09 Mar 2015

Cross-Training – does IT Workout?

Having played and coached American Football; gym trained lightly pretty much all my life and completed three Helsinki City marathons (my first one, my only one and my last one), cross-training my strength workouts with some stretch and flexibility from yoga is quite a new addition to my weekly routine. LOL – today, I can actually touch my shoe laces and my “Triangle” is getting proud and strong. But, the nice surprise is that I feel generally fitter and stronger. Mixing up the exercise disciplines means my personal repertoire now has strength, endurance, flexibility and balance.

In the workplace, I think there is also a place for sincere cross – training in people and organisational development. Modern job roles, e.g. sales, require mental strength and flexibility, and those long sales cycles require balancing acts and stamina. Selling and closing a sale is a tough game to play and win, consistently.

The winning organizations are the ones that invest in their people and equip them – to not only survive over one quarter with the expected minimum skills, but in order to face the randomly changing competitive landscape of the future. Indeed, we should teach our people to be “open” to learning about almost any other stuff they know less about. and sometimes about “letting go” of what comes easily because it is a core competence. I think that when it comes to competition (sport or sales), you don’t always know which characteristics are required for overcoming the next obstacles. You might win one game, but you cannot repeat winning is sales by being only strong.

When cross-training athletes, every one of them requires a slightly different emphasis. The same goes for business cross- training  – sending our team to that “standard sales training” may meet (barely) a short term purpose, but in order to repeatedly win, we must create competence based and bespoke cross-training plans that enforce behavioural change which is supported by management. As a Coach, this is my “ABC – approach” with my most earning customers: The desired outcome is achieved by A) creating the Awareness, B) by enforcing a change in the Behaviour and by not forgetting C) management Commitment and Control.

My own specialty (where I have earned my client feedback and trust) is the development of IT and related technology sales. Even here, the core principles of cross-training apply to an individual training event. The learning stimulus comes from breaking the standard habits, by intentionally leading the athletes outside of their comfort zone; carefully and slightly differently every time. This requires an experienced Coach who is not bound to his scripts and presentations, but can adjust his Personal Trainer style, and even tangentially change the topic ad hoc, in order to maximize the benefits of an individual training session.

Woman yoga

Everything in IT and technology is connected “technically”, “functionally” and “business minded”. (I can draw some pictures on the white board next time we meet, and sure will share many on these blogs). Therefore, the “geek” must be exposed to the business of IT, and equally a “sales rep” has to be challenged by some bits and bytes. There will always be a “talking” point and business lead if you can seize it and change direction in that precise moment.

The Coach must be a cross-trainer, supporting these athletes to be fitter overall. When you are cross-trained, you can open wider doors for improved cross-selling. Your flexibility gets you through the obstacles (e.g. the difficult customer conversations, spotting the opportunity); your strength allows you to jump higher (maybe go for the bigger, more profitable deal); your stamina supports you in pushing further and the balance of your mind and body makes you also more resistant – even against a loss.

Organisations need to cross–train their workforce in not only about its services and products but also in being open for any kind of further learning. I often get feedback that people like it when I go off topic because, they want to learn something new; hear more, discuss and understand the context and “other stuff”; or to dive into details of specifics rather than the superficial brush over because they “have to know only that today”.

As a Trainer, being flexible enough to seize these opportunities and go off topic is both powerful and empowering. At times, it is both a “test” (because I simply didn’t prepare for it) and a brilliant example of  “thinking on my feet” and making it work. I say a sincere thank you for these moments during workshops. A Coach cannot support cross-training without pushing himself harder and further. By letting me deviate from the training agenda on the day, I introduce a little bit of cross-training to the routine. Feedback received and results shown to me tell me that cross-training works. And that makes me happy.

About Antti Hemminki

Antti Hemminki is an international business coach and IT & sales trainer who has over 20 years of IT market experience. A long term entrepreneur, with a strong technology and consultancy background. Sports enthusiast.

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