Blog · Aug 10, 2018

Learning Agility – How Can We Learn Faster Than Our Rivals To Make Our Boats Go Faster

Jamie MacPherson is an Associate Performance Consultant for Will It Make The Boat Go Faster? and has been working in the world of leadership development for fifteen years. Jamie is interested in the relationship between behaviours that we demonstrate and how that affects the perception of leadership with others, ultimately affecting the performance levels that we see around us.

Don’t we all dream of turnarounds in performance that Ben and his crew experienced between the winter of 1998 and the Sydney Summer Olympics? I certainly do. Whenever I’ve been able to achieve the best results for myself its also left me curious about how could I continue to achieve like this week after week, month after month, year after year.

How exciting and motivating to know that a recipe could exist that would allow us faster, better, stronger results at a time where in business feels more complex and ambiguous then its ever done. Working with clients who face these challenges we all recognise the need for something called learning agility – an ability to learn and respond quickly to the never-ending pace of change – in a way that meets or beats the market need.

Working against a backdrop of eight years of consistent but not brilliant results (broadly seventh best ranked in the world every year) Ben and his crew were faced with the need to ‘learn faster than their competitors’ – another way of describing learning agility – to catch and then overtake six other international crews to achieve their goal of Olympic Gold. They also had to do this in just under two years with no evidence to suggest they could!

You may be sat there thinking that moving six places in the ranking wouldn’t be so hard (even in two years) but how easy is it for organisations in business to move from say a top 10 to become number one in their market place in that short period of time. How did Ben and his crew do it? What lessons can we take from them and incorporate them into our own performance in work or elsewhere in life?

The real key to their transformation was around two things: one a philosophy and another a process expertly executed on a daily basis. It was an approach that underpinned everything that they did and helped them claw, leap and catapult themselves through the rankings and onto victory in 2000.

Focus on Performance in order to get Results!:

The philosophy was to focus on their performance each time they did something rather than their results. To make the distinction between the two concepts, first results. They are the outcomes, the targets, the goals we are often set in work. This could be a sales number, an overall percentage of market share or perhaps an increase in an organisation engagement score. It’s the stuff we all hear the most about. The performance is whatever we do to try and achieve those results. Performance is in our control always, so we know can do something about it. For so many businesses assessment of both aspects is rolled into one review…which is most frequently the result itself.

As Ben recorded in his book they would achieve the result they desired (Olympic Gold) by concentrating on, focusing really hard and learning to use the best methods of performance assessment day in, day out. They explored, learned and refined every component part of what they did, they left no stone unturned in the quest for what was driving good and poor performance (note learning from the good not just a deep dive when things went wrong). They examined the perfect strokes with a devastating rhythm and power, they developed an Olympic winning mind-set, they gave elegant, direct feedback all the time, they tested when they should practise, for how long, in what location, the list goes on and on and on.

How many times, feeling the pressure of the organisational expectation to achieve a result, do we chase or try too hard and not step back to look at the best way forward for ourselves or our teams? To what extent does that approach cause us to make errors and lead our performance levels to drop, thus damaging our chances of achieving the desired results we want or need.

Adding Speed to our Learning – Regular Disciplined Reviewing!!:

The process they employed to bring this philosophy alive was stunningly straightforward but actually requires incredible discipline and curiosity to make work. After each training session, race, competition or team meeting they would make time to review how well they had performed. For ten minutes they would work through these three questions

1. What has worked?
2. What didn’t work?
3. What could we do differently next time to improve further?

These conversations where they reviewed their performance became the key moments where they learnt and uncovered small and large ways that they could perform better, close the gap on their rivals, learn faster and achieve their goal.

The regular disciplined execution of this process was key. To highlight what had worked and being clear about that, so the team would know to do that again next time. To then identify what hadn’t worked as a way of making explicit what was needed to not repeat those things and finally collectively working out what could be done in place or extra that would make the performance even better.

Many of our ideas and performance improvements in business get lost because we move too quickly onto the next goal, the next project, the next meeting. Paradoxically slowing ourselves down, focusing on how we perform in key moments of our day and reviewing these things will help us accelerate our learning.

After your next sales presentation, team meeting or one to one session, review how well you performed using the questions we listed above. Done well we guarantee that you’ll uncover loads of bits of learning that will make your boat performance go faster and the results you really want will come to you.

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