Three things we can learn from Rio
The Rio Summer Games are over. I’m suffering some major withdrawal from the full range of human emotions on display. The excitement, inspiration, anguish, compassion, teamwork, and accomplishment was captivating.
Especially for a weekend warrior athlete like myself, where my victory and closest brush with Olympic greatness is running the Holiday Half Marathon “with” bronze medal winner Galen Rupp and “only” being double his 1 hour and 1 minute time.
So I can’t quite relate to the experience of competing in the Olympics. But it got me thinking about what we can learn from the athletes and apply at work, especially given my experiences working with Nike. How do they know when they’re ready to compete at the highest levels? What’s the process they follow to achieve their goals against the competition? I’ve come away with this rule of three:
1. Set goals and achieve them with checklists.
Since she was six years old, Katie Ledecky has been writing down goals to drive her to new heights:
“Goal setting has definitely stuck with me,” she said. “Those ‘want times’ were always very ambitious. That part has carried on. I try to set goals that seem kind of unreasonable at first. As I work toward them, the more reasonable they look.”
That way, her training can be tailored to meet specific targets. At work, making it clear with your team what goals need to be accomplished is fundamental for alignment of efforts.
But tracking progress and achieving success requires a process to achieve goals. This is where checklists are essential. You’ve heard about how important they are to surgeons, pilots, and businesses responding to natural disasters in the Checklist Manifesto. They’re a simple way to capture a process that’s visually familiar for people to follow.
Think about it. If you could take away all the ad hoc processes you have, complicated flow charts, and simplify the things you and your team do frequently at work into a series of checklists, wouldn’t it make accomplishing goals so much easier and clearer?
2. Gather data to measure outcomes.
After Rio, track sprinter Allyson Felix is the only female track athlete to have six gold medals. As she works toward achieving her goals, there is a lot of data analysis along the way. Having access to data related to goals is vitally important:
If it takes you 20 minutes to walk a few blocks, push yourself to walk that same distance in 15 minutes ― then 10 minutes. “You want to keep bringing that time down,” the sprinter said. “That’s going to almost give [you] the same benefit that running does.”
At work, you don’t just need the tasks. With so much going on, you need data related to goals, whether it’s project brief related, sales details, product attributes you’re tracking, budget figures, impact metrics, or anything else that may be living in a spreadsheet. That way, you can generate reports that allow you to track progress and measure outcomes by the criteria you’ve tagged your work with in one place.
To accelerate results, the key is integration of data with goals like Allyson’s example, not two different silos for each. Having a checklist separate from your data analytics dashboard doesn’t jumpstart change because there isn’t a process defined behind it.
3. Log insightful updates for improvement.
Triathlon gold medal winner Gwen Jorgensen is absolutely dominant, having won 13 races in a row. The former Ernst & Young accountant is dedicated to logging notes in her daily training journal. Gwen documents three things she does well, and three things she could improve upon so she can remember what helps to fuel future performances:
“If I need confidence, I look back on those three things I do well and that’s what gives me confidence going into a race.” She also does a race report after every event to help capture each element to help in the future. “I go through what I was thinking on the swim, the bike and the run, and that’s something I look at with both the USAT High Performance team and my coach, and I analyze it to see if there are changes I can make to improve.”
And at work it’s no different. We need a history of changes, updates, and files. This is different from emails, texts, and instant messaging chats that fly around every day. It’s a log of notes that looks like a simple form to capture key details which is integrated with goals and data that create searchable institutional knowledge to fuel continuous improvement.
The process of becoming a champion starts with integrated goal, data, and log tracking. Are you ready?
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(Katie Ledecky photo by Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil, Allyson Felix photo by Erik van Leeuwin, Gwen Jorgensen photo by Frankie Fouganthin)