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Blog: Marathon Lessons for the Corporate World, Part Two

Part One of “Marathon Lessons for the Corporate World” described the principles of effective marathon training and gave some examples of “novice runner” mistakes in business. Now, let’s explore how companies and employees can utilize marathon lessons to maximize workplace performance.

At the Corporate Level:

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Create a peak performance corporate culture. Competitive marathoners structure not just their workouts, but their lives around delivering a series of peak running performances over time.

Similarly, a “peak performance company” recognizes the relationship between winning in the marketplace and healthy employees. In addition to articulating a strategic vision with ambitious, quantifiable objectives, the company takes into account the long-term sustainability of the work demands on their employees.

Some examples:

  • Give an engineering team the week off before launching a key product, so that they have some recovery time before diving into post-launch product management.
  • Link bonuses to meeting specific objectives.
  • Implement a formal wellness program.
  • Provide paid sabbaticals for long-time employees and support flex schedules where feasible.
  • Include a workout facility on site or subsidize gym memberships for employees.
  • Solicit feedback from employees on ways to improve as a company and make actual changes based on the feedback.

Measurable deliverables and a disciplined budget. Like a competitive marathoner who knows the purpose behind each workout, business units and employees should work from a set of measurable deliverables that tie back to the corporate strategic vision. A company also should develop a process that prioritizes projects and resources. For example, use a zero based budget (ZBB) that allocates all available resources in priority order in a given budget cycle. If a project falls below the ZBB line, it receives no resources.

Balance discipline with common sense. A marathoner may deviate occasionally from a training plan. If she feels an injury coming on, for example, it is appropriate to skip a workout. A company should operate with a similar kind of common sense flexibility. In addition to developing measurable deliverables and a disciplined budget, it is also appropriate to anticipate the need for course corrections and encourage employees to take risks or support intangible activities whose benefits may not be easily quantifiable in a ZBB process.

Employees:

Take ownership of your professional development. A competitive marathoner trains in specific phases with the goal of steadily improving over time. A businessperson can take a similar “periodized” approach to his career. Create a list of your professional goals and the skills you would like to develop over time. If you are in a job that is not allowing you to make progress against this list, take action. For example, expand the scope of your current position by taking ownership of a project that both helps your employer and develops one of your target skills. Take a professional development class. Look for (or create) another job that is more closely aligned with your goals. If you feel burned out and in need of a substantial change, save up money and take a sabbatical to pursue an activity that is meaningful for you. The key is to empower yourself and develop a plan to grow and improve.

Tame your e-mail addiction. Assert a competitive runner’s discipline: start your day by working through some items on your To Do list rather than diving into e-mail. Instead of reacting like Pavlov’s dog to e-mail and texts while driving, in a meeting, at the movie theater, in bed, etc., schedule several blocks of time for e-mail each day and otherwise don’t check it.

Take care of your body. It goes without saying that a marathoner exercises regularly. If you have been unable to fit regular exercise into your routine, try this: when you have a 1:1 scheduled that does not require you to be tethered to a table, ditch the conference room and invite your work colleague to take a walk outside with you. Steve Jobs often used this technique. “Walking 1:1’s” are especially useful when you are struggling to address a complex problem. The light exercise seems to stimulate creativity and even a sense of optimism.

Schedule genuine recovery time. Adequate rest and recovery allow marathoners to lock in the benefits of hard training. Establish and enforce daily “no work” windows of time, such as dinner with your family or your kids’ nighttime routine. Take vacations that energize you (even better if you are unreachable while gone). Engage in a hobby outside of work that rejuvenates you. And do not apologize for doing these things. These are elements of a healthy, sustainable life that make you more effective at work, not less.

Charles Scott is an endurance athlete and family adventurer. He spent 14 years working at Intel Corporation before deciding to focus his energy full-time on writing, speaking and doing endurance challenges with his family linked to environmental causes. While working at Intel, he competed in five Ironman triathlons, eight marathons and many multi-sport and adventure races. In the summer of 2009, he and his eight-year old son Sho rode connected bicycles the length of mainland Japan, covering 2,500 miles in 67 days. They were named “Climate Heroes” by the United Nations as they raised money for a global tree planting campaign. And in the summer of 2011, he cycled 1,500 miles around Iceland on connected bicycles with his ten-year old son and four-year old daughter, once again sponsored by the UN as "Climate Heroes": www.icelandbikeadventure.com. Charles is writing a book about the Japan ride called Rising Son. If you would like to receive a free excerpt and receive updates on his latest writings, send an e-mail to icelandbikeadventure@gmail.com.

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