Running a Business

Some of you may be aware that Freddie and Adrian along with Donna and a customer are going to be running the NSPCC Half Marathon in Milton Keynes in July (yes we will be putting a sponsorship form on the site). What you may not know, is that Adrian and Abi are both also Marathon runners – Abi an experienced marathon runner and Adrian having just completed his first. Now marathon running is not for everyone, but all of us have a long race to run – it’s called life; or for some of us business. Running gives you a lot of time to reflect on the world and also provides a compelling metaphor, in our view, for some key aspects of running a business.

Here’s some of what we think about while we run:

Vary Your Pace

When you train for a marathon you get to train using 3 different speeds – race pace, endurance pace and run and speed. The latter is where you set markers along your run between which you run as fast as you can, then carrying on at your normal running pace. Race pace is the speed you hope to do when you actually do a timed run. And Endurance pace is exactly that – running at a speed which allows you to continue for along time.

In business today it seems to me that we’re always on race pace or the speed bit of run and speed. But in running neither of these is seen as being sustainable. Endurance pace – the pace which helps us to go further is characterised by running at a pace that allows you to hold a conversation; and this is what ends up disappearing from businesses when they try to run too fast all of the time. We lose the ability to talk with our colleagues, customers and community and create something that is of genuine value to all three constituents; to really define what the purpose of our organisation is and therefore what success really means.

Yes you need to have a race pace and use it when it matters; and you should also find special ‘speed’ projects that allow you to improve your over all fitness and capability; but they aren’t the pace you should run at most of the time. You should be mixing in Endurance pace as well.

It’s Not a Competition

One of the interesting things about running a marathon or a half marathon or even 5 or 10k races, is that, with the exception of perhaps 5 people, it isn’t actually a race at all. There isn’t a winner, there isn’t a loser – there is just you, those around you and the clock. Success is defined by the individual running, their capabilities, their purpose – the reason why they are even bothering to run.

For some it it’s to get fit, for others to get a certain time; and for many to raise a certain amount of money for charity. Or often a combination of those factors. It doesn’t matter why you are running – what your purpose is; other than you accomplish it. It’s not dependent on the other competitors.

So very few people run a ‘race’ in order to be number 1, be the biggest, fastest, or any other ‘-est’!

And actually the same should be true of a business. If you understand what your purpose really is – then you can work to achieve it; but making more money, or being number 1 in your market is unlikely really to be your purpose. Purpose is deeper than that and when you really discover what it is – you will find that there is no competition any more – not really. For if someone else delivers your purpose then that’s ok, because the purpose is being met.

And if your purpose is genuine and believed by everyone in your company you don’t need to engage people; you don’t need to motivate them – everyone will work assiduously to deliver the purpose because it’s something they genuinely believe in. The same way that no one makes you get out of bed to do the training for your marathon. And more critically if you don’t achieve your goal in running a marathon – there is no one else to blame, but yourself – you are truly accountable for what happens. The same can be the case in your business if you have a real, shared and clear purpose.

Find Your Way

The one thing you can find when you start doing long distance running is a plethora of advice. On everything, from shoes to clothes to warm downs to diet. You name it there’s a piece of advice out there and just as interestingly a piece of conflicting advice.
Well conflicting in the detail, but broadly aligned. And that’s often the case with running a business. You need to find the way that works for you – that matches the people you have, what you do and your purpose.

With running its pretty much – get the shoes that are right for you; wear clothes that are comfortable and don’t chafe; find a hydration regime that means you won’t cramp up or dehydrate late in the race; and manage your diet to build up energy stores in advance of the race and top this up as you run. Thereafter the choice is endless – though there’s one tip that comes through time and time again – listen to your body. It will let you know what is and isn’t working – you can push it and train it and increase its endurance, but it will keep letting you know how that feels and if you push it too hard; expect pain and a set back – how long will depend on how hard you pushed it.

The same is true of your organisation. It can do things you don’t currently believe are possible today, but it won’t be able to do that tomorrow. You need to do the basics really well, and then flex, stretch, nourish, rest and challenge it and it will do amazing things. Believe in its capacity to perform, listen to it and then it will not let you down.

The last six miles

They say that a marathon is a race of two halves – the first 20 miles and the last 6 and it’s true. That’s when your reserves of energy start to give out, injuries you’ve managed to carry that far start to become unbearable as joints start to give up and dehydration or cramps start to kick in. Of course, if you’ve done your preparation and know your body – none of this is guaranteed to happen, but it’s when your body does this that you find out how real your purpose is to you. This is the time when our body says can we stop now please, but your purpose is greater and keeps you going.
And the same is true in business – if you have a real and deep purpose that runs through your business, when times get really tough everyone will pitch in and fight to deliver. Dig deep and make the most amazing sacrifices of time, energy and even money. But this is a one off, it’s not sustainable and you can’t rely on your body or your business to run this way all the time. So you need to rest afterwards, to re-nourish your body and to recover.

Most business have a last six miles moment and that’s when the resilience and courage of everyone in the business will shine if you have a deep and meaningful purpose that they believe in. And when those six miles are done – make sure you recognise that effort and replenish those reserves of commitment and energy.