Time and Traction

Originally Published at The Star Malaysia – Leaderonomics 03.26.14

“Traction” is a recent buzzword that I thought I left behind in my days of working with start-ups and business planning. In my case, it was often used within the context of funding where infusion is sometimes done in tranches. Where a sum of money is allotted for the capitalization of a business, a business plan would first have to prove “traction” within a critical period of time to ensure that the business was actually making any progress and therefore has some semblance of sustainability. In some cases the term is also used when a business has passed the start-up phase and has entered the growth phase, evidences of progress are referred to as traction. Metrics or indicators that prove business progress such as revenue growth, market share, brand awareness and efficiencies could all be considered summarily as traction. There is no prescribed way of defining it. Traction could be used under broad contexts under different applications.

The easiest way to define traction is to bring the term back into its simplest forms. When you ride a bicycle just as I do, “traction” is the measurable force that directs power to the ground and in turn propels me towards a forward momentum within a given direction. Without traction or grip, the bike cannot go in a direction, will lose its momentum and will fail to reach its destination. The same could be said in the business of life. Output will always be the ultimate measure of effectiveness, and effectiveness is defined by your capacity to reach your goals. Simply put, going back to the analogy of the bike, “traction” indicates whether or not you are actually getting anywhere in life and business.

To understand the importance of traction, it is best to retrace the steps using the framework that is broadly described within the orders of: Input – Process – Output. At the end of this equation is a singular “Output or Outcome” which is a summary of a desired result. Taking it another step back within the realm of “Process” are subsets of objectives that are results of activities that need to be accomplished. Within this area of process and objectives are measurements of progress that are referred to as “traction”. Taking a further back in step is the realm of “Inputs” where resources are used to start the process. Here is a real life example to make things easier.

I am currently coaching a business led by a driven CEO named David who had his goal set on finishing an Iron Man (Triathlon Event) in Melbourne last March 23, 2014. While a goal of finishing a strong Ironman event may sound overly simplistic, seeing through a framework of Input-Process-Output puts the matter under a deeper perspective. The key here is having an end in mind but also the knowledge of breaking down your goal into smaller objectives, activities, smaller tasks, and material inputs. I usually teach a framework that a mentor also taught me when I was working for the International Labour Organization. It is called G.O.A.T., which stands for Goal, Objectives, Activities and Tasks. It helps you break down a goal into smaller manageable chunks. In this case the Goal is to finish a full Iron Man under 17 hours. The Goal broken down into a set of 3 sub-objectives would be to finish the 3.86 km swim within 2 hours and 20minutes, a 180.25 km bike ride within 8 hours and 10 minutes and a 42.2 kilometer run within 6 hours and 30 minutes.

Goals and Objectives are considered outputs and tracing things back, objectives are driven by processes and activities that are measureable. While David was racing in Melbourne, his friends were giving a minute-by-minute report online. David finished the first event, the swim leg within 1:13:09 and the bike leg within 5:18:09. With two legs out of three out of the way with measurable speeds way below the cut-offs we are almost sure of a very strong finish. This is what we refer to as “traction”

Traction is a measurement of progress and a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) that signifies that you will accomplish your goal or mission. In the end David finished the race strong with a few seconds above 11 hours. That is 6 hours below the cut-off.

You cannot get these types of outputs and traction overnight. The hours saved per leg are a composite of how much time was invested in training. The effects are in direct proportion to the amount of hours spent in the pool, on the bike, and inside your running shoes. The point is that time and traction are directly correlated. The amount of measureable performance that indicates traction is directly proportionate to the amount of time invested in training. This is the very reason why I love working with athletes. They know that strategic goals and objectives cannot be achieved without an investment of time and resource. According to BeginnerTriathlete.com, training for an Ironman event requires a cumulative of 20 weeks of training of up to 18 hours per week. That is approximately 360 hours of training for a 17-hour event.

There are prerequisite inputs and “Tasks” such as taking the proper nutrition, managing your schedules, getting equipment and mental preparation. You also need to have the base fitness before getting into a rigorous training program.

The same could be said with any goal. You must understand the commitment, time and resource involved before reaching them and yes, all of these processes will take time. It takes about 2 hours for me to write an article such as this even before it gets to the editing phase for later publishing. Perhaps you’re looking at “running a marathon” to knock it off your bucket list, if you haven’t done a “half-mary” or worse, haven’t started running yet, and then perhaps you should start walking today? Perhaps you need to get a pair of running shoes first? Develop the Input-Process-Output mindset and after you’ve made up your mind, you can follow it through with the GOAT framework for planning.

While this may seem all personal and not much to do about business, then take another look. David runs a company that distributes some of the best brands known to endurance athletes such as Pinarello, Cervelo, and Felt Bicycles. He also distributes soft goods such as 2XU, Zoot, and Aquasphere goggles along with race nutrition and other performance gear. Being a competitive Ironman is actually very strategic for him. It gives him the personal brand profile advantage that he could use for his suppliers and customers. It pays dividends both in his personal brand equity and the company he runs. The passion and personal commitment that he attaches to his sport and his business gives him enormous credibility with the people he works with, as well as the brands that endorses. In my experience in working with him, I could truly say that he’s getting a lot of strategic traction but also because he puts in the time.

To learn more about these frameworks please feel free to follow and tweet me a message @JohnSBaybay or go to my website: square1coaching.com