Leading the field

Steel Performance Solutions has worked with dozens of high-profile organisations including the New Zealand Police, UBank Australia, Roche Pharmaceuticals and the Giltrap Group in order to help them unlock the potential of their business.

For company founder Craig Steel...

putting his experiences in sport into a corporate context made logical sense in a multitude of ways.

We all know that the old line about sport and politics not mixing is nonsense. Just think about how quickly politicians jump over themselves to be pictured next to winning athletes. But what about sport and business? Can the twain ever truly meet?  

That was the conundrum facing performance specialist Craig Steel when his success in the sporting domain led to an unexpected opportunity in business 

When the first customer Steel worked with exceeded its target by over 400 percent, he knew the principles he had developed for athletes could be applied to business. 

In the intervening years his company, Steel Performance Solutions, has helped dozens of organisations realise unprecedented improvements in staff performance and engagement by aligning what Steel refers to as the ‘The 5 Drivers of Workplace Performance’a series of interconnected frameworks that collectively transform the performance of the business. 

Central to Steel Performance Solutions’ approach is the idea of unlocking human potential.   

“We assume that every person has the ability to improve,” Steel says. “By deploying our process, it provides organisations with a mechanism to change the way their people think and operate thereby improving the performance of the business.” 

Importantly, their process, the Steel Performance System™ (SPS) doesn’t try to squeeze more out of staff like conventional practices do. Instead, it increases their capacity to perform.  

“Instead of individuals feeling pressured to do more, they’re equipped with the tools to deliver the outcomes the organisation’s striving for. This approach creates a different culture; one that not only causes people to get excited about the company’s goals but fired up about how they can help it achieve them. It’s powerful when people engage in this way.” 

Steel draws on his experience with sports people to make his point. 

“In sport, the athletes strive as much as the coach and management to improve. But business tends not to be like that. It’s usually the managers or owners wanting their people to do better, so they end up trying to extract more out of their people rather than helping them excel in their role” he says. 

“What we do is institute a process that changes the relationship - where people feel their manager’s aspiration is to enable them to be their best in their role - which is different because suddenly they realise they’re no longer standing over them or scrutinising their performance; instead, they’re supporting their efforts to succeed. When people feel backed by their leader, they push themselves as they know they can be better and that’s what excites them.” 

Reaching that stage, Steel argues, requires a fundamental shift in the role of leadership, which is why their product, the SPS, is ‘leader led’. So, how is this different from leadership as we typically see it? 

“It’s about repurposing the role of leadership in the business which allows the executive to be very deliberate about saying to their managers that they’re there first and foremost to improve the performance of their workgroup; a key part of which is to help their people realise their potential.  

“We would argue that if a business has 100 leaders, it will essentially have 100 different modes of leadership. Some people are naturally outgoing, others are more reserved, so everyone who reports to them has a different experience, simply because of the personality of their leader.  

“We say that irrespective of the personality, the reason the leader is there needs to be the same; in other words, they have to be focused on helping their people succeed.”  

Given that, it’s perhaps surprising Steel Performance Solutions doesn’t spend most of its time training leaders to lead. 

“We don’t take a typical view of training,” says Steel. “It’s about the structured application of the process. The point is, most companies know their leaders are critical so they train them in the hope it will lead to better outcomes.  

“However, most organisations that adopt this approach end up disappointed with the results as it rarely leads to transformational change; simply because they don’t have a leadership framework or the means to repurpose it. The SPS, on the other hand, not only defines the purpose of leadership, it equips every leader in the business with the tools to do it. This not only transforms their impact as a leader, it enables the business to use its leadership structure to drive change rather than them thinking their role is to manage those beneath them.” 

Although it sounds easy, it takes time for a company to create lasting change which is why the SPS is typically rolled out over a three-year term.  

“While changes tend to come about quickly, it’s not designed to provide a short-term fix. Instead, it’s designed to drive a material change in the way the company operates rather than something it does for a period.”  

As such, Steel Performance Solution’s customers don’t buy the SPS only to be left fending for themselves. Instead, Steel Performance Solutions assembles a team to help them deploy it across the company in order to embed it as a business-wide way of working. This includes a customer relationship manager, programme manager and a performance specialist to deliver it.   

After the initial deployment, there’s what Steel calls “a transference of ownership,” where people within the organisation take over the management of the process so it can be embedded throughout every level of the business. It’s also integrated into the HR ecosystem, so it informs the processes that affects workplace engagement. There’s also an online platform to ensure it reaches every person. 

“While most organisations want change, very few have a means to achieve it.”  

This, Steel says, is where SPS is so powerful as it provides a proven transformation process that executives can literally plug into their business to step-change the way it operates. 

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