The complexity of transforming roles and the resistance to wearing helmets at the Tour the France
Professional cycling and business have many things in common. In cycling, it does not matter if it is a one day or a three-week event; you need to be the fastest if you want to win. In business, it is pretty much the same; there is no place to hide if you are not strong enough.
Many organisations struggle to keep up because their roles are not changing fast enough. They were valid at the time and seemed to work correctly. Often, people doing those jobs were top performers. Unfortunately, these roles were a good fit for a different context and the performance if you do not update the role tends to be not so shiny in a short period. When roles do not change, they become irrelevant and are not valid any more.
I do not need to bring the analogy of preparation and execution in professional sports. We all know how athletes use technology now to prepare themselves mentally and physically or to support their planning and execution on the actual event. Radically different to what happened a few years ago.
We could be tempted to think riders are adaptable and always embrace new ways of doing things and new technologies with excitement. After all, the 180 or so riders of the Tour the France represent the elite of their sport.
As a manager or a company owner, you do not have the privilege of managing some of the top researchers, doctors, commercial people, accountants, or technicians in the planet. It would seem fair to think these top of the class athletes embrace change better than the people you employ at your company.
Watching some of the mountain stages of this year´s tour, I remembered the time when wearing helmets became compulsory in professional cycling and how traumatic it was. We are talking about this century, 2003 to be precise when the international cycling Federation (Union Cycliste International) finally announced their decision.
Many cyclists were totally against it at the time. Most of them opposed it when UCI first brought up the topic. UCI was under pressure to end a situation that had costed the lives of several cyclists who suffered accidents that could have had a different outcome had they been wearing helmets for protection.
In that context, in the early 2000s, it was something normal. Climbing up a mountain after 150 kilometres on a summer day at your maximum power is not easy. Anything to wear, or carry with you is too heavy and feels like a significant burden. Riders complained, resisted and threatened with action.
From our perspective today, it sounds unreal. How can you put your life at risk when there is an easy way to avoid it? How can you talk to your family and loved ones and say to them you are going on a race when you could be wearing a helmet, but you are choosing not to? Today, it sounds hard to believe. It is as outrageous as thinking about drink driving, smoking at work, or doctors recommending cigarettes to patients.
In a few years, it will be incredible for us to remember we have cars polluting the streets of our cities, making people sick, creating allergies and breathing problems when it is down to us to put an end to the situation. Context is dynamic.
If you work in HR, you probably have some memories of how hard it was (and in some cases it is) to convince employees to wear protection elements at work, even when it is their well-being that is primarily at risk.
When it comes to updating our roles, other topics are significantly harder. How can you expect a technician, or a salesperson, or someone in HR to start using data as part of their roles when this is something new to them? Why is it so hard to change, and what can we do about it?
First, we need to communicate and create a shared understanding of the changes in context. They will need to understand there is a change in the world of business that has unfortunately turned what they do into something irrelevant.
Second, we need to include stakeholders in the definition of the new role and, in this case, in assessing how to use data and what benefits it brings. It is a discovery and requires time and planning.
Third, the organisation needs to lead by example. Many workers resist wearing protection elements because they were given to them to comply with the law. They feel nobody cared about those risks before. They think nobody would do anything about it if it weren´t for the risk of hefty fines.
Elite cyclists or regular workers need to feel role transformation is about building the future together. We do not want people to embrace change; we want them to drive it.