The Business Improvement Network

Changing expectations

By PJ Stevens

Roger Bannister

As individuals, when we get unstuck, break a barrier or make a difference it is felt not just in our world but in the world of (many) others. And as leader, this is amplified. 

An example of this would be Roger Bannister, and athletics leader and medical genius, who sadly died earlier this year. When he broke the four-minute mile record in 1954, with an historical time of 3 minutes 59.4 seconds, he changed more than a four minute mile time, he changed a mind set and elevated people’s thinking and beliefs. 

Notably his record was broken a few weeks later when two athletes in the same race went under 4-minutes, and a dozen athletes improved their personal performance and went under 4-minutes in the following months. 

When Leaders make a difference, when they are seen to try something new or set new standards, other people see this and benefit from it both directly and indirectly. When a Leader’s mind set changes, and they outwardly demonstrate this change, others pick up on it and react to it. Many will improve or change as a result, too, and a movement gets happened. 

What's the Business Improvement (or Change) equivalent of breaking the four-minute mile in your place of work? If you were tobreak that ‘record’, what impact would it have on the beliefs and behaviours of others in (and outside) the business? Collectively, what value would it have on the business? 

Small changes can make a huge difference. Roger Bannister ran his record time in only 0.6 seconds under the 4-minute mile. Yet it was a monumental change for athletics and a game changing moment that we are still talking about 60+ years later. Interestingly Dr Bannister later in life cited his medical achievements as of greater importance than his sporting equivalent, demonstrating the depth of the man and his true leadership. 

If you want to break that four-minute mile at work, even by a fraction of a second, what value will it give you and how will it impact on the lives and performance of others, or to coin a phrase from the lottery ‘who wins if you win’?

Small businesses often talk about the ‘£2 million step’ as being a big change (or glass ceiling) for them to break through, whereas large businesses might talk about mergers and acquisitions. Simply, this is just about change; identifying change, understanding change, reducing hurdles during change and delivering change and therefore value creation. 

Around this are a raft of more personal changes we can identify and make, being clear on what you need to do (and stop doing) and why, in order to effect change. Clarity in change is vital to succeed. A focused mind and clarity of purpose will elevate thinking and behaviours, as per Dr Bannister. 

I don’t know if Dr. David Bannister accomplished this feat all on his own, or whether he had coaches to help him, which is likely. However ‘you’ do not need to go through change alone as there are many services and professionals available to help you as Leader or Manager at work, including consultants, facilitators and coaches. 

Perhaps the biggest help you can get is from the depth of knowledge, creativity and innovation that exists, but lays dormant, in the business. If you as manager, leader or business owner can make a change, and therefore tap into that depth or resource, the difference to the business will be significant. We might refer to this as collective brilliance. Dr. Bannister ran his race alone, but business leaders don’t have to, leaders have a team, so engage it. 

When you think Business Improvement or ‘can I be bothered’, think about Dr Bannister and how his 0.6 seconds changed not only his life, but the expectations and lives of a great many others. 

Top 7 Learnings from Roger Bannister to help you Improve Business:

• Take business improvement – or change – seriously, no matter how small. 

• One small change can lead to a game changing result

• Skills are important but its attitude which will take you above and beyond

• Leaders get the culture they deserve so make sure you improve

• Get help, coaching is a proven way to improve change and performance

• Go for collective brilliance and harvest the knowledge in your business

• If you win, who else wins? 

About the author

PJ Stevens is an expert in organisational change, performance and improvement, with 20 years experience. He is chair of the business improvement network.

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