Challenging your thinking on Performance, Business, Sport… and Ashton Kutcher.

Where does the experience of Elite Sport transfer to the Business environment?

In the World of business in the 21st Century, companies are looking to embrace novel approaches in order to gain competitive and performance enhancement over rivals in their field. We’ve heard about how tech companies motivate and reward employees from providing free breakfasts and lunches, pool and fuss ball tables, to the ‘Friday fridge,’ and lunch and learn sessions. As well as aiming to provide a happier workplace, such perks and work environment inducements can help entice and retain staff.

Cynical or a well thought out approach?
A cynic might suggest that such perks also help keep staff on site to work longer hours and be more productive for the same salary cost without the need to leave the premises. But from organisational psychology research, as well as cold hard economics, such investments in staff can assist overall staff wellbeing and engender greater team building and cohesion. Similarly, the environment’s offered at elite sport organisations are often designed to try and afford athlete’s the platform to perform at their optimum (see for instance the new GB Taekwondo centre or Manchester City’s Sport City complex).

Why am I drawing attention to environments so important? Well, the surroundings we exist and work in have a greater impact on our sense of well being and mental health than we realise. Environmental Psychology is even a branch of Psychology that aims to improve people’s behaviour and how they feel in relation to their physical environment. Systemic work in Psychology that focuses on both this and how this can influence how groups of people interact, relate and collaborate has shown that if it is done right, the need for individual one to one work is often lessened.

In a previous life as Digital Project Manager at the likes of the BBC and Skype, I was privileged enough to benefit from the perks mentioned, including an electric bucking bronco(!?) Unlimited high grade coffee and even Ashton Kutcher (The picture at the top was from Skype in London, 2008) talking to us about his role as a tech investor and innovator (For the record he really challenged my preconception of him as Mr Demi Moore! He has a very shrewd business and tech brain as well his acting knowledge).

Since changing career into Performance Coaching as a mentor working with Olympic/Paralympic sport and the Liverpool FC Academy; I have a bank of insight and knowledge I can bring to my working relationships with people in both Worlds at a personal and professional level. As we know, knowledge is only as useful as it is applied. Where I was tasked with delivering projects on time, to high quality standards in my old life, I’m now asked to deliver support, change and improvement to individuals and teams thinking, emotions and behaviour in the high pressure Worlds of both sport and business. But it is my clients who are now the people tasked with delivering the goods!

Key lessons
What are the key lessons I’ve learnt alongside the qualifications and best practice beyond the standard work that post-graduate psychs and practitioners have to complete? I personally believe this is important, as it is these more nuanced and untaught skills and lessons that are the crucial difference in my practice in being able to be effective and help people succeed at their own personal goals, dreams and objectives. That’s not to say mine are better than other practitioners. More that whether you take my approach or another Performance Coach or Psych’s guidance, I recommend looking beyond the mere qualifications and work experience, and delve deeper into their philosophy, approach and other non-taught skills to find what you need most to help on your journey.

Firstly, in relation to this piece, having worked in a variety of work environments before moving into Performance coaching and mentoring, I understand the different pressures people experience in their life. I still argue that the best work discipline I ever had was working in the kitchens of a restaurant starting as the pot washer then moving up to assist the chef.

I’ve done some work in event management which was great, and then had 10 years working in Digital tech which has also been invaluable. Having to adapt to different environments, personalities, schedules and working practices has helped my understanding of people, how they operate and thrive!

Secondly, how I have been professionally trained differs to other practitioners. As well as receiving undergraduate Psychology training, for the past 4 years, using the Chimp model (an approach based on neuroscience and a combination of existing therapies), I’ve helped people take greater ownership of themselves to better understand their triggers and emotions for mind management across all types of performance. The way in which I’ve been taught by Professor Peters, has been via his experience teaching medical and trainee psychiatry students — please note, I’m not saying I’m trained to a medical or psychiatrist level! But it’s been a different way of problem based learning that has positively helped change the way I understand human behaviour and conduct my practice.

In collaborating with individuals and teams (whether in Sport, Business, Education or life), I’m seeking more detailed information to help build a unique picture of you, how you function in your environment/s in order to give you specific insight and apply skills to better work with your expectations, consequences and control of your circumstances.

From scientific and experience in the field, I know that as a species, we actively do things against our wishes — whether consciously or not. My job is to help you better understand your emotional working. By so doing, it can be incredibly powerful to make sense of both rational and emotional (head versus heart) thinking; which in business and sport is crucial given internal and external pressure results driven deadlines and for critical decision making. From my experience as a PM, then as a Psych, I have first hand knowledge that that successful people plan. But as a Performance Coach and Psychologist, I know that to successfully deliver, you have to ask the question:

Do you also have an emotional or mental plan to help keep you on track and stick with the logical rational choices that are required, when emotions so often arise and hijack us away from the end goal?

I trust that if you’re at the higher end of business or sport, you do the meat and potatoes work required — whether that’s planning, training, developing plans, holding meetings or check ins, and working to a methodology. But going back to the beginning of this piece, if you’re in a tech or modern organisation, with a firm providing you and your team with a better physical environment, do you have a richer, clearer emotional and mental environment (see the growth of mindfulness practice in firms like Google for instance) as a differentiating factor in the fast paced, permanently connected World in which you operate? We aren’t emotionally built to be able to be pushing at that pace and my work is to help people and organisations recognise where they are working smart and where there are opportunities to take time to plan, reflect and alter their thinking World to get the extra 10% required to be successful.

So the key differentiators to collaborating with me are:

Assuming you have your own personal plan for delivery and success, what are the things that could limit you achieving your success?

  • How well do you know both your rational and emotional thinking and decision making in pressure situations?
  • What are your ways of coping under pressure in order to stay on track?
  • What do you do to get the best out of yourself and your team?
  • Is your working environment set up optimally for you and your team’s success?
  • How well set is the emotional environment and culture within your World for you and your team to thrive?
  • How do you stay motivated in a manner that keeps your energy levels and emotions at optimum for the tasks you’re doing?
  • If you feel you’re doing well already, what would it take to make you even more productive, successful and take you to the next level? And do you have a plan to take you there?
  • Do you know who your ‘A Team’ is around you that can assist you be successful and are you maximising those relationships to help you and be successful on your terms?

I’ll be following this article up with some practical, real World ways in which individuals and teams I’ve worked with legislate for the ‘What ifs?’ in high performance that you might find useful or beneficial.

However, if you feel there are any specific parts of your answers to those questions that could be worked on, then I would work with you to teach you the insights I’ve learnt from business, sport and my psychological training to apply specific skills to you and your World. So to paraphrase the programme just mentioned: If you have a problem, if no one else can help, I can work with you! Contact:

stuartholliday at or call on +44 7956 382936. :-)