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Medalling in Your Business

By Phil Jesson

medalling-in-businessThe Olympics have been great for sport and great for the Nation!

One thing I’ve learnt is that the noun medal has become, in sporting circles, a verb. People can now medal in that they find themselves on the medal podium.

Can we learn lessons from the Games that will have implications for all of our businesses? How can we be prepared to allow our business the opportunity to ‘medal’ every single day?

Here are some of my thoughts. Please use them if they strike a chord with you –

  1. Words create worlds. Think of Seb Coe’s visionary language that helped win the Olympics in the first place and has since galvanised politicians, the public, athletes and coaches. “Inspire a generation!”.Three words that create worlds that we can see, feel and hear. So how clear is the vision that you want your people to buy into?
  2. The power of dreams. In front of the camera, many athletes have commented on their lifelong dream of winning a gold medal. Dreams are powerful. What is the dream for your life? What is the dream for your business? Ask yourself tomorrow… “What have I done today that has taken me closer to my dreams?”
  3. Olympic coaches do not pursue massive improvements in performance – they strive for “marginal improvements” i.e. 100 things that can be done 1% (or sometimes 0.1%) better.
  4. Dave Brailsford, the Performance Director of British Cycling put together a “Talent Team” some years ago to identify and develop potential high-performers. Many of its early recruits had never cycled competitively before, but the Talent Team knew exactly what it was looking for in the way of knowledge, attitudes, skills and behaviour. Do you have a talent team? What does it look for? Where does it look – e.g. do you look for future sales people currently working in non-sales departments?
  5. Results on their own are not what matters. Results with the right behaviour matters i.e. behaviour in alignment with clear and meaningful values and beliefs. The Chinese and South Korean badminton players did nothing wrong, according to the rules, but the Olympic movement’s values were strong enough to act as a clear referee on their behaviour and they were quickly shown the door.
  6. Winners do not feel pain, although they have put themselves through the same (or more) stresses and strains as fellow competitors who fail to win medals. Do you have a winning culture within your organisation? How do you celebrate success?
  7. Motivational job titles work. Thousands of volunteers were re-branded as “Games Makers” so what did they do… they made the Games!… and with great skill, awareness, sensitivity and humour.
  8. Generally speaking, women have dealt with failure better than men. As I see it, women have been able to “re-calibrate it”, learn from it, keep things in perspective and look forward to their next opportunity. Men have tended to treat second place as “failure”, they have hung their heads, apologised to the Nation and looked forward to a lot of gloomy and painful soul-searching.
  9. Success breeds success. Getting into the habit of winning breeds a success culture with very high expectations. We “own” rowing and cycling now and that will rub off on the next generation of athletes. The success of the Games will also, I’m sure, rub off on the Nation. To quote Seb Coe, “the Games have provided an oasis of sanity and unity for the country to move forward in the future!”
  10. The roar of the crowd has helped our athletes’ performance. In many cases, it has been the difference between fourth and third, second and first. I wonder if the people working in our organisations sense the roar of the crowd or are they unsung heroes, working in an environment that lacks recognition and praise?
  11. Succession planning is key! In many team events, athletes who were successful in Beijing have been joined by the “new kids on the block.” For example, in one of the rowing fours, it was two plus two. The two experienced athletes inducted the newcomers, explained how the team culture worked and helped the new boys become successful medallists in the new team.
  12. The power of the mind is clearly evident. “If you think you can etc etc… ” The athletes’ thoughts became ideas which became actions which became the habits that determined their destiny. During the last four years, even in times of adversity, it would appear that the best athletes were able to stay focused and positive. 
  13. Athletes concentrate on their strengths and develop coping strategies for their “weaknesses”. They don’t spend months trying to change something that they are not good at – they further enhance their strengths. Usain Bolt’s form, in recent months, had been hit and miss but following a good talking-to from his coach he didn’t worry about his slow start. He focused on the second half of the race and finishing first… his main strength.
  14. People will carry out menial tasks for a meaningful goal. One of the volunteer Games Makers found himself shoveling horse poo at the stables used for the range of equestrian events. When asked by a TV reporter “So have you been down here for the whole duration of the Games…  doing this!?” The Games Maker smiled and said “It may be poo to you, but it is Olympic poo to me!!”
  15. If you are going to launch an event, do it in style. A reference to the opening ceremony, of course, and a timely reminder to re-examine the quality of our product launches, external customer and internal team events. Do they start with a bang?
  16. Focus on your own game. The successful athletes have not dwelt on, or been haunted by, their main competitor’s strengths and weaknesses. They have got on with their own game and decided to become the best they can possibly be. “I haven’t got time to look at their boat, I’m too busy looking at my own!”
  17. Proactively recruiting the right talent. One of the Performance Directors explained that he had gone out of his way to find the right people for his sport and attract people to it. Think of your business… what are you doing to proactively recruit the right young people to your “sport”?
  18. Sharing best practice. Four years ago, the rowing and cycling teams were recognised as being the home of best practice. Since then, 20 + Performance Directors have worked together to understand and replicate best practice across the whole spectrum of events. (….so how is best practice shared in your organisation?”)
  19. The home advantage. We have known for years that football teams playing at home tend to win more than those playing away. The home-based Olympics has just illustrated this psychological phenomenon too. Think of your sales presentations and major business pitches – how many more would you win if you were playing at home and invited the customer/prospect to your premises?
  20. Managing the cultural legacy. Lord Coe, the undoubted real star of the Games, is now installed to manage and maintain the legacy going forward. So who is responsible for managing and maintaining the cultural legacy in your organization? Are your company’s values lived… or laminated?

Anyway, enough of all this pontificating! The Olympic Games have had a great effect on my own outlook – I have been thrilled, inspired and entertained. I have even been inspired to find my old trainers and head for the gym in an hour’s time. I’m off to find some of that aerobic stuff and to see where my dorphins end. Whilst I’m there I will pass the time thinking about the great two weeks we have had and the legacy still to come… a bit like my life, really!


Phil Jesson recently stepped down after a successful stint as the Academy’s Operations Director. He co-chairs Academy Group 42 and Directors Forum 9 with Joanna Jesson and is very active in helping businesses to grow and thrive.

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One Comment

  1. stuart says:

    Whole-heartedly agree with men being bad losers.

    Witness the petulance of Seb Coe on the rostrum in Moscow when he lost out to Steve Ovett in the 800 metres and the reluctance to even shake hands.

    Maybe the flip side is that fear of failure is a powerful motivator to succeed.

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