Ex-England 7’s captain, Rob Vickerman, is using his experience in elite sports, allied to a solid academic background, to improve the way individual executives and businesses approach their work. Below, Rob explains how his company came about and what they aim to do.
During 10 years of professional rugby, I was always fascinated by team dynamics, how different things made different people tick and how sometimes just a couple of well-chosen words at the right time could make a huge difference by changing how people thought.
I enjoyed captaincy and I enjoyed public speaking, so in my mid-20’s, when I didn’t have a real focus outside of rugby, I decided to pursue qualifications in that field. I did a degree in Leadership and Management at Newcastle Business School, which was great fun to do while still playing rugby and witnessing the theories in action each day. I followed that with a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology at University of East London.
I knew rugby would give me a good springboard to work in team environments, though I was aware anything I applied to business would have to be 100% relevant to the people and their particular circumstances.
The practices in top-level sport are often placed on pedestals by business folk, but, depending on the criteria, that can be a rather romantic view. For instance, you cannot always assume your staff will have the level of motivation that is seen in professional sport, so many of sport’s leadership and performance models may not translate well to a group of people just trying to earn a living.
Sports teams can also enjoy the luxury of dropping those not performing at their optimum levels, whereas businesses looking to avoid lawsuits need, more often than not, to make the best of what they have.
Sport is, we hope, a true meritocracy where innovation reap rewards and, as such, it has long been the birthplace of universally applicable strategies. An outstanding example of this is the modern ‘1%’ or ‘marginal gains’ school of thought made famous by Team Sky and Formula 1.
The idea is that small adjustments can add up to significant improvements, possibly making the difference between success and failure.
Workathlete grew from my initial experiences of office life, when I was taken aback by the way many people worked. In no way did I expect people to be cosseted like professional athletes, but simple things like not taking lunch breaks and running on nothing but sugar and caffeine were so obviously detrimental to concentration, performance and health that I was surprised they were allowed.
In addition to such accepted poor practices, many of the available support options were far from ideal. Gym memberships and physical team-building days can be beneficial, but they can also highlight shortcomings to those not inclined to use them or simply too busy. Better advice on structure during work time is far more likely to bring immediate improvements.
Professional sports clubs have directors and CEO’s, but they have very little to do with the players. Our days were managed by coaches, trainers and nutritionists, whose equivalent in business would really be the HR department. In business, the day-to-day is not governed by HR, but by a chain of command, dictating what should happen without always being concerned with how it should happen. There is a disparity there that can be tweaked to offer a happier and more productive workforce.
In all successful sportspeople, whether they compete in team or individual events, you will find common skills and characteristics that will help people reach their potential in any environment. The good news for businesses is that almost all such traits and techniques, from the ability to truly focus, cope with pressure or simply set and work towards firm goals, can be taught.
Probably the key thing for us and anyone in management is maintaining a holistic approach to providing people with what they need to thrive, as it can change from business to business, department to department and person to person. This is now done through blended learning, both online and in person, to ensure the best approach for everyone.
For that reason, we work on many levels, from making subtle changes to improve the work environment and employee engagement across whole companies, to one-to-one sessions with executives, working on anything from self-awareness to nutrition, to supplying them with key vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids (EFA’s).
Having spent so long in engaging team environments, I probably wouldn’t cope well working alone at a desk, even if the job was as fascinating as I find what we do at workathlete. The fact I now spend a huge amount of time with people in so many different roles has given me a long-term focus that has really helped me to make the often difficult transition from professional sport.
I’d love to hear from any fellow RBN members who might be interested in what we do. If that’s you, simply get in touch via this link.