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September 10, 2010
Written By: Michelle Clark, Ph.D.

This summer I completed my second RAGBRAI, the annual bike ride across Iowa. 

 

The range of riders on RAGBRAI is startling. Bikers range from elite athletes with $10,000 bikes and shaved legs (men too!) to armchair athletes with beer bellies and bikes from the 1980s.  During the ride, it struck me that in some ways the range of riders on RAGBRAI is much like a large workplace. On RAGBRAI, and in your workplace, there are the stars and those that are “average;, people who are motivated to win vs. motivated to do a job, people who have every resource to succeed and those who succeed in spite of few resources. 

 

As I rode with a former colleague, the impact of resources was clear, let me describe our experiences in two different ways. 

 

First, looking only at performance, here are the facts:

  • I departed earlier each morning. I rode faster. I arrived in the overnight town earlier every day. 
  • She left later than I did each morning. She rode slower. She arrived in the overnight town later than I every day.

Given these facts, ask yourself: which person you would ask to be on your bike team? Also ask yourself: If you had $2000 in development funds, whom would you invest in? 

 

Now let me describe our experiences looking more broadly.

  • I own a $2000 road bike that weighs less than 20 lbs. She owns a $350 hybrid bike that weighs 40+ lbs.
  • I grew up in a biking family. My dad did “hill training” with me when I was still in grade school. She learned it all on her own.
  • Our goal was the same, to push ourselves and enjoy the week. My commitment to and focus on RAGBRAI was a 4 on a 10-point scale. Her commitment and focus was a 9. 
  • I trained 550 miles prior to RAGBRAI. She trained 1200 miles.
  • RAGBRAI was one week of vacation for me. I had 3 or 4 other weeks of vacation this year. RAGBRAI was her sole vacation in 2010.
  • My “success” was visible and reinforcing for me as I passed the masses pushing hard up a hill.  She persisted in the face of being passed by others thousands of times over the course of each day.
  • I went on RAGBRAI with a charter service who set up my tent and took it down every morning. She needed to save money so she managed her own camping arrangements. By the time she got on her bike each day, she’d already had an hour of hassles.
  • Because I left early each day, I avoided the worst of the heat and the wind. Because she managed her own camping arrangements, she left later each day. Winds tend to increase over the course of the day, so the last two hours of her ride was often into a wind I didn’t face.

Now, ask yourself those questions again: “which person you would ask to be on your bike team? Also ask yourself: If you had $2000 in development funds, whom would you invest in?

 

When it comes to bottom line performance, it is clear that I had the edge. However, I’m not certain that $2000 invested in my biking would have any noticeable impact on my performance. Invest that $2000 in my colleague and you’d see results -- increase her speed, create opportunities for her to feel successful, and perhaps lead her to persist in biking when otherwise she might not

 

Professional development activities and funds are a finite resource. Companies often have to make difficult decisions about how to identify and develop people who are key to an organization’s bench strength. 

 

One reasonable approach to allocating scarce resources is to identify top performers and invest in them. However, have you ever asked yourself who in your organization trained 1200 miles, competed on a $350 bike, and looks average, but would zoom to the front of the crowd with a new bike?

 

You just might be surprised.

 


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