A few months ago, I finally did something that I had longed to do but just never got around to it. Not quite a bucket list item, but pretty close. That something was to drive a race prepared car on a closed road course. Calabogie Motorsports offers just such a program. The road course is just a hair over 5 kms that has 20 turns and enough of a straightaway to get you to question your sanity. But at the end of the day, I couldn’t help but draw many parallels between the days activities and running a small business.
It all started because my youngest son was planning on signing up for the half day training at the track, and it only took me a couple of minutes to invite myself along. It’s funny how these things always seem like a good idea until the early morning drive to the track makes you wonder if it really was.
Now driving is something I’ve done my entire life, having spent my early days as a long haul truck driver. Getting behind any vehicle with a steering wheel is something I’m comfortable with. What gave me pause, was the fact that I’d be hurtling along in a race car at over 200 kms. That plus the fact, you never want to be that guy that embarrasses himself in front of the other 10 participants, let alone your son. That can be somebody else’s job.
So, as we gathered in the training room at the appointed time, we were welcomed by a couple of gentlemen that were going to review the schedule of morning activities, the characteristics of the car, track conditions that day, safety rules and the meaning of the on-track flags. This brought about the first comparison to running a small business.
Small Business Tip#1 – Briefings
How often do you take the time to gather everybody together, to define the day’s or week’s activity? How often do you remind your group of why they’re here and what we’re hoping to achieve or gain that week? How often do we set expectations in a team environment? Although we have great intentions of doing so, I suspect we don’t do it often enough.
As a result, we just assume everybody knows what to do, when to do it and what’s expected. Sadly, this lack of direction or confirmation of understanding can lead to untold number of mistakes. Implementing, short briefing sessions on a weekly or daily basis, as well as at the beginning of a major assignment can greatly reduce confusion and ensure your team is focused on the same end results. Or as the saying goes, make sure everyone is on the same page.
After a quick introduction to our in driver trainer, we made our way out to our cars. These race prepped cars, had windows replaced where needed with Plexiglas and removed where not necessary. I can tell you getting into these vehicles is quite the process as you weave yourself around and through the roll cage, much like performing a downward dog yoga move coupled with a reverse warrior pose to end up in a snug, but less than comfortable racing seat. They make it look so effortless on tv, but I can assure you it’s not.
For the first of three on track sessions, you are a passenger as the trainer puts the car through it’s paces and shows you what’s possible. As a first time passenger in a fully prepped race car, I can confess that it’s a whole new experience. Unfortunately, the sensory overload during the ride along, really wasn’t conducive to learning anything the trainer was saying. There was just too much information to be absorbed in a very unfamiliar environment with your senses being hammered by new inputs. However, I do remember him saying that sometimes you need to go slow to go fast, which I didn’t quite understand at the time.
Small Business Tip #2 – Teaching moments
Too often we assume people understand the objectives. We throw so much information at them and then never take the time to confirm their understanding. To be sure we ask if everybody understands and of course heads nod in agreement. This can be because they don’t want to look foolish or more often, they actually think they do understand, but it may be a completely different understanding.
Taking a few extra moments to ask specific questions about expected results or executional details to truly confirm their understanding can go a long way in avoiding missteps. The reason for this extra steps is to make sure someone hasn’t misinterpreted a critical piece of information or expectation.
So now it’s my turn behind the wheel. The moment you push the engine start button and the V8 roars to life, you know you’re not in Kansas any longer. The sheer raw power of the engine shakes the car and is felt in every fiber of your body. Not uncontrollably mind you, but enough to make you respect it’s potential and get focused. It’s also the time when you start thinking, what the hell have I done!
Sitting behind the wheel you realize that these cars are stripped down to their bare essence. An engine, a transmission, tires, body shell and absolutely no interior padding with only a handful of gauges. That’s it, just the basics. But seriously, what else do you need? These cars are built to go fast and stick to the track.
Small Business tip #3 – Simplify
How often do we have steps or unnecessary processes to getting a job, task or assignment done, just because we think it’s necessary? Do we have efficient processes? Can we strip down the process to it’s basics in order increase our deliverables? Has anybody asked, why we do it this way or is there a better, simpler way?
The race car is meant to go fast and it does so without any unnecessary frills. Shouldn’t we be running the most efficient businesses we can? If something doesn’t add real value to the customer, then it shouldn’t be there. Are we asking our staff for their input or suggestions? They are the ones that work with the processes every single day, they just may have a better way.
On the track
As I pulled out onto the track, I distinctly remember that the transmission and clutch had a familiar feel. It then dawned on me that it reminded me of my uncles farm trucks of my youth. The transmission and clutch had a very positive interaction and it was all business, no frills.
Staying in the safety lane all the while accelerating in order to merge with the other vehicles, it was at this point that I realized, I didn’t remember a thing my trainer had told me. However, being connected to him via headset as he sat in the passenger seat, I started receiving a constant stream of instructions that easily matched the speed of the car as we approached 200kms per hour.
For the next 15-20 minutes we did laps around the track as I desperately tried smooth out my handling and add a little finesse to an otherwise less than stellar run. At the end of the session, we made our way in for a debriefing session with all the participants as we asked, and they answered our questions.
Small Business Tip #4 – Status updates
How often do we gather everyone to either get or give a status update on the company or an initiative? Scheduling regular but short debriefing sessions help to identify road blocks, allow for clarification and make course corrections. Checking in regularly can solve many minor issues before they become major issues that are impossible to correct.
The last session.
This last on track session is where I had my greatest breakthrough and an “Ah ha” moment. As with most people who do these things, I felt I was a pretty good driver and understood the basic concepts of racing, such as finding the straightest line through a curve, etc. However, that easier said than done as I consistently missed apex after apex on most turns. It was frustrating and humbling.
The trainer kept telling me to brake hard to scrub speed as I entered the tightest turns. I figured I understood the concept, but time and again, I’d blow the turn. I thought I was going slow enough to hit my mark, because going any slower wasn’t cool and we’re suppose to go fast, right?
So, on one particular lap I figured I’d slow down earlier and harder and see what happened. To my amazement, the car just hunkered down and dug in. We held the line and we rocketed out of the turn, with very little corrective input required on my part after pointing the car in the right direction. The throttle was wide open, it was almost textbook, and it was confirmed by my trainer’s comment “that’s what I’m talking about” through the headset.
Small Business tip #5 – Pump the brakes
Too often we’re in a rush to get the end result. Ambition is a great quality but needs to be tempered at times. The Navy Seals apparently have a saying that says “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast”. I know that sound contrary to what we believe, but it works.
Not always, but sometimes we just have to pump the brakes on an idea or initiative and stretch out the deadline. By doing so it gives us the time we need to make sure we have all the information, the right people and the capacity to handle the assignment. Whether that’s growing our business or contemplating pitching a large contract. This extra time may allow for a much smoother execution and less rework, because smooth is fast.
Go Slow to Go Fast
Going too fast can be very stressful for all involved and can set us up for mistakes. Knowing when to hammer the throttle and when to stand on the brakes is an artform in itself and I have a new found respect for professional drivers because it’s both mentally and physically draining controlling a race car at speed.
The same can be said of running your business too fast. Sometimes you just need to go slow to go fast.
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