What the Olympics taught us about how to build a world-class organisation

As the curtains come down on the London Olympic Games and before the Paralympic Games begin, we can reflect on some breath-taking moments of individual and team brilliance over the past two weeks. For the victorious athletes, they will relish that their punishing training routines in the years preceding the Games have been rewarded. For those who have not been so fortunate to win a medal and are planning to participate in the in Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016, they must go away and think about what adjustments they need to make to improve over the next 4 years.

Speaking to BBC Sport last Monday, Sir Chris Hoy, 6 times Olympic Medal winner, was asked what had been the single biggest contributing factor leading to the incredible success enjoyed by British cyclists in this year's Olympiad. His answer was that it wasn’t possible to isolate one factor, but that the success of the team over the past 4 years had been forged by a decision British Cycling took in the late 1990s to holistically review how the team was set up to succeed. Recent achievements, according to Hoy, was due to having access to the best coaches, nutritionists, sports scientists, bike technicians, psychologists and track facilities - all of which had been put in place many years ago.

Much has been written about the contribution of British Cycling performance director Dave Brailsford and his philosophy of ‘marginal gains’ that underpin everything that the team does. "The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together," said Hoy. "It's all of it, the science, the training, the coaches, but most of all we point the mirror at ourselves and ask 'how can we get better?‘”

Implications for capability development

As businesses, fighting for value growth in markets that are often highly competitive, the search for commercial return requires teams to master performance across their discipline, from channel strategy to negotiation skills for sales teams, from insight-led segmentation to customer experience delivery for marketers and so on. In that respect, professionals are more like heptathletes, who have to develop their skills in many different sports. Jessica Ennis, the 2012 gold medallist heptathlon champion, has herself adopted a ‘search for small gains’ approach, working with her team to monitor improvements, meticulously analysing her displays on videos and spreadsheets. Ennis, one of the smallest women in the heptathlon, has had to apply herself to improving in one of her weakest events, the javelin, and has learned to recognise that powerful throwing is dependent upon technique rather than size.

So if you borrow the title of ‘performance director’, and think about your organisational goals over the next 4 years, what capabilities do you need to strengthen and how are you setting up your communities to deliver future success? Are you taking a holistic approach to improving performance? How would you answer these 3 questions for your organisations? The Olympic motto is Citius, Altius, Fortius which is Latin for ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’. Leave nothing to chance to ensure you have the capabilities to become a market leader.

Image © 2012 The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Limited

For more information about how Brand Learning can help you lift your organisation’s capabilities, please get in touch or contact me directly Andy Greene on LinkedIn. You may also like these films, perspectives and resources on Learning.

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