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What can pro bike racing teach us about monitoring?


As a keen cyclist I’m currently enjoying the Giro d’Italia bike race, which sees just under 200 cyclists from around the world ride around amazing places in Italy for 3 weeks, with the rider with the quickest aggregate time crowned the winner.  As a race it goes to some of the most beautiful places, including my personal favourite, the Dolomite mountains.

As a race it is undoubtedly spectacular, but it is also tremendous business for those places included on the race route.  This year for instance, the race started in the Irish capital Belfast, with the first three stages completed in Ireland, before the race zipped over the channel and back into Italy.  It’s believed that Belfast paid the race organizers £4.2 million to host those initial stages, although they hope to recoup all of that and more, both in direct event day revenue (hotels, tourism etc.) plus the exposure the area has received via many hours of live television broadcast around the world.

Bike races such as the Giro and the Tour de France are undoubtedly big business, and towns/cities from throughout both the host countries and further afield bid significant sums to host either the start or the finish.  So how does this relate to management?

Well, the towns investment into hosting stages does not end at the buying part.  They also tend to invest in the town to ensure it’s in tip top shape for when the race visits.  As a cyclist myself, the most important part of this investment usually sees the roads resurfaced so that the pros don’t have to suffer with the potholes that so often afflict mountainous roads.

If you only visited those places when the pros were around, you’d no doubt get a rather distorted view of what the town is really like.  It’s often like that when managers do their walk abouts.  Department heads get to hear that the visit is on the way, so make sure that everything within their domain is looking sparkling and swish for the executives visit.  The executive, therefore, gets an equally distorted view of reality as the cycling fan.

This distortion was emphasised in research by Ethan Bernstein recently that explored the role managerial observation had on our behaviours.  When the managers were around, employees would typically operate strictly by the book, which wasn’t necessarily the most productive way of doing things, and the apparent transparency on the factory floor meant that employees could spot managers on the prowl and adjust their behaviours accordingly.  When the managers departed however, the employees would go back to their normal way of working.

Next time you think you’re getting the real picture therefore, it might be worth checking again to make sure your employees aren’t putting on a good show for you.

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