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January High-Intensity Retail Training (HIRT)

With another year’s unused gym membership behind him, Ian Jindal is struck by some of the lessons for retail from the increasing sophistication and science of fitness.

Whether your last memory of exercise was at school (giggling as your sports teacher patiently explained that “Fartlek” training was a serious matter) or whether you are a sensor-bedecked, Strava-sharing ‘King of the Mountain’, you’ll be aware that sports science has developed significantly this century. Whereas before it was sufficient for a gentleman to be able to sustain a gentle game or two of tennis our understanding of fitness has changed: it’s now a matter of competitive performance.

The elements of performance will resonate with retailers. Peak output (strength); resilience and recovery rate (the ability to recover quickly after exertion, and to maintain performance even under new or unexpected demands); flexibility (to avoid injury and increase the range of movement and the muscle groups we can deploy); ‘twitch’ and rapid-response training (for changes in pace, direction and speedy reactions). All of these will be familiar to us – although more often discussed in the context of preparing for ‘peak trading’ rather than ‘peak fitness’.

Working on our performance in these areas will of course deliver benefits. However, as we seek ‘transformation’ (surely the Word of 2018?) we need to consider new ways of approaching performance.

The first area of course must be in the field of measurement and analysis. On Strava (other systems are available…) I see segment times, history and splits; comparison with friends and top performers and – brutally – how I fare against other athletes of similar weight and age. In retail we have information about every part of our performance, for each customer and channel.

We need to distinguish the important from the interesting, cause from correlation, discovery from distraction.

Once you have detailed measurement then every part is open to improvement. Not just the ‘main’ muscles or your favourite exercises: every part. Sir David Brailsford, the transformational coach of British Cycling, had a principle of ‘marginal gains’. He said “[if] you break down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improve it by 1 per cent, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together”. Bringing team pillows (so that an errant hotel did not cause poor sleep), a surgeon to teach hand-washing techniques (to reduce illness while travelling), combine with engineering research in a wind tunnel, or training the core (an area previously neglected by cyclists). Nothing was too small to be open to improvement, and nothing was deemed too perfect to be tested.

Sports psychology, mental resilience and preparation are important aspects of performance, before, during and after competition. Having a dispassionate mind to evaluate success and failure allows you to follow evidence and improve. Understanding how you will feel at mile 17 of a marathon allows you to coach yourself through challenging miles. Envisioning success can be a prelude to living it. Linford Christie, the British sprinter, used to prepare for races by planning his start not just ‘at’ the sound of the starting gun, but “at the ‘B’ of the Bang”. Clear, mental preparation is an aid to performance, and prototyping, walk through, simulations and scenario rehearsals all help us to be ready for the changes and instant responses required of us.

After the thinking and measuring comes the ‘doing’. High Intensity Interval Training combines intense periods of exercise with low-intensity recovery. This combination can develop explosive speed, improved recovery and a higher level of ‘normal’ performance. As you become more fit you increase the intensity of the exercise so that you don’t ‘cruise’. Similar to the importance of ‘drill’ in the military (so that when you’re under stress your autonomic muscle memory can undertake well-practiced tasks) so in retail we need to practice and push ourselves. Don’t talk about innovation, hold sprints and workshops. Don’t have ‘scenario plans’ – actually run the scenarios.

Sports science has analogies in retail performance. As my direct debit gives me another year’s gym membership without even leaving the sofa, I wish all readers courage and perseverance in their New Year resolutions and that we all become fit for business, and business fit. To one and all we wish you a happy, prosperous and healthy 2019.

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