What Michael Phelps can teach us about business improvement

During the 2016 Olympic men’s 200m butterfly final, a great rivalry was talked up between Michael Phelps and Chad Le Clos. Le Clos had shocked the swimming community four years ago by beating Phelps in the same race at the London Olympics and now at Rio the world waited in anticipation to see if he could do it again. How much of this rivalry was just media hype is unclear, however what was clear was that during the Rio rematch both athletes had two different goals, Le Clos wanted to beat Phelps whereas Phelps wanted to win. This difference in mindset was a major factor in why Phelps eventually won back the gold and Le Clos didn’t finish on the podium. 

When we look at business we can apply this same mentality, you should be looking to what’s in front of you instead of what’s around you. It can often be lost on companies why they are embarking on a particular project. Too often they can be looking at what the competition is doing, what the trends are in the market or just what they think is right without actually having a focus on how a project will impact their overall business. The goal of every digital project should be to do one thing only, improve your business.

Take for example a situation where you set out to improve your customer experience. What are the fundamentals you are trying to put in place? You can pay for a new website or a digital product that looks well designed, is easy to navigate and includes new features and applications but you are unlikely to see a return on this investment without the business logic to why these items are needed. 

When you want to improve customer experience you need to focus on what it means for your business -  increasing revenue through customer acquisition and referral as well as protecting market share through customer retention. This is what customer experience really is from a business's perspective. They are measurable and defined goals you can work towards and as a result of achieving them you come away with an improved experience for your customers as well as the improvement of your business.

This same reasoning is applied when you set out to improve staff productivity. The focus should be on projects that reduce expenditure by saving or redistributing full time employee hours and enable better scalability for the future. Just like for customer experience, these are the types of goals that directly improve your business as well as result in an overall increase in staff productivity once they are achieved.  

And it is not just your own business who should have this mindset but also any company you outsource a digital project too. A lot of development companies get hung up on just building a great looking product rather than building something that will actually improve the business of their client. This difference is vital and can potentially cost you a lot of money when you come away with a well built product that isn’t suitable for your business and doesn’t produce results. What you want to see from a development company is an initial focus on what your business goals are and then a plan on how a digital product can achieve them. 

Anytime you undertake a new digital project the mentality you should have is that you are not just spending money,  what you are really doing is investing in increasing your revenue or reducing your expenditure. In other words, you are investing in the improvement of your business. And by digitising these improvements,  a further benefit is that they become easily measurable. They produce insights and data that can be used to leverage business changing results and help you reach your goals more quickly. 

More blog posts by Phil Vinall

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