Well, it is that time of year again; the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival is in full swing. Every year, on the first Tuesday in November, a large percentage of Australians become racing experts as television screens are turned on to the watch “the race that stops the nation”. It is amazing to see businesses close for the afternoon all for the cause of watching a horse race; however this tradition has actually grown from strength to strength in recent years. With that said, as a keen punter myself, it got me thinking about what we in business can learn from those in the racing industry (for no other reason that it may allow me to claim my punting losses as a work expense).
Horse trainers have a very tough job and it is a job that few people fully understand. Firstly, they have to be so dedicated, often starting work at 4.00am and working in freezing cold or wet conditions. They need to understand each and every individual horse and treat them according to their abilities and personality traits. They must be organised; managing a team of horses’ means managing a team of owners, a variety of jockeys and a mountain of paperwork. You must have the highest level of customer service because you have to let each owner feel as though they are equally as important even though most horses lose money. It is a tough job that requires many competencies and skills.
However, there is one piece of equipment that intrigues me greatly and how a trainer uses this equipment has significant parallels in business. The equipment is called “blinkers” and, as the name suggests, they are placed over the eyes of a horse. You see, the shape of a horse’s head means that they not only see in front of themselves, they can see sideways and backwards as well without moving their heads. Trainers apply them and take them off for various reasons and there is a great deal of strategy to the application which is relevant to business.
Blinkers are applied to horses that cannot focus. They usually throw their head around and are easily distracted. As a result, they usually don’t perform well without blinkers because they cannot focus on the job at hand. I am sure that we have all worked with people who are like this. They join in on any conversation in an office, whether it is relevant or not. They start a great deal of projects but finish only a few. They tend to have a number of excuses for not being successful and suffer from “victim mentality”. These people are similar to horses who need blinkers to make them focus and deliver on the important key performance indicators that are the foundation of their job. Like a trainer, it is the job of a leader or manager to work out when a team member needs to have blinkers applied; when they need to sharpen their focus. Goal setting is important however there is nothing more important than focusing on goals on a daily, weekly and monthly basis so that you have total clarity as to what you need to deliver.
Horse trainers also have to decide when to take the blinkers off horses. Often horses wearing blinkers tend to “over-race” meaning that they are so focused and fired up that they cannot get the job done. They need to relax and also take the time to survey and understand their environments so that they know how to adapt their behaviours to exceed their goals. They need to be able to adapt and apply multi-dimensional strategies to the job at hand rather than just having one “trick”. For me, this correlates so well with the people in a business who have no idea what is going on around them. They have no understanding of the context or their environments because their focus is totally on themselves; it is all about them. Often these people do not understand the big picture and find it to be beneath their goals. They can tend to either be absent minded and oblivious to what is going on around them or so focused that they really don’t care what is going on. A horse trainer, like a leader or manager, needs to get them to acknowledge and understand their environments so that they can be fully productive and be the best they can be. They need to know how their performance and behaviours impacts others and overall business performance. They also need to have a couple of other “strings to their bows” and tools that allow them to get the best out of others around them.
So there you have it; horse trainers may become the new leaders in business. They certainly have the skills and the experience to do so. They have to treat their teams as individuals and know how to get the best out of each of them. Finally, they certainly have to know when to apply the blinkers and when to take them off; if they get it right, they certainly become very well positioned to get the best out of their team.
Good luck on Melbourne Cup Day!
Brad McMahon – Managing Director