Michael Johnson was one of the keynote sessions at the Microsoft SharePoint conference held last week. Mr Johnson made a speech that showed interesting parallels between what he did to become a successful runner and how organisations could become more successful.
1. Winning is personal
The speech opened with this comment and I think it is an element often forgotten within organisations. Every individual has their own goals, even when part of team (a team will struggle to succeed if it contains individuals who aren’t really bothered) and every individual chooses how successful they want to be (or not) within their own realm. When individuals are given ‘objectives’ from above, how involved do they feel in the organisation’s success? It’s an important element that will determine how successful the organisation becomes. I remember seeing wise words once (can’t remember where): “treat your employees like they are your number one customer”.
1. Focus on goals
Big ones supported by smaller goals that keep you moving in the right direction because you are unlikely to achieve your ultimate goal over night. Those goals need to be achievable and realistic. Once you achieve a goal, don’t sit back happy and rest on your laurels, you move on to the next goal. Michael went from wanting to be fastest in school to fastest in college to fastest in… right through to the ultimate goal – fastest in the world.
2. Committing to the plan
Everyone will tell you that you have to commit to your goals but, far more importantly, you have to commit to the plan – the work required to achieve that goal – and that is much harder to do. Every day you don’t give 100% to the plan is an opportunity lost that may prevent you from achieving your goals. And you can’t give up, you can’t take short cuts. Michael Johnson’s career lasted from 1990 to 2000 and it took him 9 years to break a world record.
3. Never stop learning
You have to be 100% honest in evaluating progress against the plan, you need to identify weaknesses so that you can fix them. You have to keep learning because there will always be new challenges that affect the plan. Learning enables you to adjust your strategy, to change the plan if required. Michael described how he was injured shortly before the Sydney Olympics in 2000, meaning he would miss his tune up races. So he had to adjust the strategy – he had to be able to win without the tune up races. And he did.
4. Failure is not OK
When asked about accepting failure, Michael’s response was: “I’m never happy about it. You’ve got to be able to cope with failure and not winning, but you never accept it is OK.” I loved this one. I’m not a fan of the ‘it’s the taking part that counts’ brigade who seem to think that competition is a bad idea in schools because it demoralises those who don’t win. Losing is an opportunity to learn (see point 3) but only once you have mastered the art of turning a loss to your advantage. Being able to cope with losing is good, accepting that losing is OK is not.
It was a great talk and begs the question…
How successful is your organisation? What would happen if it came up against an organisation that consisted entirely of Michael Johnson clones. One hundred percent focused on being the best, totally committed to the plan, ruthlessly honest about weaknesses in order to fix them as quickly as possible, continually learning and adjusting the strategy to guarantee success. How long would it take that organisation to win your customers? (All of them – paying and/or salaried)