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It’s not on, sport- Daniel Kehoe

I’M frequently reminded of a time I was engaged to deliver a session on behaviour and motivation at a company’s management conference. I had the graveyard shift – the session immediately after a lunch where the old sleep inducer, alcohol, had been served. The eyes would start glazing and the heads start nodding just after, “Hi. My name is…” Worse still. I was following the great and legendary Australian Rules footballer and coach, Ron Barassi who was delivering a session on motivation before lunch. I think I got the gig (never thought I would use that word; see how I’m prepared to go with the times?) because I didn’t step back quickly enough when our boss asked for volunteers to step forward. There were about 20 managers attending my session. I was staggered when, late that evening at the bar, one of them made a comment I have never forgotten (sadly for you). He said that Barassi’s session had been entertaining and that it was great to hear from one of the true icons of Australian football. But he learned more about behaviour and motivation from my session. A couple of others at the bar nodded in agreement. I based my session around this model. B = f (P x E). Behaviour is a function of the person and their interaction with their environment. Behaviour Simply put, behaviour is what people say and do. And any time you invest in any initiative designed to change (improve) people’s behaviour, you should expect to see them engage in behaviour that is new, different and better. If you don’t, you have just wasted time and money. Person This is where you consider the things internal to the person that influence their behaviour. Things such as skills, knowledge, attitude, perceptions/beliefs, values, mental and physical health, stress levels, temperament/personality, needs, wants, experience and the like. Environment This is where you consider things external to the person that influence their behaviour in the workplace. Things such as culture, structure, policies and strategy, systems and procedures, work practices, customer expectations, peer expectations, physical environment, rewards, work conditions, management expectations, laws and regulations, market fluctuations, society expectations, competitors, personal relationships and so on. Phew, that’s a bit complicated. As a bare minimum, any initiative that you undertake to change, develop or improve the behaviour of your people needs to identify, explore and align their perceptions; to incorporate their values, to use the power of peer influence and to factor in the actions of managers/team leaders. Are you still there? Good, because this leads me on to my question. Can you employ coaching strategies and tactics used in sport in the workplace? My answer is no. A qualified no. Why? Because we are not comparing apples with apples. The environment, the motives, the conditions, the ‘pay offs’ applying in the sports arena are vastly different from those in the workplace. Yes, but the proponents of applying sporting analogies to the workplace (and there are lots of them) say that is the whole point. We should create in the workplace the same environmental conditions and tactics that apply in sporting environments. This doesn’t work because an essential difference is the motives of people to play sport and the motives of people to work. Another essential difference is the different competencies required in the sports arena from those required in the workplace. I know – and I’ll bet you do, too – people who have achieved little in the workplace but have been outstanding performers in their chosen sport. And, of course, the converse applies too. Outstanding performers in the workplace can be under-performers at sport. So what? Well, I still see well-meaning people trying to induce better performance from management and staff by using analogies with sports. I watch the body language and the signs of frustration and general turn off from the workers. They don’t connect because they know there is little real connection. Sure, they enjoy being in the presence of the champion and listening to amusing anecdotes. So before you compare the things that motivate people to play golf, to play football, to climb mountains, to run marathons, to excel in any sport, with the workplace, ask yourself several questions. Why do you want to use a sports analogy? Do you really think that you convince people by saying this is what happens in golf/football/cricket/mountain climbing and therefore we ought to do it in the workplace? What is the real relevance of this sport to the workplace? What are the real lessons that can be applied in the workplace? Will using this sport as a comparative example for the workplace really make any difference to whether people excel or not?

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