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Lessons from Leaders Meet: Human Performance

The key takeaways from the inaugural Leaders Meet: Human Performance summit at Williams HQ.

It was a jam-packed day at the state-of-the-art Williams F1 HQ in Oxfordshire, as we kicked off 2018’s first summit on UK soil with a highly interactive, case study-led summit focused on three of the most pressing challenges in the field of human performance.


By Luke Whitworth

Each session was swiftly followed by a breakout roundtable to encourage a more dynamic and applied discussion following the learnings from the onstage speakers.

These challenges were as followed:

–      Psychological Safety

–      Data-Driven Decision-Making

–      Creating a Holistic Approach to Performance

As ever, all the session videos will be made available on the members’ platform on the Leaders Performance Institute website as early as next week, and there’s a podcast with Alex Hill, the Co-Founder of the Centre for High Performance at Oxford University, still to come.

Without further ado, here, in brief, are the standout bits from the sessions of the Leaders Meet: Human Performance 2018.

Fancy joining us for our next summit in Chicago this July? Click here to find out more about the event, or here to get in touch.


  1. Case Study One: Psychological Safety – Developing the Athlete & the Person

Speakers:

Danny Kerry, Women’s Head Coach, GB Hockey

David Jones, Psychology & Personal Development, Saracens RFC

The first session of the day provided everyone with a lens of what two of the most successful sporting environments look like from within their four walls. We touched on areas such as; what actually is ‘psychological safety’, how it differs between men and women, and is it possible to make things too safe – with GB Women’s Hockey Head Coach Danny Kerry and Saracens’ Psychology & Personal Development lead David Jones.

Key Takeaways

  • Danny emphasised the importance evolving your environment and how this can have both a positive and negative impact on psychological safety. ‘It’s crucial to constantly assess how you interact with the environment. Within a sporting organisation it can be so multi-layered, I believe this is key to performance right now. People are having to wrestle with certain situations, so there is some need for attention at times’.
  • When asked to paint a picture of the psychological culture within Saracens, David believes it’s imperative to foster a culture of questioning and ensure you are being representative.
  • The discussion also led us down the path of how psychological safety should be approached with the younger generation of athletes. David suggested that you have to be open and explain to young talent what the different spaces in the organisation are doing. The main detriment is that people will avoid situations in order to guard their identity.
  • Something that rang true was that the idea of creating a psychologically safe environment is a journey and will take time. Danny said that working with female athletes especially, it’s important to look at the wider societal environment, which is something that translates to their own environment. A simple idea is to talk about a subject, then break into smaller groups to create that safety, which is something that is much easier than speaking in front of 70+. Once this is established you can always expand into bigger groups.
  • Moderator Vin Walsh, who expertly knitted this discussion together, posed the question as to whether it was possible to create too much safety. David’s words were that in the initial instance, it needs to be coached in and that language in this process is crucial. It’s important to remember that the word ‘safety’ can imply comfort and you don’t want it to become too comfortable.


  1. Case Study Two: Data-Driven World – 21st Century Approach to Human Performance

Speaker:

Jakob Andreasen, Chief Performance & Operations Engineer, Williams Martini Racing

Following the first break of the day, we were given a masterclass in what a data-driven (pardon the pun) culture is like in a Formula One team with Chief Performance & Operations Engineer and data guru Jakob Andreasen. It was mind blowing to learn how much data is collated across a single Grand Prix and how the decision-making process works with teams of up to 20 people in Australia, the United States and the HQ in the UK, feeding information back to the pit wall. To give you a little snippet, 17.5 billion data points are collated during a Grand Prix. Blimey.

Key Takeaways

  • To start off we thought we’d share some of those mind blowing numbers Jakob shared:

– 17.5 billion data points generated at each Grand Prix

– 300+ sensors on 2018 car

– 0.300 seconds to transfer data between Aus and UK on race day

– 0.170 seconds to transfer data between US and UK on race day

  • With Formula One being a technologically-rich sport, Jakob explained how Williams have the luxury of pre-empting data decision-making before the race. There is three step strategy they use in this practice: 1. Collation. 2. Process. 3. Strategic Decision
  • In the collation phase, Jakob elaborated on how this is a crucial aspect in competitive advantage. It allows to put together an ever evolving strategy and build a bigger picture of what the opposition do. The team then run millions of virtual races overnight and base their race strategy on the most successful outcomes.
  • It’s well and good having all of this data and technology, but as with many other sports, it’s the human that will make the decision. In the words of Jakob, we still have to take data out of squiggly lines into a decision-making process.
  • The feedback and analysis process was a key pillar in the Williams data-driven culture. Jakob stated that he can’t emphasise enough the importance of presentation. 50% is content and 50% is presentation. The data needs to be understandable, readable and has to be interpreted unambiguously.
  • It was interesting to learn how Williams use their drivers as a sensor source as well. Within the sport, there is an acceptance of data in the driver culture which can be a format of driver coaching. Lessons for others sports?


  1. Case Study Three: Data Driven Decision Making – 21st Century Approach to Performance

Speaker:

Saleem Abdulrauf, Professor of Neurosurgery, St. Louis University

To offer a non-sporting perspective of how data has positively impacted performance, Leaders Sport Performance speaker alum Saleem Abdularaf, who just happened to be in Europe to deliver a couple of lectures, jumped on the rattler down to Oxfordshire and provided us with an insightful (somewhat graphic!) presentation into how combing data and outcome has changed processes in the field of neurosurgery. Saleem, as always, was dynamic in his delivery, but also candid to the idea that medicine is inferior to sport in many ways and there are still a host of lessons to be learnt.

Key Takeaways

  • From the outset, we perhaps perceive the medical field as being forward-thinking and innovative in their approach. It was interesting when Saleem elaborated on the idea that medicine and in particular neurosurgery, has had the same culture for over 100 years. This culture always evolves around training.
  • The culture evolves around three pillars: seen one, do one, teach one.
  • Saleem is someone that has challenged the status quo in neurosurgical training. He believes medicine is too traditionalist and lacks dynamism, hence the number of lessons that can be yielded from sport.
  • With this in mind, he’s driven a change of approach. In the past, to be a certified neurosurgeon you needed to be an expert in every field of neurosurgery. The reality is that no one was an expert in every role.
  • Saleem specialises in aneurysm surgery, and from his research and approach to data-driven outcomes, he and his team have changed their process to this form of surgery. They now use ‘awake brain surgery’ which has allowed them to make adjustments mid-surgery to lower risk.
  • One of the top takeaways from Saleem was to always think outside the box, whatever profession you are in and find the right process to combine data and previous outcomes to evolve your own approach.


  1. Case Study Four: A Unified Goal – Creating a Holistic Approach to Performance

Speakers:

Gemma Fisher, Head of Health & Human Performance, Williams Martini Racing Owen Eastwood, Director & Chief, HOKO

Following a spot of lunch, we kicked off the final onstage session of the day with Williams’ Head of Health & Human Performance Gemma Fisher, another Leaders Sport Performance speaker alum and culture guru Owen Eastwood who has and continues to work with some of sport’s biggest names including the England National Team, the New Zealand All Blacks and South Africa cricket. One word we continue to come across in our multitude of conversations is ‘holistic’. It seems that getting everyone to sing off the same hymn sheet, speak the same language and collaborate to drive sustained success is a real challenge, so we thought we’d delve into this with two experts.

Key Takeaways

  • Gemma’s role within Formula One is unique. Williams were one of the first teams to focus on the human performance of the entire team rather than just the drivers. Gemma said that the holistic view to performance in what Williams do evolves around strategy, the drivers and the pit crew. They knew all there was to know about the car and the drivers, but not much, if nothing at all about the 22 guys performing the pit stop. They’re even widening the net to look at performance in the corporate arms of team as well.
  • This approach has obviously worked. Williams have the world record pit stop at 1.92 seconds. If you haven’t seen it click here. I don’t know what just happened either…
  • When the team first started to the focus on this aspect of performance, pit stops were five seconds. Under Gemma’s stewardship, they have used the testing parameters used on the drivers with the pit crew by utilising biometric monitoring and using this as a way of understanding the perfect pit stop.
  • This holistic approach has been a process. Gemma’s words were ‘we’ve looked to compartmentalise which has allowed us to critically analyse each departments. With regards to the pit crew, we now look at it far more holistically. Mentally, physiologically, nutritionally, it’s been a huge culture shift. Buy-in has been crucial in this process and being able to empower and educate the guys that this will yield better performance. Education is so important so it is not a passive situation and that they are actively involved in it’.
  • To offer a different perspective, Owen provided some fascinating insights from his time working with the All Blacks and the Proteas, as well as a great anecdote from his son’s rugby team back in New Zealand.
  • Owen stated that 70% of our behaviours are determined by the environment we are in. We are all searching for consist high performance but a big question is ‘is it promoting what I’m working / looking to achieve?’
  • When you think of an environment the leader needs to own it, design it and attend it.
  • Create a purpose. A purpose then creates a vision of what it looks like. This then gives you an identity. You are then in the process of handing over ownership to the players.
  • Owen explained how the All Blacks approach the interview of a new recruit. Five minutes of the interview are used to explain this is who we are, this is how we do things, and this is what you can be the guardian of. There can be change, but this is the fundamental way that we operate.


 

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