The nation was excited, proud, enraptured and warmed by the whole Olympic experience. The Olympic ‘moment’ for Great Britain will be written about for years to come. But what is really sustainable from those 16 magical days? Was it just a happy episode of celebration or can we capitalise on it in some ways? Can business learn from it and if so what and how?
For many years now I have been running a performance improvement programme for companies in the UK and USA called ‘From Good to Great to Exceptional’. At its heart are sports metaphors, which sounds like is a cliché, but aside from the Clive Woodwood story about English Rugby I also use a far less well known metaphor from a global match yacht race that I was involved in during the 1990s. It’s a story of immense simplicity and power about how a skipper got his crew to raise standards beyond what they thought they were capable of and not suffer for the cause. I will not spoil it by explaining all the detail of that programme here!
But the story of the Olympic teams and how they moved from one gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta games to 29 Gold medals in 2012 is rich in parallels. Dave Brailsford wittingly and wittily gave the game away to the French cycling team when he told them that Team GB was not cheating, it’s just that its cycle wheels are more round; “really round” as he put it.
For Chris Hoy to win 6 Gold medals took not just his 27” thighs but also an awesome amount of dedicated training. That much is obvious. But when one gets into the detail of the training it’s a level of detail and nuanced approaches that are hard to describe because the team’s success is also based on an incredible culture. It’s more about how things are approached and executed rather than what is done.
“You can build a culture but you can’t train a culture into existence”. In other words, you can train skills and expertise but the greatest outcomes depend on exceptional skills combined with uniquely focussed behaviours. Without this there would not be so many gold medals.
So can we exploit the extraordinary ability of the Team GB coaches, planners and athletes? A necessity of winning at their level is secrecy. But I maintain that if British business took only 10% of the insight from the Olympic teams then this would improve productivity and profitability by 10%. At a time when UK GDP is stuck at 0% then there seems to be a case for government rhetoric to move to action and support of at least the SMEs who will be the first to generate UK growth.
I have witnessed the mentality of winning, the culture of true, unconscious; teamwork and the drive for results transform business from the ordinarily good to the exceptional. When such levels are achieved we see an energy coursing through a business that sustains and drives it. It’s done through exceptional leadership to give people the self determination and freedom to establish performance standards. It’s in the details; it’s in an acceptance that success is made up of thousands of little things. Many of these things are not obvious, for example the Team GB cycle team was allowed the choose the colours of their kit lockers. So what? So this gave them involvement, motivation, ownership and they had the colures that made them feel good.
Acquiring the mentality and the culture of high performance sounds forbidding – it need not be. I fear that businesses will assume that some of the GB will get on the speaker circuit, some will set up training companies and that this may be the end of it. It does not have to be that way. Every business leader should be clamouring for the magic dust that brought gold to Team GB. A national squad of business coaches, trainers and mentors can be developed as Olympic spirit ambassadors. The flame of success should not have been extinguished at the end of the Olympics, rather the torches should now be radiating across the land.
This time we need to not just watch – we can all take part. It should be fun.
Leveraging the benefits of the Olympics for UK businesses
Business analyst Stephen Archer, Director of Spring Partnerships