This guest post comes from Kevin Sheridan, SVP - HR Optimization with Halogen partner, Avatar HR Solutions, a Human Capital Management Firm. In this article Kevin demonstrates how the Tour de France offers valuable insight for managers and leaders about how to cultivate a high-performing workforce.
Passionate talent managers know that building a highly engaged, productive workforce is as challenging, as rewarding, and at times, yes, as thrilling as any athletic pursuit.
And while we may sometimes feel business management lacks the obvious glory and grandeur of professional sports, a closer look at best practices for optimizing performance through employee engagement shows no lack of marked parallels between these and athletic endeavors.
To wit, here are five key performance lessons for HR leaders and managers, drawn from that epitome of grand European sporting traditions, the Tour de France.
It takes a team to win the Tour de France. Of course, the annual event has had its share of individual doping scandals and standout performances, the latter of which, at least, have driven the fame of legendary cyclists like Lance Armstrong, Bernard Hinault, and Greg Lemond.
However, Tour aficionados know that a well-rounded team featuring strong climbers, sprinters, and exceptional leaders is critical to success in this sport. The same is true for managing performance in the workplace.
While improving and developing your individual employees is important, the key to success is cultivating your workers with an eye to strengthening the team. Play to your employees' strengths, establishing and developing strategic task specializations.
And when you identify a star, cultivate the future leader by providing him or her with opportunities to informally lead the team on key projects.
Recognizing Hard Work
Riders in the Tour de France are driven not only by their personal love of sport, but also by their dreams of donning the distinctive yellow jersey, a privilege reserved for the leading cyclist, and claiming the coveted Tour trophy.
In the workplace, conspicuous recognition is equally important. In fact, research conducted by Avatar HR Solutions has shown recognition to be the top motivator for employees, leading to higher levels of engagement.
For managers, this can mean a simple "thank you" when employees complete a task, or for larger projects, a performance bonus or public recognition at an organization-wide meeting.
Whether on the roads of Marseille or in a Manhattan office space, recognition supports positive behaviors and can lead to increased performance among teams.
Making Training a Priority
No occasional recreational cyclist ever won the Tour de France, and the same holds true for untrained, undisciplined teams in business-they don't win.
To remain truly competitive, organizations must commit to ongoing training for their employees, ensuring they can perform at a high level, consistently innovate, and adapt to changes in the marketplace.
However, a study by Avatar HR Solutions found that only 63 percent of employees believe their employer provides effective on-the-job training. To supplement formal training programs, organizations can implement policies encouraging employees to view industry webcasts during work hours, wholly or partially subsidize conference or course registration costs, and promote the sharing of industry news by hosting an online employee forum on your Intranet or LinkedIn.
Aligning Employees with the Mission
Even in a competition like the Tour de France, in which there is an individual winner, mission alignment among teammates is crucial. Prior to starting the Tour, each team has already determined which rider, typically the strongest racer, will be vying with other teams for first place.
It is the goal of the team, and each individual member of the team, to work strategically to create conditions under which the team leader has an opportunity to win the race. When riding in a peloton, or a close grouping of cyclists on the course, each teammate must understand his contribution to the overall mission of the group.
The rider in front, for instance, understands that his body cuts the wind, lessening resistance for the following riders and helping conserve their energy. In a large group, this can reduce drag by up to 40% for rearward cyclists, a significant advantage. On a business team, for employees to produce their best work, they must likewise understand their contribution to the overall mission.
Managers can support mission alignment by discussing with employees how each of their tasks helps the organization succeed.
This lends a sense of importance to each employee's work, engages them, and keeps them focused on the task at hand.
Utilizing Strong Leadership Skills
Physical endurance, finely tuned cycling skills, and enormous will are all necessary components of each team member competing in the Tour de France. Without strong leadership, however, athleticism and determination will not get the team very far.
At the height of his career, Lance Armstrong led Team Discovery to victory by recruiting the right cyclists, leading with confidence, and demonstrating complete commitment to the mission at hand. Strong leadership is likewise essential in the workplace. In fact, the leadership ability of a worker's direct supervisor is the third-strongest driver of employee engagement, having a strong correlation with productivity and retention.
Like Lance Armstrong, managers can ensure they get the right riders on the bus-or on the bike, as the case may be-by hiring for culture and personality fit, in addition to looking for crucial skills. They can give regular feedback and communicate an expectation that feedback will be implemented.
Equally important, they should be fair and consistent with recognition and partner with their employees to help them develop as people and professionals.
In the world of business, as in professional cycling, you can keep your team peloton running smoothly and efficiently by addressing these key drivers of employee engagement.
In doing so, you support a positive workplace culture and ensure that your players are funneling their skills, energy, and passion into producing outstanding results for your organization.
This produces the virtuous talent "cycle" that no business in today's modern economy can make it to the finish line without.
* Tour de France image sourced via Wikimedia Commons