Sports Psychology, But For Businesses

Photography by Vince Fleming on

Sports psychology can include many elements, but the outcome it seeks is to enhance the ability of an athlete/s to perform at their personal best every time they compete. And that personal best should be compounding. In business, our teams compete every day, but we rarely think about how we can enhance their performance in that way. A ‘sports psychology’ view of business performance will support leaders in lifting competitiveness and performance to levels they never thought possible.

How do you presently make your business more competitively fit?

Where Is Your Mind?

In straightforward terms, we can say that sports psychology is an understanding of how the mind affects physical activity and performance in a competitive arena. I may be the most talented and fit athlete competing in an event, but I will likely lose if my mind is in the wrong place. I will certainly not be able to deliver my personal best.

Athletes of all levels, individuals and teams, train not only their bodies but also their minds so that they may compete at their very best. One could say that it is their ability to focus without distraction in bringing all of their skill and experience to bear on the competitive field that will mark them as an exceptional athlete and one who will win time and time again. And those that struggle to focus will lose time and time again.

In business, we also compete. It is the sole reason for a business’s existence. Businesses do not exist to profit, they exist to meet the needs of a community, and if they do that competitively, profits will be the outcome. The mental toughness that elite athletes seek is also relevant within businesses.

An athlete who walks onto the competitive field and watches the score continuously and whose effort is led by that score will lose. Why? Because their focus is not on delivering their best performance, their mind is chasing numbers.

In business, if you are continually watching and reacting to the profit numbers, you will not be focused on the competitiveness of your business, and it will not deliver its best possible performance. Whilst businesses set and chase their budgeted profit weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly and then reset the numbers to zero, they are not optimising their competitive performance; they are, in fact, suppressing it.

We should never forget the maxim that what you measure is what you get. If businesses simply look to short-term profit as the measure, then at best, they will get their short-term profit but will forego all the strengths that come with compounding competitive fitness.

In Business, We Compete

Businesses fundamentally compete around the value they are able to deliver to their prospective customers. They seek to define those customers’ needs in a manner that will lift their unique strengthens to the forefront so that their value offering will outcompete all others in the marketplace.

They are competing for that business today and, more importantly, tomorrow. They must continually seek to evolve and reinvent their offerings so that they remain competitive and continue to meet the emerging needs of their customers. If a sporting team were to go out onto their field every week and play the same game, they would quickly find themselves being beaten in every game; businesses are no different.

While the offering a business can deliver to its customers may be the final output of its competitive effort, there are many elements that go into creating and delivering that offering. And a failing in any one of those elements will undermine the entire business’s competitive effort.

The competitive strength of a business lies in the combined talent and effort of all those who work within and with a business in meeting its customers’ needs. It is leadership’s single brief to muster and bring to bear that competitive strength. Yes, it is a business’s competitive strategy that will direct that effort, but there is a lot more to mustering that strength than issuing directives.

Whilst in the analogy of an athlete, we can say that sports psychology is focused on developing their mental strength, in a business, when seeking to muster a combined effort, you begin to recognise that participation and contribution also become critical; what effort can I draw to be focused on meeting the needs of our customers?

Of course, effort is not reflected in the number of hours that they clock each day, and this is why participation and contribution are far more vital than hours applied. To be competitive, I need every person to bring their inspiration, creativity, imagination, and pride to whatever role they may play in the business in making it competitive. There are many common practices in business that degrade performance and leaders must be conscious of the impact of their actions on competitiveness.

So as sports psychology steps back and considers what might be influencing and impacting this athlete’s ability to focus, so too must business leaders step out of their offices and recognising what elements within their business influence and impact participation and contribution. And what framework can we bring to bear on this outcome to enhance our competitiveness as a business?

The Engine Of Competitiveness

There does exist within every business a competitive engine that sets the floor and ceiling to the competitive performance and success of that business. It is operating 24/7/365 whether leadership recognise it or not. The engine comprises a range of elements that in unison influence and direct the participation and contribution of everyone working within and with that business.

And whilst contemporary management theory may recognise the names we place on each of these elements, it does not appreciate their ‘right’ character nor the role that each play in underpinning and uplifting competitiveness.

These elements may be introduced to you by noting the impact they are able to have on the competitive strength of a business, that is, the mustering of combined talent and effort. The elements are as follows:

  • Purpose: A purpose for the business’s existence in which one can take pride in their contribution to fulling it, one which may be described as ‘righteous’ and making our communities a better place.
  • Motive: A motive aligned with purpose and not founded in self-interest.
  • Leadership: Worthy leaders selected and tested on their character who enable everyone else to do their best and be successful and who engage others through trust.
  • Vision: A enticing quest stepping out of purpose and customer need that draws others to join.
  • Culture: A crafted culture that upholds all the elements of its engine and supports the competitiveness of the business.
  • Customer Focus: A customer-centric focus that places customer need and value ahead of short-term profit.
  • Capability: An investment in and compounding of capability, allowing the business to outcompete all others.
  • Strategy: A competitive posture founded in customer need and capability so as to deliver a winning value.
  • Barriers: The removal of all barriers to performance such as outdated paradigms, self-interest and bureaucracy.
  • Fuel: The structuring of rewards to fairly and equitable recognise, uplift and reward the contribution of every individual.

An example of the impact of these elements on each individual’s ability and willingness to participate and contribute can be seen in the following:

I am working within a business that is doing something real and meaningful in which I can take pride. It’s not about profiteering, and our leaders are real people who genuinely care and stand up for us. We can trust them. The people I work with have a great attitude to work and life, and I am really part of the team, and everyone contributes their best. It is the best of the best working with the best throughout the business, and ego and self-interest are not tolerated. We are on a remarkable and challenging journey. I am rewarded and recognised for my contribution, and even more importantly, encouraged to contribute. And barriers to my contribution and success are removed if they emerge. It’s a great business to work in, were doing great things, and I am part of it. We are very profitable as a business, but that’s because we put our customers first.

The competitive engine framework with each of its elements expressed in its right character allows leadership to first identify those elements that are degrading performance and then secondly to bring each into alignment to optimise performance. The competitive engine is a framework that leaders may use in putting on their sports psychology hat to enable their business to compete at their best every day and compound on that competitive fitness. Whatever level of competitiveness and performance, you have come to expect from your business can be taken to an entirely new level when you engage the competitive engine in your business.


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All the best in the success of your business,

Richard Shrapnel



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