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Achieving the Remarkable

Achieving the Remarkable

Like millions of people all around the world, I have been enjoying the spectacle of the Olympic Games. Watching top performers at the peak of their abilities is always good but the Olympics are special. They offer a unique combination of competition and camaraderie that creates a WOW! that uplifts athlete and spectator alike.

There can be no doubt about the intensity of the competition. Every athlete is striving to stretch beyond anything they have ever achieved before and prepared to endure massive physical discomfort in the process, which is what makes it such compelling viewing.  Nevertheless, the competition somehow still, ultimately, seems to become secondary. Goodwill and good sportsmanship is manifested in a way it isn’t in any other sporting arena.

Perhaps – and I can only surmise – this is due to the recognition that the Games have brought together people at the very top of their field. This, compounded by the fact that they only come around every four years creates a mutual respect and a unique bond that isn’t repeated in any other sports competition. This unites rather than divides and may be why just taking part is enough for all but the very elite.

For example, there were 9 or 10 heats just for the men’s 100 metre athletics. That is 80-90 sprinters. And there are only three medals (two if you exclude Usain Bolt!)  Consequently for most athletes it ultimately comes down to competing against themselves – to doing their very best. So, for them the measure of success is simply achieving a “Personal Best” (PB). For them that is remarkable. However, their endeavour, and the chance of the unexpected, is what gives the Games their distinctive character and what makes them such a pleasure to watch.

There is an important lesson here for any business leader. To achieve the remarkable you need to create an enabling culture that promotes PBs.  You need an environment that encourages, recognises and rewards PBs. Only when you create a distinctive employer brand that offers a superior customer experience and gives you a competitive edge, will you achieve the remarkable and make people want to do business with you.    

If you doubt this, you just have to listen to the interviews of the medal-winning athletes. In so many cases the first thing they do is thank their others without whom, they acknowledge, their achievement would not have been possible. The fact is that great personal achievement is seldom, if ever, the result only of the individual’s own effort.

One of the most remarkable and inspiring examples of this was the Great Britain cycle team. It completely dominated the cycling events to such an extent that:

  • It won most of the medals
  • Every single competing athlete won a medal
  • Almost all its members are looking forward to getting back to their training!

WOW 123rf 21532194_s

They were so successful that all the other teams are questioning how they did it, and even voicing suspicions of illegal tactics, which they cannot substantiate and which, in a sport recently ravaged by doping scandal, seems highly unlikely and, hopefully, totally unfounded. Rather than every single rider expressing their gratitude to their support team, most interesting here was the numbers of people and size and functions of those teams: family, coaches, personal trainers, nutritionists, mechanics, physiotherapists, etc.  

Being awesome and achieving the remarkable is truly a team effort, for both an individual and an organisation. It depends on every member of the team doing their best, personally and collectively. You could say it is the result of a number of PBs. So if you want an organisation that achieves the remarkable and creates WOW! you need to recognise that ‘Every Individual Matters.’

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  • Hi Bay,

    A really interesting post and I've worked with a Director who truly built a culture where individuals were given the opportunity to make those marginal gains and contribute to their own phenomenal success and to the success of their team.  Another aspect that was really important for this to succeed was having clear goals in mind for what they wanted to achieve.

    Whilst the GB team have really achieved at the Olympics it has been said that this was at the sacrifice of the World Championships where teams such as Australia rose to the challenge but GB fell short because the prize for them was the Olympics - so is it also a question of choosing your focus as a business carefully and ensuring that everyone knows those are the things that count?

    • Hi Patricia

      I'm glad you enjoyed it. And yes, you are absolutely right - nothing would be possible without a clear purpose. That is something I always stress along with the fact that people are actually investing their lives in their work, so it is important to align personal growth and development with organisational objectives. 

      Perhaps Olympic success was given a higher priority than the World Championships, but that to me also suggests that they were looking after the cyclists' best interests, knowing that it is hard to peak twice. (Plus, I understand there were injury concerns.) As long as everyone is in the know, in agreement and working together the results will take care of themselves. 

  • Great post Bay and like many, I've been inspired by the success of the GB team.

    As well as the things you have mentioned I'd also add that a plan and the right support is hugely important to remarkable success. 

    For example we saw success start at the Beijing games but the planning and strategy towards the London games on home soil gave us one of our most success Olympic games ever - in part due to funding, the right resources and of course great coaching. Not to mention a desire and intent from our athletes to be successful. The London games inspired a generation and we're seeing the fruits of this in cycling and gymnastics to name two 4 years later.

    So I think you're right being awesome and achieving the remarkable is truly a team effort but there needs to be a plan and it needs to be well executed and consistent over a period of time to provide this success. It doesn't come over night - in sport or in an organisational setting.

    The focus on marginal gains shows that it doesn't need to be massive changes in either equipment or behaviour that can make the biggest differences - lot's of small changes can be just as if not more powerful than one big change. There is a good post on this and if it can be applied to HR here 

    Why is GB team so successful? The aggregation of marginal gains

    • Thanks Mike. It is always nice to get feedback on a posting.

      Of course you are right - there are any number of lessons that HR and management can learn from the Olympics and I wasn't intending to imply that my ideas are all there is to it. Your point about marginal improvements is certainly a good example. My point was simply that - at the end of the day - nothing we do is the result entirely of our own efforts. Consequently we will all collectively achieve more if we recognize that fact and work accordingly.As you say, that necessarily demands effective planning and good communication.    

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