Sport and business: the same search for performance

Recruiting talent, leading a team, bringing it together around a business project, increasing its skills and making it efficient… It is sport – and of a high level – in which managers train every day. A universe known to Stéphane Diagana, specialist in the 400m hurdles.

Multi-time world and European champion and sports speaker, a few days ago he shared his experience with business leaders who are members of the Azur Business Club network, gathered at the National Sports Museum in Nice. Business life and that of an athlete have many similarities. Starting with the quest for achievements: medals for some and markets or improving their brand image for others.

How do athletes and companies become successful?
That calls for collaboration: motivated men and women working together. There is no such thing as being excellent on your own. Even in an individual sport. A coach proposes a project to a group of athletes who see each other every day. It is up to him to assemble a team around the project.

The manager is therefore the trainer who has to unite his athletes, ie his employees, around him. How does it achieve this?
By ensuring coordination between the collective project of the company and that of individual employees. I had a very sharp coach on a technical level but who was also a good listener. What makes the strength of a sports project is the alignment between the interests of the coach and those of the athletes who implement it. The training program is nothing more than a transformation project as it pushes the athlete upward through innovation and questioning. On the other hand, it must remain involved for the long term. That means sharing the vision.

And in a company?
It means asking your employees to make an effort, to change their habits. It should make sense both individually and collectively. There is only one constant in life, it is change that requires great adjustment. Unfortunately, the more changes there are, the less we explain why we are reorganizing.

What if the interests are not aligned?
When a company grows or changes too much, misunderstandings, even mistrust, can arise. We lose the sense of action, which leads to a reduced commitment from the employees who drive the project forward.

Result: the company is not running at full capacity. The leader must therefore take the time to listen and ask questions. Just do pedagogy to explain the meaning of the change. This is the condition for the commitment. In sports it is simpler: the recognition of my trainer depends on my success. If I pass, he succeeds.

What are individual interests?
It’s not just financial. It can also be recognition, empowerment that the manager or HR manager must be able to recognize. Just like the coach doesn’t train an Olympic medalist like a novice. The manager’s role is to share the reflection, preferably to construct it together with his employee because this facilitates his involvement. He should also appreciate him, take into account his expectations, even difficulties, to offer solutions, which he feels useful and in the right position. That means a lot of exchanges, which I had daily with my coach.

It is therefore necessary to listen sincerely and benevolently…
Even when I questioned my trainer, I respected his background and his authority. And he admitted that I could contribute to his thinking by giving him relevant field feedback.

For example, I sent him information about my mounts when I started in a straight line at 35 km/h. So many details that he doesn’t have access to. Leaders must consider the intelligence of the field and this is a form of recognition. Even when I was a beginner, my trainer made sure to listen to my feedback so that I didn’t come to practice, but came to practice. There is a fundamental difference here.

Is training part of this recognition?
Yes quite. The sense of competence is important; it has value and is a form of freedom because you feel more at ease, safer to contribute to or… leave the company! It’s better to have people who contributed, hired, and then leave than employees who continue to feel incompetent. They make an act of presenteeism but are demotivated.

Is it possible to implement this listening in companies of all sizes?
Yes, but for me it’s easier to be a world champion than to run a company well, especially when it’s big.
The interaction I was able to set up with my trainer was similar to the boot mode. Around the two of us there were skills (physiotherapist, osteopath, agent…) but it was a small agile structure that was strongly linked between the strategic and the operational. The understanding was strong of the meaning of the action and therefore the dedication was strong. When the company is structured with many layers, there is a loss of meaning. All work is aimed at ensuring that everyone understands the meaning of the project, the roadmap, the significance of the global action and the recognition it expects. That’s a lot to find.