path hits this trend, limiting your network to just 50 key people.  Competitiveness for this new inner-circle will drive new behaviour and take us back to “Face Friends” who matter, rather than Facebook Friends by the thousand.”
  6. Centre-fall. De-volving from the middle, whether that be government or big business.  Applications in the cloud will allow businesses to challenge their conventions and methodologies of working.  The drive to competitiveness and the desire to see people take responsibility, will mean the hub will become less important than the spokes and rim.
  7. De-cluttering. Removing things that crowd out our thoughts/consume our time (see next point).  Prioritising those things that truly add value.  Marketeers need to take note as traditional methods of interruptive marketing are becoming less and less effective, particularly in B2B.
  8. Time poor war. Time continues to be the worlds most scarce commodity for the masses.  Time improvement tools just mean we are working more, not reducing work-time spent pursuing happiness or joy.  Generation X are kicking back against this as the last generation which may rescue the lost generation of “Y”‘s, before the values of deep friendship, downtime, family time are confined to words in wikipedia.  Hyper-tasking will be the new multi-tasking.
  9. Relevancy. Staying relevant in peoples lives.  Having just the right amount of interaction.  Choosing moments.  Keeping an acceptable proximity.
  10. Social Media Revolution. Wider business will take more notice of social media channels for conversations and relationship generation now all the glittery buzz is dying down.  It was never designed to be a transactional channel but a way of generating proximity, feedback and conversations with individuals.  As new business becomes harder (less public sector expenditure to cushion your overhead), new conversations and contacts will be key and more businesses will get moving with new conversation channels.
  11. Trust and Transparency. A continuing theme for me.  People are more willing to trust a strangers view than a big brand ad when it comes to products and services.  User generated content will continue to grow exponentially, more people will blog, leave content on sites like Tripadvisor and Reevoo, use electronic platforms to distribute buzz (+ or -).  2010 was the year we’ll all remember for Wikileaks.  Wikileak yourself or your business, compare that with the messages you send on your marketing materials and ask yourself are the two things consistent.

What are your thoughts? What would you add?

Leading Lessons

Creativity.  Leadership. Innovation and Knowledge (CLIK).  That’s how I described the key things that I think are important to running a successful business at the Shared Services Forum annual conference in Manchester today.  Leading a breakout group focusing on leadership, I shared the key things that I’ve picked up over the years from books, experience and working directly with business psychologists.  It was tremendously enjoyable to talk about and – with around an hour to fill – good to go a  bit deeper than the normal 25 minute keynote.

My key point was that being an effective leader is more about knowing yourself, in order to understand others (EQ or Emotional Intelligence). Deeper understanding of “self” allows you to really unlock what makes you tick in order that you can improve.  It’s a continum of up days and down days,  highs and lows, sometimes reverting to type, other times not.  It’s a bit of a journey too, there’s no magic switch, everyone is different, no magic formula, it’s about finding what works for you (just be prepared to be out of your comfort zone at times).  Managing people can be more complicated than rocket science and the root cause of most cultural chaos can generally be breadcrumb traced back to the leader(s) in the business.

Passing on my top 10 Leadership Lessons with practical examples, I supplemented them with a further five things I’ve been thinking about recently: -

  1. Sleep more (give yourself an extra hour at night to allow your brain to make all the right connections whilst you sleep).
  2. Exercise more (to relieve the build up of stress).
  3. Pursue happiness (the happier you are, the easier this all becomes).
  4. Forgive yourself (when you make mistakes, don’t beat yourself up, admit them early and forgive yourself for them).
  5. Work at being the real YOU (that is the person that you are at home, in the workplace.  If you are two people, home you and office you, then you’re not being authentic.  Life is easier and far more enjoyable when you can just be you, with everyone, regardless).

Best book I’ve ever read if you fancy going on a bit of a journey yourself is The Human Element, by Will Schutz, it’s a book I read every year without fail to remind myself of what makes me tick and lots of practical, implementable things you can do, which is why I think it’s so good.  It’s surprising how much I’ve changed over the years, I’m not the finished article by any means, however I am sure that lifelong learning of “self” puts you in the best possible position to excel at leading your team.

Top 10 Tips – Speaking in Public

Speaking at an event I did in London yesterday, I was approached by one of the audience members at the coffee break to ask for some tips they could use for an upcoming and important presentation they were doing.  Speaking in public isn’t difficult, it all depends on how much work you put in to make it an enjoyable/stimulating experience for your audience.  Let me share some of the tips with you.

  1. Really think of your message and take out, build the entire talk around this.
  2. Never read from bullet points.
  3. Use images to support your words.
  4. Stand still, except when moving to another fixed positon.
  5. Speak with your mouth and use your hands to exaggerate.  Vary your voice.
  6. You will either gain or lose your audiene in the first minute, think about what you can do/say to really gain their attention.
  7. Be yourself.  Authenticity matters.  Share stories that show you are human.
  8. Prepare.  Your audience can spot an unprepared speaker from a mile off.
  9. Engage with as many people as you can when you talk.  Look for the “nod”.  What this means is, look into a particular audience members eyes and speak at them until they nod at you, then move on to someone else.
  10. Be engaging and interesting.  Nearly all subjects – bar the obvious – can be made more interesting if you really think about it.  The more interesting, the more engaged your audience will be.

Top Tips from 8 Years ago…

I had an e-mail from an industry contact today.  In it, he shared with me Ten Top Tips that he prepared for a staff presentation in 2002.  I thought it made really good reading and he’s agreed for me to share it with you.

  1. The average is always below average.
  2. Step change requires step change.
  3. Rabbits get squashed.
  4. Space is expensive and there is always space.
  5. Make the quick quicker.
  6. There’s only ever 10 in the top 10.
  7. If it looks like a dog , barks like a dog ; then its a dog.
  8. Customers buy items not ranges.
  9. Projects are probability to the power of n.
  10. Coincidences don’t exist.
Isn’t it interesting how many of those ring true today, eight years on.
Any to add onto this list anyone?….

10 Leadership Lessons

Here are 10 random things I have learned about leadership and emotional intelligence over the last 10years: -

  1. The emotional health of the leader dicates the health of the business (f you’re not 100%, invariably the business isn’t).
  2. If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority (don’t give everything equal priority, big impact, easy wins is what you’re after most of the time).
  3. Critiscism says more about you, than anyone else (Your insecurity drives you to criticise others).
  4. Transparency counts for a lot (trustworthiness and authenticity are key).
  5. Consistency counts (no consistency, no trust).
  6. Too little pressure = underperformance/apathy, too much pressure = underpeformance/stress. Optimum pressure = optimum performance.
  7. The more clarity you generate, the more joined up your organisation becomes (or you end up being two lines going in different directions).
  8. Delegate, delegate, delegate. (It hurts at first, but in time, it’s easier).
  9. Keep your “WITS” about you. WITS is an acronym for “Walk in their shoes”. (Easiest way to see things from the other side of the table and always consider the other parties point of view if there is a conflict or impasse).
  10. Treat everyone the same regardless of rank (people will run through brick walls for you).

And here’s the bonus point. Be lavish in your praise for others. A few kind words mean more than any pay rise (most of the time)……

Difficult Days…

Chatting with someone on the phone earlier today about the rough day they were having, prompted me to write this blog. We’ve all had them. The day from hell where you had a difficult meeting, phone conversation or interaction. What’s worse is if you knew it was coming and had a few days to think about it. So, in no particular order, here are my tips to get through them: -

  1. Don’t worry about it too much (if you know in advance). Invariably things never turn out as you imagine them and are often nowhere near as bad. If you let ” the voices” take over, you’ll just create stress for yourself.
  2. Break the day down if you know you have different meetings on different subjects. Treat each one as its own challenge (cyclists use this to get up big hills, just keep aiming for small landmarks and eventually you’ll get up). Approach each event separately.
  3. Put yourself in the other persons shoes if it’s a meeting or difficult conversation. It can really help you with your approach.
  4. Get on with whatever you need to do as soon as possible. Don’t procrastinate or leave things. If something needs to be tackled, do it, it stops you worrying about it.
  5. Make some notes. You have to learn from difficult experiences, so understand what you could have done better for next time around.
  6. Apologise early if it’s down to you. No one likes anyone who tries to shirk blame or pass the buck, be big enough to admit it if it’s on your watch.
  7. Put the day in context. It might be difficult, but how does it compare to having a terminal illness? You’d know what worry is then.
  8. Take a break. It’s important to stay focussed and your head clear. Make sure you eat, stretch your legs and get some fresh air and a chance to just absorb everything.
  9. Prepare. Don’t go into a difficult situation without knowing the background. Read up, put a bit of prep time in and you’ll feel more confident.
  10. Remember that tomorrow is another day. Shakespeare once said “This, too, shall pass.” A great sentiment to end on.