December 15, 2017
Business executives and professional sportspersons are both considered elite players because they are able to sustain high performance when under pressure in their fast-paced environments. However, these two groups of players have traditionally trained differently: athletes tend to practice a lot and compete a little, whereas executives are often expected to perform on-demand, all the time.
But there is now a push for those in the corporate world to reflect on external conditions and better manage their inner state—which parallels how an athlete takes time to physically recover. These “corporate athletes,” a term coined by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, have learned to improve work performance due to a systematic way of training.
As an intern for Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), I had the opportunity to work under SVP Kelly Ducourty, who embodies the four capacities of a corporate athlete. As the head of HPE Pointnext Strategy and Operations and overall high-performer, I spoke with her to learn how she clears her mind and schedule in order to enter the Ideal Performance State (IPS).
Photo courtesy of Stavrini Michaelidou – LinkedIn
The first level of the corporate athlete IPS capacity is physical, which Ducourty recognizes as the importance of being healthy and active. She makes time for pilates several times a week and takes walkabouts during the work day.
“I absolutely love pilates,” said Ducourty. “Quite often when I come out of there I’ll have an eureka moment, where something I wasn’t quite sure how to address really comes to me, because I’ve taken that hour out of my day to do something different and out of the work-related environment.”
Indeed, taking the time to schedule regular workouts can help establish work-life boundaries. Ducourty revealed that when she was 25, she passed out at her desk in the office because she was “over-doing it.” Now, she is more in touch with herself and recognizes when it’s time to take a break and recover.
“Since then, I know more where my boundary is,” explained Ducourty. “I work within those confines.”
Taking a break is related to the next level of a corporate athlete’s IPS: emotional capacity. Having certain rituals can offset feelings of stress and restore positive energy—for example, eating dinner with the family.
“Close relationships are perhaps the most powerful means for prompting positive emotions and effective recovery,” according to Loehr and Schwartz.
However, it can take a while to get there.
Because of her international degree, Ducourty had to devote a year and a half of her studies abroad. She spent her time in France, attending business school and working in industry. Ducourty called her experience enriching, because she learned to be independent while living alone in a foreign country at a young age.
Her time abroad taught her to be tough and take more risks, which ultimately helped her later in life in terms of job opportunities. An example of such is her recent move from the U.K. to the U.S. with her children.
“In the U.K., I was doing a global job out of a UK time zone,” recalled Ducourty. “Basically I was working until late or the early hours of the morning on a regular basis.”
She confirmed that operating in Palo Alto is better for her schedule, because at some point, “the rest of the world goes to sleep.” She noted how evenings are considered more “precious” in the States and offers a better way to recover.
“I’ve been able to rediscover family time in the evening for dinner, and especially with the weather here, been able to enjoy more outdoors time,” she noted.
As a single mum, Ducourty balances her professional and personal life by actively carving out time to be present with her children. She also asks people to respect her time when it comes to scheduling meetings at certain hours of the day.
“I think as much as we work because we enjoy it, most of us are working to support our families overall,” said Ducourty. “For me, spending time with my children is super important. I try to block out at the beginning and end of my day to spend quality time with them.”
According to Loehr and Schwartz, corporate athletes who find time to recover ultimately perform better and derive more satisfaction at work.
In order to better balance work and home life to create effective recovery, Ducourty imparts employees who need flexible hours simply need to communicate with their manager.
“I do think it’s in a company’s interests to have some level of flexibility in terms of working hours,” stated Ducourty. “In my experience, people will put in the time to get their responsibilities done and even more.”
Indeed, Ducourty’s conscious management of time and energy allows her to reach the third mental capacity of her IPS as a corporate athlete.
Interestingly enough, Ducourty noted that she became better with time management after having children, because she needed to get more things done. She explained how when she was on maternity leave with her first child, she thought her colleagues took a long time to get to the point of things.
“I didn’t have much time to waste anymore, because I couldn’t stay all the way up until the super-late evening, or do all of the weekends,” said Ducourty. “So I was much more driven to try and get decisions made quickly, create less talking and more action in terms of going about doing our business.”
For Ducourty, consistency and making her priorities clear to both her team and family members allow for better understanding and respect for her schedule. Though she is not fully unplugged during the weekend, Ducourty is generally able to organize work meetings around her agenda, such as Sunday morning sessions that only last an hour.
“You get it out of the way, and you got the rest of the day to enjoy yourself,” said Ducourty.
The fourth and final component of the high-performance pyramid is spiritual capacity, “the energy that is unleashed by tapping into one’s deepest values and defining a strong sense of purpose,” as told by Loehr and Schwartz.
For Ducourty, it’s constant learning.
She explained how although she studied international marketing, she wanted to be able to explain projects and thus became interested in the more technical side of things.
“Being able to translate between the IT department and the business outcome…I think it happened out of personality and the way I like to learn,” noted Ducourty.
She described feeling energized when she’s performing her best, motivated by wins and supporting account teams.
Ducourty has held a variety of roles during her time with Hewlett Packard Enterprise and whilst her passion is customer-facing she is looking forward to the strategic side of things as part of her role in HPE Pointnext.
“The company’s changed quite a lot, so it always felt like something new,” stated Ducourty.
Recently, Ducourty attended the HPE Discover 2017 Madrid event and hosted the Women Leaders in Technology reception. She participated in a moderated panel discussion alongside HPE CEO Meg Whitman, SVP & GM of HPE Pointnext Ana Pinczuk and others. The function had 86 attendees from 51 different companies, with 24 countries represented.
Photo courtesy of Johany Hernandez – LinkedIn
Prior to her current role, Kelly served as the Senior Vice President of the Business development, Enablement, Solutions and Technology (BEST) organization within Global Sales. Her career at Hewlett Packard Company began in 1998 as a Services Implementation Manager and has since assumed roles of increasing responsibilities. She lives in Silicon Valley with her family.
Erin Fox is a junior studying marketing and journalism. She serves as the News Editor for The Santa Clara and is an intern for Hewlett Packard Enterprise.