By Leanne Spencer

Recently, someone asked me where wellbeing sits within a high-performance culture. My answer was that it’s an integral part of it; wellbeing and high performance are mutually inclusive.

However, high performance isn’t about prolonged and sustained periods of relentless effort. Whilst many of us can operate at these very high levels in the short term, for most people it isn’t sustainable in the medium to long term. High performance is understanding the rhythms of your business and helping your teams manage their energy accordingly.

Learning from athletes

If we consider a group of people who are very good at anticipating when they require their energy, it’s athletes. An athlete will sit down with their team and identify the events they want to perform at and understand what they need to do to prepare for those events. They will prioritise recovery after peaking, then repeat the process again, striving for success each time. Business can often feel like an endurance sport with occasional sprints – or maybe it feels more like an endurance sport with frequent sprints! What if you and your teams saw yourselves as corporate athletes, and managed your energy accordingly?

Predicting the crunch periods

When are the crunch periods for your team? Often these periods are much more predictable than we think; for example, quarterly sales results, a product launch or seasonality such as Black Friday if you’re a retail business. Could you work with your team to identify these busy periods, and then help them prepare?

Preparing for the crunch periods

We often undervalue the impact of small actions when done consistently over time. Encourage your teams to focus on one or two daily non-negotiables in the areas of strength, health, energy, mood or motivation. My daily non-negotiables are step count, sleep quantity and reading – these set me up well for periods where high performance is required but also keep me in a state of readiness for the unpredictable things that occur in all areas of life.

Prioritising mini-breaks or small opportunities for recovery

An important aspect of managing crunch periods is recovery, but this doesn’t need to involve big chunks of downtime. In March 2019, my partner Antonia and I took on the Arctic Circle Race, the world’s toughest ski race. It’s 160km cross-country in Greenland, taking place across 3 days while camping out on the snow. Prior to the race, you stay in a tiny village called Sisimiut, home to 5,500 people. Every year, the locals support the race by volunteering along the course and with other aspects of the race admin.

Day one of the race began with smiles and excitement, and shortly after 10 am, we were off. The start of the race is quite chaotic as so many skiers are vying for space on the tracks, and it wasn’t long before Antonia and I found ourselves at the back of the pack. About an hour in, it became clear that we had bitten off significantly more than we could chew; the weather wasn’t great, and the wind was blowing snow into the tracks, rendering them obscured.

What I thought I’d enjoy – the splendid mountains and the solitude – became menacing and imposing. I started to feel very anxious and concerned that we’d struggle to complete the distance. The elevation was crazy: on day one alone, the total elevation was the equivalent of climbing Snowdon 2.5 times. And when we got to the top, having climbed with our skis on our backs, we had to walk down the other side as it was too steep for us to ski down. I had meltdown after meltdown, shouting at Antonia, “This is beyond my ability!” – and there were even some tears.

Even though we’d been sponsored by companies and raised over £10,000, I told Antonia that if we reached the finish for the day, I was quitting. And I really meant it. As we FINALLY skied in towards the stage 1 finish line, the sun setting behind us, I saw someone who appeared to be looking right at me. As I got closer, I could see it was an Inuit woman wrapped in fur-lined clothing, holding her arms out open. I skied into her arms, and we hugged tightly for what felt like several minutes but was probably only 60 seconds. I didn’t want to let her go but thought I probably should. As I moved away from her, she pulled me in again for another long hug.

When she eventually let me go, Antonia persuaded me not to go to the event organiser’s tent, but instead to go to the mess tent and change. After that, she was able to persuade me to go to the food tent, and eventually to our two-man tent where we slept for the night. I’ll cut out the rest of the drama and let you know that we did eventually finish the race. We came dead on last!

We’ll never know for sure because I’m not doing it again to split-test it, but I think the only reason I was able to complete the race was because of the hug from the Inuit lady. Those 60 seconds of rest – of connection – enabled me to contemplate taking that next step. And that’s the importance of making time for slivers of recovery in your day, especially during crunch periods. Just 60 seconds of rest can make a huge difference.

Cadence is the key to high-performance

By working with your team to identify the crunch periods and encouraging them to prepare for these events, you’ll promote a high-performance culture where people can thrive. Happy, healthy and resilient people are essential to the health of your business and will deliver outstanding value to your clients.

About the author

Leanne Spencer is an award-winning global speaker on burnout prevention and wellbeing. She is also the author of Cadence: The Secret to Beating Burnout and Performing in Life and Work, out now.

Leanne Spencer is a corporate wellbeing and burnout prevention expert, an award-winning global keynote speaker, and a bestselling author. She has over 12 years’ experience in wellbeing and 13 qualifications in exercise and nutrition.

Leanne began her career in sales and spent over 15 years working in the City of London before leaving in 2012 to set up a wellbeing company, after suffering from burnout. Leanne is the bestselling author of three books, including her latest book, Cadence, and is a Bear Grylls Survival Instructor. Leanne’s keynotes focus on how to beat burnout and have more fun using her unique Cadence Approach and benefit from the new frontier of wellbeing – belonging, social relationships and human connection.

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