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Geoff Greenwood

Global Business Training & Development

Business Consultant

Read more about Geoff Greenwood

Performance psychology in action


A goodly number of businesses and public authorities are now starting to adopt performance psychology techniques as a means of trying to enhance how their employees operate on a day-to-day basis.

Performance psychology combines business, sports and positive psychology, with the aim of enabling individuals, teams and groups to flourish and become the best that they can be.
To this end, it encourages people to develop the power of their own minds by practicing mental skills training on a daily basis – as they would if they were undertaking any other form of technical or learning-based training.
Such mental skills training enables individuals to reach peak performance, often under extreme pressure, whether in a business environment or on the sports field.
Consider some of the areas that the sports world has focused on to date – motivation, attitude, preparing oneself psychologically, coping with stress, team performance and developing mental toughness and self-confidence to name but a few.
And consider how improvements in these areas would benefit your workforce and, ultimately, your bottom line.
Examples of high-profile organisations that have and continue to use elements of performance psychology include Google, 3M, the US Army, Zappos, Microsoft, General Electric, IBM and Xerox.
But below are two case studies of companies that we have helped to develop their own “company athletes”.
Case study 1: A sales team in a highly-pressured corporate environment
The team was generating poor quality leads and the conversion rates from these leads were very poor. The company had offered its staff extensive sales training, but results had not improved. Because the team was demonstrating low levels of mental strength, we recommended that it work on four main areas:
1. Psychological preparation
As with athletes, sales people must always be primed and ready to go. This state can be achieved by means of preparation routines at the pre-, during and post-competition stages of an appointment or presentation.
Such documented routines enable people to focus their attention on the right areas which, in turn, enables them to perform at their peak when they need to by relying on themselves and leaving nothing to chance.
2. Deliberate practice
Deliberate practice is an area in which business lags way behind sport. In the case of an important business presentation, it is rare, say, for sales staff to give their presentation repeatedly in private or occasionally to colleagues in order to improve its flow, clarity and their self-confidence.
But imagine an athlete turning up for the World Championships and only having practiced the run two or three times. In this context, it is worth bearing in mind that the right kind of practice builds up muscle memory and unconscious competence.
3. Thought control
The sales team were educated on the effect that negative thoughts have on their performance and the ultimate outcome of their activity. They were taught to “park” errors, remove internal distractions, reframe ideas and undertake self-talk in order to help change their habits and behaviour.
4. Visualisation
The team were shown how mental imagery could assist their performance. Visualising positive images helped to reduce their anxiety levels, tension and nerves. It also linked into deliberate practice techniques for those times when they were unable to practice what they needed to physically, which re-enforced the power of the mind.
The result of these new strategies was that team performance improved. Lead conversion rates were boosted by a factor of four and this situation has continued until the present day.
Team members are also able to think more clearly and treat each event as an opportunity. The return on investment gained from their “mental toughness” training was nearly 600%.
Case study 2: A management team from the engineering sector
The management team was performing poorly, which meant that not only they, but their staff, were demonstrating low motivation levels. Consequently, management time and money was being consumed in directive leadership, error-handling, control and coercion.
But this approach was having an impact on staffing levels, absenteeism and recruitment activities because of the lack of enthusiasm for both the company and its output. Therefore, the aim was to change the management team’s motivational style in order to help it engage its workforce.
The first step was to look beyond the extant ‘what-if’ rewards system and introduce a more motivational ‘now-that’ one. Individual managers were helped to modify their style away from a “Theory X” scientific way of behaving to one based on support, coaching and mentorship.
Changes were also made to employees’ roles, their individual goals were aligned with those of the organisation and continual improvement processes were implemented. The goal was to provide staff with more control over their working lives which would, in turn, encourage them to take more responsibility for mastering their role and provide them with more job satisfaction in the process.   
After introducing the programme, the working environment and atmosphere at the company improved. Staff turnover fell by 40%, absenteeism dropped by 80% and recruitment costs tumbled. Both staff and managers are now fully engaged and show similar levels of intrinsic motivation as those seen among athletes.
As we try to negotiate today’s tough economic conditions, it makes sense to evaluate the staff and managers that we have in place in order to try and improve their performance at work. Thinking of people as "company athletes" and supporting them in developing the same levels of mental strength as their favourite sports stars can help in this regard.    

Geoff Greenwood is a business consultant at Global Business Training & Development.

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Geoff Greenwood

Business Consultant

Read more from Geoff Greenwood

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