Don’t worry, it doesn’t matter whether you’re cyclists or not.
On Sunday 30 July, I joined thousands of other cyclists and three of my colleagues for the Ride London event, covering a 100-mile route from central London into the Surrey Hills and back again following the 2012 Olympic road cycling route.
Our aim was both to challenge ourselves and to raise money for local charity Eikon, which provides long-term support to some of Surrey’s most vulnerable young people.
I believe goal-setting is important in life as well as in business. I like to set myself a personal physical challenge each year, as I find that setting a specific goal helps me to focus on what I’m doing and there’s a lot of enjoyment in both achieving my goal and in raising money for a good cause.
It also keeps my rather battered ex-rugby player’s joints moving and helps keep my ever-expanding waistline in check! We’ve been supporting Eikon for around 18 months now, and everyone in the office has got involved in raising money, which has really helped with team building. It’s not all about sport – we’ve also had cake sales, which are very popular, and two of our staff confronted their fears and abseiled down Guildford Cathedral earlier this year to support them.
Last summer we sponsored our own cow, “Ermincloud”, as part of Surrey Hills Cow Parade, part of the world’s largest public art event. She raised a lot of money in a public auction and is now a feature in Godalming outside our offices.
Ride London came just after the end of the Tour de France, which I followed with great interest. For me it’s the psychology of cyclists that is particularly fascinating.
The cyclists have to keep themselves going more or less every day for 3,500km over three weeks. They prepare by putting themselves through a brutal training regime and display levels of dedication, stamina and endurance which the rest of us can only aspire to.
But whilst physical fitness, physiology and skill play a significant part in their success, you can’t underestimate the psychological factors of motivation, confidence and self-belief when completing the sporting world’s most arduous event.
Completing a single mountain stage of the Tour de France last year as part of the riders in L’Etape du Tour, again raising money for Eikon, gave me a small insight into just how gruelling the full event must be. You have to manage your personal energy and fight past fatigue and pain to reach the finish line.
The same psychological focus will be recognisable to any business owner. Maintaining momentum is crucial. And in both business and sport, having the right network, team and support helps us to sustain the psychological drive needed for success.
In my charity ride I was pleased with my personal time but I’m well aware that this was partly due to cycling as part of a group, which allowed me to expend less energy.
Riding in a peloton allows cyclists to benefit from drafting, and when done well they can save up to 27 per cent in wind resistance compared to those riding individually.
Marginal gains can make all the difference, as the British Cycling team famously demonstrated with their success at the 2012 Olympics. One tenth of a second improvement may be all it takes to win a race, so it’s all about using data analytics to identify where those gains can be made.
The situation in business is similar: using data analysis and working out how and where we can make small gains to drive incremental improvement.
At Fordway we’re currently implementing new systems to give us better visibility of key metrics, so that everyone can monitor progress and be accountable for their own performance.
Breaking down a problem into bite-sized pieces also makes it easier to solve. Setting a manageable but challenging goal, making small changes, reviewing performance and then improving again is the most effective way to move forward. Focusing your team in this way is well proven in both the sporting and business arenas.
I’m no Tour de France cyclist, but my annual personal challenge allows me to push myself beyond my comfort zone, and I was delighted when colleagues agreed to support me as part of a company team.
We all trained hard, but there are always things that are outside your control. One colleague is a dedicated cyclist but found to his dismay that his hip wasn’t going to oblige on the day and had to withdraw part way through the race.
These sorts of things happen and it can be devastating at the time, but until you challenge yourself you never know what you can achieve. The key is to learn what you can and can’t control, fix it wherever possible and, to quote Winston Churchill, “keep buggering on”.