I am an avid mountain biker and recently went on a ride that I have done many times in the past. It is a 28 mile single track ride in the Canadian Rockies that climbs and then descends over 4300 feet. In good weather I typically complete this trip in 3.5 hours. This time, however, it took me 5.5 hrs as I did not see the warning sign at the train head (picture above) until after I was finished! Due to significant flooding the previous year, the trail was literally destroyed in many places and required a lot of detours and carrying my bike while dealing with washouts, rock avalanches, mountains of debris and missing bridges.
I could not help thinking about the parallels between mountain biking and business as I was fighting my way through these obstacles. I have listed some of them below;
- I had planned for a nice ride through some of the most beautiful mountains in the world but instead I was faced with some significant challenges well beyond what I expected. Similarly, most things in business do not turn out the way we initially expect. There are always unexpected challenges encountered. We need to be prepared to step up to any challenges that arise. “Accept the challenges, so that you may feel the exhilaration of victory.”~ General George S. Patton
- My strategy was to start around 9:30 AM, finish around 1:30 PM. It takes 45 minutes to drive home from the trailhead and I had a commitment at home at 4:00 PM to prepare for a dinner meeting. This meant that I had 1.75 hours of flex. My strategy was to use some of this flex time for breaks and to eat lunch. Instead, I was forced to change my strategy and skip all the planned breaks and push much harder than planned. I was able to get back to the parking lot at 3:15 PM and arrived home exhausted at 4:05 PM. Similarly in business we set a strategy only to find the marketplace or other circumstances have changed resulting in us having to adjust our strategy on the fly. In the words of the infamous Mike Tyson “Everybody has a strategy, until they get hit in the face.” If you cannot adjust your strategy on the fly, you will fail!
- I usually have extra food, water and emergency supplies with me when I am biking. This is my contingency. Self sufficiency is important as this trail is remote without modern conveniences like cell phone coverage. On this trip I definitely required the contingencies as the trip took longer than I expected and was harder so I burned through more food and water than I had planned. Similarly in business you always need to have contingency on hand in order to be successful. Contingency is important in all areas of your business. John C. Maxwell says that having margins (contingencies)in life and business give us options. Lack of contingency or margins results in missed opportunities and even business failure (for example, cash is king . . . your business will close quickly if you cannot pay the bills!)
- I usually meet other people on the trail as I am riding. On this trip I never saw anyone until I was close to the parking lot at the other end of the trail. Most of these people were planning to go for a short hike and were not interested in completing the whole loop. This was because most people knew that (due to the previous year’s flood) the trail was now extremely difficult and they were not interested in making the required sacrifice to complete it. Similarly in business, when the going gets tough, the number of people willing to make the sacrifice to complete the journey is typically quite small. Persistence and perseverance are critical. Sacrifice is a necessity. “To achieve great things, we must be willing to make great sacrifices.” ~ Erwin Raphael McManus
- I never saw the warning sign posted on the trail until I had finished my ride and was making my way back to my vehicle. Similarly, businesses often miss signs in the market and the economy and rely on strategies that are flawed. We must spend the time to review market and business conditions and to strategically plan our path rather than blindly moving ahead everyday without a clear idea of what we are up against. “If you don’t know the meaning of anything you’re doing, it can sometimes be difficult to plan the day.” ~ Tom Morris
- One of the biggest reasons that I was able to finish the unexpectedly challenging 28 mile mountain bike trip was focus and vision. I stayed focused on the task at hand – conquering each obstacle in front of me – by keeping the vision – finish the trail in time to get home by 4:00 – in mind. Similarly, businesses need to have solid vision, mission and values that their people can focus on and unite around. “Without a vision the people perish.” ~ Solomon
- I was in relatively good shape, my bike was recently tuned and I had been riding long enough to have “processes” in place to deal with many situations and trail conditions. Similarly, business must have solid people, tools and processes that are operating together seamlessly in order to be successful. “Any strategy, no matter how smart, is dead on arrival unless a company brings it to life with people – the right people.” ~ Jack Welch
There are probably many more parallels that I could draw but in summary, being a business leader is not for the faint of heart. As business leaders in these challenging times and ever changing environments we need to have strong vision, mission and values, be strategically agile, persevering, and willing to make sacrifices. We need to hire excellent people, build solid but flexible processes and implement efficient tools. We must pay attention to market conditions and ensure that we build margins into our business so that we have options when faced with difficulties or opportunities.
I know I have a lot of work to do to get all these things in order! Where do you need to focus your efforts over the next few months?