Sport and business: the same quest for performance

Recruiting talent, managing a team, gathering it around a business project, enhancing its skills and making it efficient… It’s a sport – and a high-level one – in which managers train every day. A universe well known to Stéphane Diagana, a specialist in the 400 meters hurdles.

Several times world and European champion and sports speaker, he shared his experience a few days ago with business leaders who are members of the Azur Business Club network gathered at the National Museum of Sport in Nice. Business life and that of an athlete have many similarities. Starting with the search for performance: medals for some and markets or improvement of the brand image for others.

How do athletes and companies become successful?
This requires collaborative work: motivated men and women working together. There is no such thing as being excellent on your own. Even in an individual sport. A coach proposes a project to a group of athletes who meet every day. It is up to him to assemble a team around the project.

The business manager is, therefore, the coach who must unite his athletes, that is, his employees, around him. How do you do it?
Ensuring alignment between the company’s collective project and that of individual employees. I had a coach who was very technically sharp but also had a great ability to listen. What makes the strength of a sports project is the alignment between the interests of the coach and those of the athletes who implement it. The training program is nothing more than a transformation project, as it drives the athlete upwards through innovation and questioning. On the other hand, it must be kept engaged for the long term. This means, therefore, sharing the vision.

And in a company?
It means asking your employees to make an effort, change their habits. It has to make sense individually and collectively. There is only one constant in life, it is change that requires great adaptation. Unfortunately, the more changes there are, the less we explain why we reorganized.

What if interests are not aligned?
When a company grows or changes too much, misunderstandings, even mistrust, can arise. We lose the sense of action, which causes a reduced capacity for commitment on the part of the collaborators who carry the project forward.

Result: the company is not running at full steam. The leader must therefore take the time to listen and question. It is enough to do pedagogy to explain the meaning of change. This is the prerequisite for commitment. In sport it’s simpler: my coach’s recognition depends on my success. If I can do it, he can.

What are individual interests?
It’s not just financial. It can also be recognition, empowerment that the manager or HR manager should be able to identify. Just like the coach doesn’t train an Olympic medalist as a beginner. The manager’s role is to share the reflection, preferably co-construct with his collaborator, as this facilitates his involvement. He must also value you, take into account your expectations, even difficulties, to provide solutions, that he feels useful and in the right position. That means a lot of exchanges, which I had daily with my trainer.

Therefore, it is necessary to listen with sincerity and benevolence…
Even though I questioned my coach, I respected his training and his authority. And he admitted that I could contribute to his thinking by providing him with relevant field feedback.

For example, I sent you information about my supports when I started straight at 35 km/h. So many details he doesn’t have access to. Leaders must take into account the intelligence of the field and this is a form of recognition. Even when I was a rookie, my coach made a point of listening to my feedback so that I wouldn’t come to practice, but come to practice. There is a fundamental difference here.

Is training part of this recognition?
Yes, a lot. The feeling of competence is important; it has value and is a form of freedom because you feel more comfortable, safer to contribute to the company or… to leave it! It’s better to have people who contributed, were hired and then left than to have employees who are left feeling incompetent. They do an act of presenteeism, but they become unmotivated.

Is it possible to deploy this listening in companies of all sizes?
Yes, but it’s easier for me to be a world champion than to manage a company well, especially when it’s a big one.
The interaction I was able to set up with my trainer was similar to boot mode. There were skills around us (physiotherapist, osteopath, agent…) but it was a small, agile structure that was closely linked between the strategic and the operational. The understanding was strong of the meaning of the action and therefore the commitment was strong. When the company is structured with many layers, there is a loss of meaning. All work is aimed at ensuring that everyone understands the meaning of the project, understands its roadmap, the meaning of its action globally and the recognition it expects. That’s a lot to find.

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