I am an admitted CrossFit junkie. I love that it encompasses so many aspects of health, performance, and fitness. So, it’s only natural that I see parallels between the world of working out and the world of taking care of the people-side of business, which is my job. Both can be challenging and there are reasons why people have aversions to either. We can’t deny, though, that there are benefits on both sides.
Remaining positive, I thought I’d take a moment to document these benefits. One set of benefits relate to the human body while the other set pertain to an organizational body.
1. Core Strength. In general, working out, for me, calls up images of bodybuilders or Olympic athletes. It’s true, I will never be mistaken for one of those, but my workouts have certainly increased my strength—especially in my core. Having core strength extends strength to every other part of my body. I can lift more because I have a strong core my feet, legs, hands, and arms can rely on. Organizations are much the same. If the people systems that exist within an organization are strong and firm, it allows the other systems (sales, fund raising, customer service, production, hiring, performance mangement, or any system) to function better and do more. Core strength is one of the first things an organization or a person should work on.
2. Stamina. So, my workouts build stamina. I don’t always look for power with every exercise. Instead, exercises are sometimes done with a slow tempo. It’s definitely tougher because it uses the tiny, deep muscle groups that aren’t always used in addition to the big muscle groups. This builds muscle stamina. I also do a lot of cardio. This strengthens my vascular system as well as my respiratory system, which deliver and process the fuel for my muscles. In business, Leaders that pay attention to the people-systems and make appropriate adjustments strengthen the internal systems. When I worked at the Southwest Airlines University for People, we had a common philosophy, that what was produced internally always found its way out. So, if the organizational Leaders allowed for production of frustration, anger, or resentment, these things would find their way out to the customer in some way. By strengthening the internal people-systems, the organization was better prepared to handle challenges, large and small, from the outside world.
3. Balance. A combination of stronger muscles, total core strength, and practice produces better balance. When all required muscles fire as designed, the body finds itself balanced even if the world around it isn’t balanced or level. A balanced body has a reduced chance of injury. The same applies to the people-side of business. People that clearly understand their roles and the roles around them, as well as how each role contributes to big picture success, often feel as though they are a part of something important and special. This, in turn, affects commitment, loyalty, and productivity.
4. Agility. I can measure the growth in my agility when I fatigue my body with exercises like running, squats, pull ups, and box jumps then still manage to complete handstand holds or handstand push ups. I couldn’t have done this combination of things two years ago. In business, conditioning is a wonderful thing as well. To build organizational agility, Leaders push those that follow them to go as far as they can with all the tools they possess, then take one step beyond. The performance management system isn’t looked upon as a joke, but as a way to be better tomorrow than today. Agility and nimbleness is the result of putting real time and effort into development of the workforce. The thing about agility is that most organizations wish they’d started working on it before it’s needed.
5. “The Rush.” I used to hate working out. Now, I realize what I’m doing for my health, my mind, and self-esteem. “The Rush” occurs for me when I’m totally fatigued, but still have to find a way to dig deep to come up with more. It’s still uncomfortable, but I love it. Organizationally, Leadership applied over time creates this same phenomenon. When it’s time for organizations to dig deep to find more, only the previous application of great Leadership accounts for people collectively going the extra mile with passion and determination.
6. Self Esteem. OK. Yes, I have looked in the mirror once or twice to see how I’m developing. But, more than that, having the successes I have working out simply makes me feel good about myself. Exercise produces endorphins—a hormone the body associates with pleasure. It’s easy to apply all of this to other aspects of my life. The same goes for the people-side of business. With good, professional training where people are challenged and find that they can succeed, this translates to the work they do. Good Leaders find a way to celebrate successes and recognize those who behave in ways the Leader wants to see repeated. Also, when people are working for one another, not wanting to let each other down, there is a different level of pride about the place they work. This affects attitude, productivity, and culture.
7. Flexibility. I used to be flexible as a kid. As an adult, who sits behind a desk, sits in airplanes, or stands for hours at a time in a presentation, I would have whole muscles systems completely bind up on me, and, often I didn’t realize it until I needed to use those muscles. My exercise works out these kinks, and brings oxygen into my muscles. By developing people and tending to the people systems in organizations, internal problems are handled much more efficient, turf wars are mitigated, and efficiency is returned to the organizations. One of the problems is that organizations get conditioned to internal problems and the inefficiencies they can cause to the point of not realizing these problems exist. Continual tending to the people-side of business creates awareness of these unfortunate kinks.
8. Weight. With the exercise that I do, I look at my food for health purposes, not for weight purposes. Exercise burns calories and fat. Organizations are like human bodies. In good times they take on additional people, processes, and internal inefficiencies. In bad times, they “diet” in an effort to jettison people (save money) and reorganize processes to deal with efficiency. With steady organizational development, the need for radical change is mitigated due to steady small adjustments along the way.
9. Brain Power. Exercise produces serotonin in the brain increasing mental clarity and productivity. Leaders holding their people (and themselves) accountable for development and growth discover that there is a phenomenon called organizational learning. A smarter, balanced, more agile organization certainly stands a better chance to achieve its goals than one that isn’t tending to those things.
10. Energy. I might be tired right after I work out, but the more I work out the better my recovery ability is. After I recover from a workout, I absolutely have more energy on an ongoing basis than I did when I didn’t workout. People in organizations that have better ability to do their jobs, and are placed into the right roles, tend to have more energy, passion, commitment, focus, and determination on a daily basis.
11. Slowing the Aging Process. There is considerable evidence that we have more control over the aging process than was previously thought. People who don’t exercise much experience a sort of atrophy that manifests itself in perception of effort for a given task. Without exercise, people enter into a loop of perception that they are giving maximum effort for what would previously have been a sub-maximum task. This isn’t just about lifting stuff it’s about mental and emotional aspects of life too. Several studies have discussed the finer physical conditioning of people who live into their 80’s, 90’s, and beyond. Think about this for an organization. Organizations follow a life cycle just like people. Imagine being able to slow the progress through that life cycle and the possibilities that opens up for an organization.
12. Maintenance. This is simply said. Once a person experiences good health, performance, and fitness, they do not want to experience anything less. I’ve seen this play out with organizational culture. A healthy, productive culture at work is protected down to the “lowest” levels of any organization.
Good exercise for organizations is all about tending to the people-side of business. This fuels, supports, and raises the ceiling of what an organization can do with their operations, their sales, or whatever the critical bottom line elements of the organization may be. Let’s all get fit!