Friday Rant: Lessons From Marathon Training Applied to Spend Management

With apologies to other less fit solutions providers that would rather trade thoughts over a meal than over a run, a number of members of the BravoSolution team somehow cajoled me into signing up for the Chicago Marathon this Fall (rumor is that one executive on their team routinely puts in a pace significantly under four hours). But as anyone who has done one knows, 90% of the effort of a marathon is not just about running a marathon -- it's about the training that gets you there. On recent Saturdays, the infamous "long run" days, at least for me, I've questioned how sane a decision signing up for 26.2 miles of fitness purgatory was. But believe it or not, I've actually learned quite a bit about myself in the process, including a number of lessons that we can apply to the Spend Management world.

For one, running a marathon requires a level of discipline and regular commitment that you just don't find in other activities. In the case of marathon training, start by running 20 or so miles a week, across a minimum of four or five runs, and pick up the distance from there -- with nearly every week bringing added effort and exertion over the previous (except for the "drop-back" weeks where you actually lower the mileage of the long-run to allow your body to recover).

In a similar context, in the procurement and supply chain worlds, I've observed over the years that those who keep a regular discipline and continually push themselves and their teams harder and harder -- while offering up a few "rest days" along the way -- are those most likely to not only identify significant savings, but actually realize their implementation. It's one thing to reach a "steady state" but something else entirely to constantly force a greater effort -- which is one thing that I've observed is necessary to continually deliver returns in an environment of rising expectations but fewer resources to get the job done.

Marathon training also does a good job pushing you outside of your comfort zone and teaching you the benefits of pushing the limits. Last weekend, around the 12th mile of a 15-mile run, I really began to reconsider how crazy I was for doing what I was doing. Not only had I never run that far before, but the impact of being on my legs for that amount of time was taking its toll. And then it dawned on me -- the last 3 miles of the work-out were the entire purpose of the two hours or so of pain.

It was in the last 20% of the effort that I'd realize 80% of the benefit of the training. To quit at that point would have given me only a tiny portion of the benefit of the weekend training program despite the significant effort expended. This reminded me of a great many ERP procurement initiatives I've advised on or interviewed folks for over the years where an organization devotes an inordinate amount of time and funding to the effort, but completely falls short at the end because they did not go the extra mile making the requisite investments in supplier enablement, content management and overall application and process integration.

Marathon training is also teaching me about the value of having multiple coaches and mentors, each with their own take and hints for achieving the desired goal. My first manager from the management-consulting world, who has raced in the Boston Marathon and completed the Iron Man Triathlon on multiple occasions, helped me to originally devise a program to balance speed work with distance. My younger sister, a veteran marathoner, has also provided invaluable input when it comes to consistency and sticking to the weekend running schedule. Still others have given me advice on diet and avoiding injury.

In short, I’ve created a team of advisers and supporters around me nearly all of whom have "been there, done that" but each with their own opinion about how best to go about the program. In other words, I'm sharing in the collected wisdom of an experienced crowd versus simply following a "how-to" manual or a single coach. There are many takeaways from this in relation to how we can create and implement successful Spend Management programs. But it suffices to say on the most basic level that building and maintaining your own advisory board -- in addition to soliciting input from the board of directors or management team you're reporting into -- is invaluable for a range of reasons.

Without question, the metaphor of "running a marathon" is perhaps the most overused in existence. But for me, the requisite training leading up to the actual event has been among the most educational processes I can remember, both personally and professionally.

Jason Busch

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