Developing a Performance-First Approach

Developing a Performance-First Approach

Ben Hunt-Davis, gold medal-winning rower and co-founder, shares his thoughts on how focusing on performance rather than results, as used in sports psychology, can help SMEs achieve success

By Ben Hunt-Davis

In business, the words 'performance' and 'results' are often brought together to mean the same thing. In sport, performance is prised apart from results so that you can focus on what needs to be improved. Below, Ben Hunt-Davis, gold medal-winning rower and co-founder of Will It Make the Boat Go Faster, shares his thoughts on how a focus on performance rather than results, as used in sports psychology, can help businesses achieve success.

Why businesses need to think about performance

In so many businesses, the relentless focus is on 'results' as opposed to 'performance'. Hours are spent on month end packs, sales MI, response time and metrics that are considered key to current and future success. But how much time is spent on the different performance ingredients that go into the results? How much time is spent assessing and measuring what goes into a great week, a great day, a great pitch?

Getting curious about the performance ingredients that help make leaders, teams and business deliver great results can have an enormous impact on how you work. Let’s take meetings as a prime example. It is generally accepted that there are too many meetings, they take up too much time and too often fail to deliver what everyone in the room was hoping for. Despite this, the calendar never looks less than packed and many leaders roll from one meeting to the next without so much as backward glance at the effectiveness of the last meeting.

A conservative estimate would be that senior leaders and business owners spend 50-60% of their time in meetings. As such, there should be a big focus on how people perform in meetings, such as asking: How effective are we performing in those meetings? Are we good at pushing for a decision? Do we listen well? Are we as articulate as we can be? Do we behave in the same way in each meeting giving us satisfactory results? Do they need to be an hour long? If we were to improve some of these skills would the meeting be shorter, more effective or more valuable? Would we need less of them? 

This is what performance focus is all about. It’s a forensic analysis of the critical areas of your business to understand more about how you perform and measure its effectiveness versus what you need to achieve.

Performance in meetings is just one straightforward example of a business-critical area that gets neglected when the focus is purely about results. Identifying ways to improve performance across key workstreams has a big impact on the results a company can achieve.

How to shift to a performance-first approach

After races, Olympic coaches ask their athletes about the race performance, and rarely comment on the result. It is by analysing the performance – what the athlete thought, felt and did, the decisions taken in the heat of pressure, the mindset and behaviours that came to the fore, and the actions taken on the field of play – that the team can work out how to improve the result next time or repeat a winning performance. This is because the result never tells you what you need to do differently next time.

Analysing performance processes, regardless of whether you’ve won or lost – in sport or in business – is what enables teams to constantly improve, innovate and maintain momentum in good and bad times. 

For every business it’s important to review what’s worked and what could work better or differently on a regular basis. Athletes know that even in a race lost, there can be world-class elements to save and build on for next time. This mindset can also benefit business owners, when they analyse what success looks like to them.

How to analyse success  

It’s not an easy leap, but the key is for performance language to become embedded in how you analyse success, for example: How did we win that new client? What made that product launch so successful this time? Just how did we retain that client on higher rates than last year?

By lifting the covers on the component parts that made up that success you start to understand what are the repeatable actions and behaviours that help to deliver success. Then, the elements that are not proving effective can be refined, changed or eradicated. 

About the Author

Ben Hunt-Davis is the Co-Founder and Director at Will It Make The Boat Go Faster?, a performance and leadership consultancy that has worked with many of the FTSE 100 companies and fast-track SMEs to help them achieve world class performance throughout their organisations. The consultancy is the embodiment of the performance principles, behaviours and strategies that delivered an Olympic gold medal.