Posts Tagged ‘talent’

Success Lessons From The World Of NASCAR

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

nascar.600A recent edition of USA Today (November 6, 2009) ran an article about the consistent success of Hendrick Motorsports’ NASCAR teams. Some would say domination is a better word than consistent success, given that they are closing in on their fourth consecutive NASCAR championship (perhaps taking 1st, 2nd and 3rd). The article is titled, “Happy in the Workplace – Hendricks Motorsports’ people skills key success,” and it provides some lessons that any organization, whether in sport or the business world, can learn from.

General Manager, Marshall Carlson says there are four keys to their success: “Talent, unity, speed, and focus, and all four are about people, not technology or widgets.” Where some teams look to cut costs on hotels and food for their traveling teams (consider that these teams are on the road for at least 36 weekends per year), Hendrick Motorsport “views booking quality hotels and catering healthy meals as essential as top-notch equipment.” In other words, looking after their people.

While most race team managers come from within the sport, Carlson came from Hendrick’s auto dealership empire. He views the running of the race teams no different from running of a car dealership. “They’re a lot less different than you’d think, because the culture is very much aligned.”

“A lot of car dealers put the customer first. At Hendrick Automotive Group, the employee is No. 1 and they’ll take care of the customers because happy customers keep the manufacturers happy. It’s same with the team. We feel if we have smart and talented people happy to be there, we’ll run well. If we run well, the sponsors will be happy. Even in a sport where the technology is very important, the difference is the human capital.”

“Anything that touches people takes precedent, whether it’s food, travel, uniforms, working conditions or health insurance,” he said. “That’s contrary to how some organizations work.”

Hmmm… Happy employees. Ensuring employees are happy is the number one priority, assuming that if they are, they will make sure the customer is happy.

How many companies claim that people are their number one resource, and yet don’t back that up with their actions. In fact, having facilitated strategic planning sessions for companies, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard senior management make that claim, and yet heard from employees that it’s not true. Leaders claiming that employees are most important, and yet acting as though they are really a distant second – or third, fourth, or worse – to anything that leads to short-term financial results seems to be the norm and not the exception.

Let’s go back to what Carlson said were the four keys to their success:

1.     Talent – A happy employee who does not have the skills and knowledge to do the job will not lead to consistent success. What he doesn’t say is that, for the most part, skills and knowledge can be acquired.

2.     Unity – This is all about teamwork, all about people working together as a unit.

3.     Speed – When one hears a person in motorsport talk about speed, you can’t help but think he’s talking about the car. But in this case, Carlson is talking about people. Having spent years around high-performing race teams (and some low-performing ones), I know that he’s talking about how having the right systems and processes in place, good people will perform quickly and efficiently.

4.     Focus – Happy, talented employees, working together within great systems will not perform well if they’re headed in the wrong direction. Well, duh. Focus is critical.

But here’s the point: Talented employees, working together as a team with great systems, and focused in the right direction will not perform consistently well if they’re unhappy. I can think of one specific race team that I was involved with where this was the case. They had incredibly talented people. They worked well together, as a team. They had fantastic, well-designed systems and processes in place. And they were very focused on what was important and what needed to be done. But it was not a “happy workplace.” And they under-performed.

Lesson learned.

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The Myth About Natural Talent

Friday, December 19th, 2008

I’ve recently read two books that talk about similar subjects: Outlier, by Malcolm Gladwell (author of the best-selling Blink and The Tipping Point), and Talent is Overrated, by Geoff Colvin. Both books back up what I’ve been saying for years, and what I wrote about in my Speed Secrets books. Great performers in any activity, whether sport, music, arts, business or whatever are not born with more talent than average performers.

What makes superstars what they are is not what they’re born with. It’s what they’ve done with what they were born with that makes the difference.

Outliers I’d recommend you read both these books, but the simple overview of what both authors write about is that factors other than talent have more to do with success and great performances than anything else. Gladwell, in Outliers, says that cultural experiences and timing have as much to do with success than anything else, and perhaps more. He uses numerous examples that support his claim, including Bill Gates, professional hockey players, and musicians. And one of the most powerful factors that determine their success is the date of their birth! And no, is has nothing to do astrological signs.

Talent-overratedIn Talent is Overrated, Colvin counts on research from a variety of sources that support his claim that
practice plays the biggest role in great performance. And not just any practice, either. It has to be what he and researchers call “deliberate practice.”

Interestingly, both these books have been published within months of each other, and they strongly support each other’s message. It’s like both authors were on the same wavelength. And, while my theories follow directly along with what’s said in each book, and some of it was based on research that I’d read, most of what I’ve talked and written about has come from my observations of great performers, and not-so-great performers. I observed exactly what the research in these books suggest.

I’ve personally seen people with what initially appeared to be average (at best) talent rise to a point where others begin commenting about his or her “natural talent” making them what they are today. And sadly, I’ve witnessed people who seem to have something special at an early age, but who didn’t use “deliberate practice,” and who turned out to be average performers.

While reading these two books, I recognized that much of my approach to coaching, and what’s help me make others successful, is my use of “deliberate practice.” I’m “famous” for giving my coachees what I just call strategies for development. Although I’ve known that my approach has worked, it’s nice when one finds scientific research that supports what you’ve known and used for a while.

Read Outliers and Talent is Overrated.