Executive derailment: OK coach, get me back on the right track

Consider a sports team – football, rugby, cricket, American football, basketball, whatever – and, especially if they are ‘your’ team, ask yourself what could they do better?  Now before every Arsenal fan in London says ‘Beat Spurs and win the league’, or England rugby union aficionados say ‘get out of the group stages of the World Cup’, I’m talking about the things that coaches do to improve their teams.  To use a phrase that HR likes, it’s the way they look after their ‘investment in talent’ that is so impressive.

Before the Six Nations rugby started, there was a lot of focus (especially between the Scots who work for exec-appointments.com and the majority of English here) on the opening game. One side performed well in the rugby World Cup, England didn’t (which the Scots do remind us about).  Yet, on the face of it, England has better players: Scotland had the wooden spoon in last year’s Six Nations*. Recently, I was sitting chatting about this with some senior-level friends from a range of businesses and we agreed there are lessons for business from sport.

Often, there are one or two key individuals, the pivotal people around whom the business team revolves.  What distinguishes them is not just their obvious skill; it’s their personality, leadership and ability to do the right thing whenever they are under pressure. It’s just like sport, as exemplified in the famous quotation by Pele (the Brazilian footballer considered by many to be the best ever), when he said, ”I run much faster than those who run without thinking.” 

Yet we all know that teams can go off the boil and that star players can suffer dips in form.  The difference between business and sport is then quite marked.  In sport, the individual spends a long time analysing what’s going wrong, often with a sports psychiatrist, and has a personalised training regime to turn things around.  In business, we do tend to just put up with it or alternatively ‘it’s time to go’. Why don’t we take a lesson from sport? – form is temporary, class is permanent

However, as I and my friends discussed, in business, where we like to think of ourselves as totally professional, any career reviews or specialised training tend to be tied into the annual appraisal, if at all.  When things start going wrong for an individual, there is rarely much bespoke support.

It doesn’t have to be like that. We should learn from the sporting world, with its phenomenal professionalism and investment in talent. Google “career review” and you’ll find no end of expertise that will help an individual executive when he or she has experienced a career derailment but is still clearly a valuable employee who needs some guidance to get back on the tracks.   Most of the career coaches will offer their first session FOC.  Rather than getting rid of the ‘problem’ and starting again by seeking to recruit someone new, it’s usually quicker, more cost-effective and often far better to tackle the ‘problem’ at source.  Career coaching should not just be confined to sport!

Steve Playford, Global Director, exec-appointments.com

* As we know, England won last weekend. 

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