How Are Racehorses and Performance Management Implementers Similar?

May 18, 2009
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Thoroughbred racehorses and performance management project leaders have similarities depending on which type they are. (This metaphor is also applicable to professional careers.) There are three types of racehorses: starters, stalkers and deep closers. How are performance management methodologies project managers similar?

Starter racehorses directly break to lead from the starting gate. They do not normally win races because their early energy burst takes a toll. Similarly, some project managers, for example of a balanced scorecard project, try to move too fast for the organization. The obstacles that slow the adoption rate for performance management methodologies are not technical – they are social. This type of project manager, often ambitious young ones, does not patiently earn buy-in from their organization. Consequently they are likely to come up short of a fully successful implementation of the fully integrated performance management framework.

Stalker racehorses run a few lengths behind the starters until near the end of the race before turning up their speed to the finish line. They often win. Similarly, this type of project manager who paces himself is often success


Thoroughbred racehorses and performance management project leaders have similarities depending on which type they are. (This metaphor is also applicable to professional careers.) There are three types of racehorses: starters, stalkers and deep closers. How are performance management methodologies project managers similar?

Starter racehorses directly break to lead from the starting gate. They do not normally win races because their early energy burst takes a toll. Similarly, some project managers, for example of a balanced scorecard project, try to move too fast for the organization. The obstacles that slow the adoption rate for performance management methodologies are not technical – they are social. This type of project manager, often ambitious young ones, does not patiently earn buy-in from their organization. Consequently they are likely to come up short of a fully successful implementation of the fully integrated performance management framework.

Stalker racehorses run a few lengths behind the starters until near the end of the race before turning up their speed to the finish line. They often win. Similarly, this type of project manager who paces himself is often successful. They carefully watch what lies ahead of them and how others are reacting to changing conditions. Which horse is changing lanes? Which manager is changing allegiances?

Deep closer racehorses run near the back. After about half way through the race they begin to advance forward weaving through the horses ahead with momentum to pass the somewhat surprised leaders just before the finish line. The 2009 long-shot Kentucky Derby winner, Mind That Bird, runs as a deep closer and just missed winning the Preakness, the second jewel of the horse racing’s famous Triple Crown.

I personally like the deep closer project manager (and career person, too). They do take a risk by lying low and being somewhat out of sight, but they understand the finish line is at the end of the race – not in the middle of it. This type of project managers know the virtue of patience. While ahead of them during the race there is much “jockeying” for position, their goal is ultimate success – the fulfillment of helping their organization complete the full vision of the performance management framework that I passionately write about.

Each of these three types can win. I do not know which type of racehorse wins relatively more than the others. Personally, I like deep closers. They are exciting to watch, and when they win you sense they had the perspective of how races and organizations work.