If it’s July, one of the most amazing athletic competitions in the world is being staged. Since 1903, the Tour de France has been the pinnacle of professional bicycle races, and arguably the most grueling of all sporting competitions.
Contested over 23 days, with the 21 stages averaging more than 110 miles each, there are only two days of rest in the middle. These super-athletes from all over the world navigate diverse road conditions, rain, wind, heat, and legendary mountain ranges – no less than the Alps and Pyrenees – that God surely made for us to ski down, not pedal up.
If the sun’s coming up on Main Street, millions of small business owners also mount one of the most grueling competitions in the business world merely by opening up. Against all odds, they start, run and grow their operations in conditions few corporate America CEOs would be willing to face. But unlike the Tour de France, small business owners run their race every day of the year.
Combining my admiration for both of these types of super-humans, I’ve identified four required elements to successfully compete in the Tour de France or the marketplace.
Tour participants are part of a couple dozen sponsored teams of about 25 members, each having individual roles to play. Some members are supportive non-riders and some are riders whose primary role is to protect and push their leader. But all work together to meet team performance goals, including getting their leader on the podium at the end of the day or the end of the race. Sounds a lot like a small business, doesn’t it?
Since every day in a small business can be like a mountain stage on the Tour—grueling assaults on impossible peaks and dangerous descents into the valleys—success requires the ability to motivate your team to work together effectively. And a smart leader knows that sustaining successful teamwork requires sharing the recognition, so the team doesn’t mind if you’re the one on the podium.
Competing in the Tour is like running 21 marathons in 23 days while simultaneously playing a 3D chess match. Effective communication between team members is critical so each can deliver their unique contribution to the overall strategy at the appropriate time.
Even the best small business strategy in the world must be communicated to the team in ways that inform, coordinate, motivate, foster engagement, and result in success. And the customers and competition combine to create the 3D degree of difficulty.
All you have to do is watch a Tour de France cyclist in an “above category” mountain stage to see successful preparation. These guys have turned their bodies into human spring steel as they become one with their bikes.
The small business equivalent is to operate your business at the highest professional level possible, at all times. One major differentiator of professional organizations is their commitment to investing time and resources – this means budgeting both – for education, training, and practice for all team members.
Tour de France teams leverage technology at every point of the competition, including high-tech bikes, customized chase vehicles, on-course communication tools, etc.
In the 21st century, every small business has to apply technology at essentially every level of its operation. The good news is the barrier to entry has never been lower to extremely powerful technology in the incremental portions small businesses can use, and affordable prices they can afford. Small business Luddites become Troglodytes.
Out here on Main Street, if you don’t develop a high-functioning team, communicate well, achieve a high level of preparation, and maximize technology, you will be irrelevant.
Or, as they say on the Tour, you’ll be “off the back.”
Write this on a rock … Small businesses and Tour de France teams have a lot in common.