Well-being is the cornerstone of a high-performance culture in sport & business


 — October 15th, 2020

Well-being is the cornerstone of a high-performance culture in sport & business

Bernard Brogan is an Irish sportsman and businessman who achieved acclaim and great success as a footballer with his native Dublin, winning an unprecedented 7 All-Ireland finals, the Gaelic Football equivalent of the NFL Super Bowl. He is co-founder of PepTalk, a workplace well-being and high-performance culture company.

Main image by Brendan Duffy Photography.

To be successful at anything depends on plans, preparations, routines, and the relationships and quality of communication with the people in your life, both personal and professional.

With the benefit of hindsight, I can say that I took this approach to more than football – qualifying as an accountant, rehabbing injuries, developing a professional network, and taking the entrepreneurial road in business.

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We are people first

During my playing career, I realized there is no difference between a footballer and any other professional. At the end of the day, we are all people first. You cannot separate ‘Bernard Brogan the footballer’ from ‘Bernard Brogan the businessman’ from ‘Bernard Brogan the husband and father’ because they all overlap. They are all me at the same time.

Success and failure in any aspect of your life will affect the whole person. We can try and push the injury, the argument, the financial concerns, the health worries to the back of our mind and plow on regardless.

These things absorb mental energy and will eventually bubble back up to the top if we don’t deal with them. And this is when our performance is affected.

I have always been fascinated by the idea of personal performance, and more recently in how it relates to the workplace. This was the basis for setting up the company PepTalk in 2017.

I became passionate about creating a program that would create a culture of high-performance for the workplace.

A great starting point for the organization is being clear on how direction, dialogue, and objectives are communicated to employees so that everybody knows where they're going, why the company is doing what it's doing, and what they've got to do to achieve their personal and company goals.

But a high-performance culture must serve the people as well as the organization.

Better people make better All Blacks

The central piece in a high-performance culture for any organization is well-being. Well-being in the workplace should address the whole person, not just the ‘9 to 5’ professional.

As I mentioned above, it’s hard to get to or maintain a level of high-performance in any arena if you have a distraction coming in from another part of your life.

There is a fantastic book by James Kerr, called “Legacy: What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life”, which breaks down why this stuff is so important.

If you ask anyone ‘who is the best international rugby team?’, they’ll usually say the New Zealand All Blacks.

This is mostly true. They have the best players, an unbeaten ‘most wins/ record, but for 20 years they failed to capture the top prize of the Rugby World Cup, and this hurt them.

Their team culture had deteriorated so much that some high profile players considered giving up playing for their country. The NZRFU knew they didn’t have a rugby problem. They had a people problem.

They undertook an extensive program to rebuild their team culture and focused on getting their people right. The most important quote from the book comes from the All Blacks legend, Brian Lochore.

He summed up the whole purpose of the project perfectly by saying “better people make better All Blacks”.

Organizational + Employee Well-being

I know some businesses feel they are addressing well-being because they have a happy hour on Fridays or take the team to archery for an offsite and have beanbags in some of the meeting rooms.

All noble gestures, but these are not well-being solutions and are merely papering over the cracks.

For well-being to be truly effective you need to address it at the organizational level as well as at the employee level. You need to provide a well-being program, not well-being services.

Organizational well being should be fearless in the approach it takes towards its employees. It should cater to the whole person that walks through the door each day.

It’s not enough for companies to focus on employees’ job performance and career path.

We know there is more going on with people at work than the things their annual performance review is based on.

There will be some organizational well-being as a by-product of personal wellbeing but to be truly effective, there needs to be executive participation, not just endorsement.

Adam Smith was wrong

Expecting an employee to generate high performance from their job spec is limiting. The majority of annual performance reviews are based on Adam Smith’s idea that to get the best out of people you have to divide labor into menial tasks and pay them by the volume of completed tasks.

We now know this to be wrong on so many levels, but it persists today in many organizations.

Sure, it’s a factor, but people are motivated by more than money. People react better to intrinsic motivators such as connection, meaning, purpose, autonomy… so, let them have it!

There has been lots of research and studies which prove that psychological safety and the relationships employees have with each other will have a positive impact on their performance in the workplace.

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Similar to Brian Lochore, at PepTalk we believe that

  • Better managers lead to
  • Better teams that build
  • Better companies that result in
  • Better performance
One final thing…

If there was one bit of advice I could offer companies looking to develop a well-being program for their workplace – don’t treat your people like chairs.

You can push chairs all around the office or canteen but people will push back and unlike a chair, they may leave.

Don’t try and push people on the idea of workplace wellness with a social event or compulsory ‘lunch and learn’ about mindfulness. T

he best way to effect change is to let the people instigate the change. The organization can provide the catalyst but the people will ultimately decide how to make the change or not. And they are more likely to engage if they are part of the process.

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