Sport has always been part of my DNA. I competed for Wales for 10 years, and still regularly compete in Triathlon and Duathlon for the Great Britain Age-Group team. When I joined Accenture 20 years ago, I was determined to continue doing what I love while starting something else that I love. To me, work and sport have always sat together and the physical and mental challenge across both complement each other. It’s so important because when you join Accenture, or any company, you shouldn’t leave what you love at the door.
When I had our three children, it became harder to focus on racing whilst continuing my Accenture career. So I moved over to Triathlon and qualified for the GB Age-Group team and have competed at the World and European Championships. Around the same time, about five years ago, I discovered Accenture’s Elite Athletes programme. The programme was set up in recognition of the fact we had an elite athlete in our ranks, amongst others, who represented Great Britain in fencing at the Commonwealth Games.
I’ve been the MD sponsor for the Elite Athlete programme for the nearly three years, and it has encompassed up to 20 athletes competing at elite level across triathlon, tag rugby, fencing, tennis, netball and shooting. The achievements of some of our people in the world of sport are truly incredible, and the support Accenture provides through flexible leave and stipend payments is pushing them to the next level, both personally and professionally. It’s still a relatively small programme, but it’s something I’m really passionate about and eager to grow.
Sport has helped me and my teams through tough times at work. There was one occasion where we were up against a tight go-live timeline, and we agreed to set up a ‘get-fit-for-go-live’ plan. So in the final ten days, when we were very focused on the technical detail required for go-live, we added in a manageable daily fitness activity. This meant that across five countries we were united over small challenges such as everyone doing a one-mile walk at lunchtime, or 50 sit-ups or 50 press-ups. It meant that the whole team was doubly focused, and it was a great stress defuse across the badge less team of client, contractors and third parties. My athletic training needs to be flexible, as do the standards that I set for myself in my sport—but equally my role at Accenture needs to be flexible so that I can remain healthy and happy and bring my best self to work.
When I first started working at Accenture, I was asked to talk at the Summer Resources event about a recent race in Italy for Wales, and at the end a member of the audience said to me, ‘You wouldn’t be able to do that if you were on the programme of work that I’m on.’ The mindset 20 years ago was, ‘If you’ve been for an hour run, that’s an hour you haven’t spent working, and therefore you’re not committed.’ Thankfully that’s changing—there’s a much better understanding now of the positive impact that sport has on your mental health as well as physical health, and therefore the boost you get both at work and in other aspects of your life.
Of course, you don’t have to be an elite athlete to feel the benefits of sport. One simple thing you can do is to block out time in your diary every day. I have an hour blocked out every day for exercise—more than often this is not a one-hour run, but I’ve proactively scheduled this slot to give myself the option. Just blocking out an hour each day to exercise can make a massive difference. Also, I often have some of my best ideas or work through complex challenges and client opportunities whilst on the run.
We’re now at the point with the Elite Athlete programme where we’re looking to build Team Accenture into a community of people who are open and vocal about the role sport plays in their lives. For me, it’s about having visible leaders who are proud of their achievements in sport, and can show that being active is good for your mental and physical health. A great example of this is a colleague who has played netball competitively from a young age, representing England in the Indoor Netball World Championships twice, and she’s also been with Accenture for a number of years and passed through different levels of the company. We want to continue to show that it’s possible to excel in more than one field at the same time.
For any younger people coming in as analysts and consultants, it would be amazing to help them make the transition from university elite to business elite sport. That’s the easiest time to lose interest because you might think, ‘I just need to stay here and carry on testing this system or preparing this deck because of a deadline.’ But you can complete a 30-minute run and carry on refreshed and refocused post that.
We want to support our elite athletes to compete at the highest level and become role models as they progress within Accenture. We also want to inspire all our people to find their balance and be active, because a healthy, active workforce is a strong workforce.