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People and Processes: What we can learn from Red Bull Racing 🏎

The Formula 1 Constructors Champions to-be have been plotting their rise back to the top for almost a decade. Through dogged determination, they're finally set to reach the summit.

Whenever an organisation hits rocky shores, there are often two elements pulled into focus:

People and Processes.

There is no doubt that much of sport finds itself in a difficult position right now. For the popularists, the focus of such a situation ends up directed at the people. For the strategists, however, focus is aimed at the processes.

Often, the people are simply a result of the processes inherited or implemented from the top.

Red Bull Racing are a great example of when this is done right*.

Just read this excerpt from their team principal, Christian Horner, in a recent interview he did with Steven Bartlett on the Diary of a CEO podcast.

“What's enabled us to be dynamic is that we've had the full support of the chairman, Dietrich Mateschitz, who has been passionate about this activity, and he's unwaveringly backed us,” explained Horner.

“There were difficult days where things came under scrutiny, but he gave [us] the time and the stability within the business for us to really cultivate a winning machine with the key people in the right positions.”

“He's been phenomenal in the support that he's shown us, and the freedom that he's enabled us to have to operate effectively, efficiently, quickly, and sharply without being bogged down by the process of a corporate entity. So, we've kept that agility and, even though the company has grown to 3X the size of when Red Bull came into the sport, maintained that racing spirit [and] that ability to make quick decisions – whether it's on a driver, or a sponsor, or a member of staff. Whatever it may be, we've had that dynamic ability to move and adapt quickly.

This dynamism, of course, is all by design. A factor that Horner references within a later explanation in the interview that is perhaps even more telling around a proposed deal with an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) - believed to be Porsche.

“We had the opportunity to work with an OEM taking a significant shareholding in the team but recognized that [our] DNA will be affected [and so] if we cannot continue to operate exactly in the manner that's made us successful, with that ability to make quick fire decisions without having to go through layers and layers of process and bureaucracy [then the deal is not right for us].”

Why is this important?

Because, by and large, big companies suck.

That’s not me saying that, though. It’s Ravi Gupta, the former COO & CFO of Instacart. In an incredible blog post he wrote advising start-up founders; he explains this thought further.

“Don’t get me wrong—they didn’t always suck. At some point they were just like you. A start-up fighting for product market fit or creating predictability in go-to-market or expanding geographically or something else that actually matters. They were focused. Focused on hiring trajectory-changing people and giving them more responsibility than they knew what to do with. They were working their a**es off to create something out of nothing. They had desperation-induced focus.”

Gupta’s advice when thinking about instituting a new process?

“Go to a whiteboard and write down the answer to this question: “If you could only get one thing done this year, what would it be?”. If that answer is “institute some new process”, go for it. But if it’s something like “increase market share from 30% to 60%” or “launch this new product that will 2x our TAM”, don’t waste your time on anything else,” he explains.

“Just take your best person (up to and including the CEO), make them responsible for solving that problem, and give them everything and everyone they need to make it happen.”

This clearly applies to Horner and Red Bull. Listen to him speak on the podcast and you’d be hard placed to find anybody not able to identify where his focus lies.

Similarly, if you were to visit Red Bull Racing’s HQ in Milton Keynes* and ask any member of their staff, “If you could only get one thing done this year, what would it be?” I imagine the answer would be universal, too.

The Formula 1 2022 Constructors Champions to-be have been plotting their rise back to the top for almost a decade.

Through this dogged determination (coined ‘desperation-induced focus’ by Gupta) they have managed to remain on track and climb back to the summit.

Next time you’re assessing the implementation of a new process, put yourself in the position of Red Bull Racing and their OEM offer. Will this allow us to move faster or will it simply weigh us down?


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* Though I may have to eat my words depending on resulting punishment for cost cap breaches, I still think it provides a useful and highly relevant case study.

** Don’t take this literally. I wouldn’t advise that you just show up. If you do end up in Milton Keynes, however, do feel free to drop me a message – as I live not too far away and would (probably) be happier to see you than they would

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