4 smart strategies businesses should take from sports leaders

Getting the most out of your employees, no matter what business you are in, can sometimes draw similarities with that of a football team. Imagine you’re a football team manager – responsible for the success of the team, and the welfare and personal development of your players. This can be a great way to understand and implement to smart strategies into your business and get your ‘players’ to perform at their best, day in day out. As Personal Trainers, coaches and athletes ourselves, we recognise these strategies – often applying them to our clients, helping them to achieve the most they can and increase their performance levels.

So here are some strategies to get the most out of your employees and team this year.

1. Train and develop your team

This is probably the most important strategy of them all. In the sporting world, an athlete that doesn't train is very unlikely to succeed when they compete. In the business world, every day can be a competition, so it is important to have the qualifications, the training and the experiences behind your team. This can then allow them to make the best decisions for the team and therefore the business, increasing performance and moving upwards towards business objectives.

Furthermore, training your 'football team' will help them feel more invested in the 'game'. Since you are putting time into them, they will put time and effort into the work they do for you, becoming more productive and achieving better results (whatever those 'results' may be for your business!). Your employees will become more engaged in the work that will grow, shape and excel the business. The ability to promote this entrepreneurial mindset will help your business grow and perform at a higher level due to the innovation that these ‘personally developed’ employees and team members bring to the table.

Examples of this training do not just have to be going to get the next new diploma or official qualification that comes out – although, as PTs, we recognise the huge legitimacy and importance around these certificates. This development training can include mentoring, job-shadowing or explorative reading. Mentoring offers benefits both the mentor and the mentee, helping to pass on experience as well as develop leadership qualities in the mentor. Job-shadowing can help your employees learn about different parts of the business and therefore be more aware of how to work towards the business goals. Explorative reading can be used to make employees more diverse in their knowledge and skillset, possibly helping them to have different ideas about how to increase performance in your business.

2. Create a flexible workspace

Whilst everyone on your ‘football team’ wants to be on the field wanting to train and play every week, they will be affected by matters in their personal life. This is exactly the same in your business team and will be hugely impacted by your employee demographics. If you can show your team members that you can create leeway for when their life impacts their work-life (for example, the need to look after an elderly family member or pick-up children from school), then they will be more likely to work harder for you and the business. Treat your employees as individuals rather than a cog that needs to function in x or y way to maintain performance. Ways you can do this are splitting responsibilities among team members or teams, allowing working from home (especially in this current environment) or having flexible hours. After all, your team members investment is what will increase your performance and success – not the hours they spend in the office.

Getting to know your employees and team members as individuals will build a stronger connection between you, the team member and the organisations, ultimately aligning your goals and getting the most out of the employee. This is due to the fact that the employee is motivated to maintain or increase this professional connection, as well as developing a feeling of obligation to work harder.

3. Recognise value

Linking to our previous point about seeing employees as individuals rather than cogs (Taylorism), it is important to see the team as a whole but the responsibilities as changeable. In a football game, a mid-field player's job is largely to attack, however, this can change when the opposing team are attacking your defenders. This simple example shows how your business team's goals, responsibilities and priorities may be changeable, and yet the goal stays the same – to succeed. Setting these goals is important to keep employees in line with the organisational objectives, however, they should also be rewarded when reaching or exceeding them. These goals should be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, related and time-framed) in order to result in the highest level of performance from your team members. These goals should be accompanied with expectations involving the understanding of hierarchy in the business, an individual’s contribution to the business, and the cultural expectations.

Ultimately recognising the value that employees bring to your business can take the form of rewards. Rewards for such performance do not need to be financial, and therefore you should not see rewards as something that you should avoid doing because of the expense. Employees who feel trusted listened to and valued are more likely to develop a strong loyalty to your company, reducing your staff turnover, and creating a community of hardworking individuals that want to see the organisation succeed.

4. Give feedback

Feedback is key to achieving results in business and on a sports field. Employees need to know where they could improve their performance – like any athlete – so they can direct more of their positive and effective efforts towards team success. When it comes to feedback, these are some great pointers to remember:

- Positive feedback can help emphasise strengths as well as increase the confidence of the employee. Praise is such a simple yet powerful way of building a hardworking and sustainable working culture and links back to the previous strategy on recognising value.

- Negative feedback should be replaced by constructive feedback. The aim of this feedback is not to degrade the employee’s efforts but steer them in the right direction towards higher levels of performance.

- There is no 'bad time' for the feedback! Feedback shouldn't be saved for performance appraisals but given from the get-go.

- Feedback should also involve the employees' input; it should be a two-way street. Encouragement might be needed to be given to an employee, but these will be valuable to them in terms of increasing their investment in the organisation's objectives, as well as providing an opportunity to make operational improvements. This involvement of employees creates a driven team as well as trusting employees. A culture of transparency should include employees and employers that feel free enough to be their best at work.

So, there you go! Why start doing these things next week? Start now and your increased performance starts now too!

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