Survival Guide

Perspectives from the field

Mike Hughes

Mike Hughes, U.S. Naval Academy women's varsity rowing

Mike Hughes knows the power of motivation and setting goals. At the U.S. Naval Academy, where Hughes is the women's varsity rowing coach, he coordinates performance enhancement for all varsity sports teams. He also has managed national rowing teams and the 1988 Olympic rowing team. The techniques he uses to help athletes improve their performance can be applied to business, and Hughes has helped employees at companies, such as Electronic Data Systems Corp., set and ? most important ? achieve career and business goals.

One of Hughes' specialties is mental training: training the mind to work with the body to increase performance in all areas. Managing Editor Evamarie Socha spoke with Hughes about how his approach can help businesses and their employees.

WT: What are the keys to helping employees set and reach their goals?

Hughes: They have to set them with guidance, and they have to own those goals. When I have my team set a goal, I ask them what they want to achieve. Once they tell me what they want to achieve, then I tell them what we have to do to achieve it.

Then I say, "do you agree?" If they agree, what they've agreed to do is what I said is necessary. So now if they don't do it, I come back to them and say, "Look, here is the deal: You said you want to achieve this. You agreed we needed to do X and Y to get there. You are not doing X or Y, so either we've got to redo this goal, or we've got to get on track and do these things."

If I'm in a business and we want to achieve a certain amount of sales, and we've decided this is how much activity we have to have to produce these sales. Then you are producing the activity to create the sales rather than the boss making me do it because he said we've got to make 100 phone calls to make 10 appointments. The people are doing it because they have ownership.

And this isn't like total quality management. The total quality stuff was forced on people. It's not their goal. As a manager, you have to keep them focused on whether they're doing the things they committed to do.

WT: Why isn't hard work enough?

Hughes: Actually, sometimes people work too hard and go nowhere. A lot of research will say they don't really define where they're going. People who have clearly defined, written goals are more likely to achieve their goals sooner and at a higher level.

WT: Rowing can be physically painful. How do you get people to work through pain?

Hughes: It all has to do with focusing on goals. Everyday we had to look at the goal. ? So if you're in pain, if the goal is the most important thing, the pain becomes secondary to the goal. If the focus is on the pain, that becomes bigger than the goal, so you give in to the pain.

The same is true in business: If your focus is the goal, then you'll create the "how to get there." And if you are really focused on that goal, then you'll be uncomfortable until you get there.

WT: Who should set the goals, managers or their employees?

Hughes: Some people will say, "Well, you don't let the employees set the goals." But you know in a sense, you do. You say, "We're looking to be this company here. We're looking for more sales, and more sales means more money for you guys, so what do you think we could achieve based on our staffing here? What do you think we could do?"

If their input is one-half what management thinks they can do, then there is a problem. There is a disparity between what management thinks they can conceivably do and what the employees think, [and so] they have to do some hard talking. Maybe management is just dreaming.

WT: What do you do when your employees fail to reach their goals?

Hughes: When a team doesn't reach a goal, I always believe it's a management problem. Because if it was managed properly, they wouldn't be shooting for goals they didn't own, they wouldn't be shooting for goals they couldn't achieve, and they would be managed properly to make sure that it happened.

Now, I don't mean that if you said you were going to win the world championships and you came in third, then you're a loser. What I'm saying is if you wanted sales of $100 million and you're getting $10 million, well, there is something wrong here, because we're not even close to what we want to achieve. So you have to evaluate the goal and see if that goal was truly theirs.

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