Monday, 8 August 2016

The business that is the Olympics

The Olympics are upon us once more.  Records will be broken, there'll be disputes, accusations of cheating, celebration of success.  Search for any combination of behaviours, systems and processes, targets and league tables, management and leadership and you'll find it in abundance in the whirlpool that is the Olympics.  And one thing you can be certain of, is that things change.

They change from Olympics to Olympics, from discipline to discipline, from day to day.  What strategy you would have had on Monday could be out of the window come Tuesday.  So how do those in positions of leadership cope with the changes?

Perhaps one of the keys can be found in the British Swimming Team and the amazing story of our first gold medal winner of the games, Adam Peaty.

You may recall that there has been a history of difficulties between the coach and the team even back in the days of Beijing. London 2012 was a particularly disappointing medal haul and the team were accusing of being 'molly coddled'  Significant changes were made at the top with new appointments which heralded a new way of working and thinking.  I wanted to pick out three key statements made in a recent interview to The Independent by head coach Bill Furniss.

"We are more focused"

“We work on resilience"

"Setting targets is futile because there is no accounting for what the opponent may achieve"

There is no question that the first statement, focusing on what's important, is central to good leadership and good strategy.   We too often got caught up in the 'noise' that surrounds us which leads to a dissipation of effort and energy into less productive activities. The clarity you gain by focus enables you to make better use of your resources to greater effect.

Resilience is often neglected.  Invariably it's the hard slog that drives down motivation, numbs creativity yet it's the hard slog that's required.  With swimming it's the hours of trawling up and down the pool, spending time in the gym to perfect technique and gain maximum fitness.  It's the same in business.  If you don't develop resilience then where's the inner drive to keep going when things get difficult?

The third might be seen as more controversial.  After all we live our business lives with targets, performance management, KPIs.  What's important to support this approach is the following comment from him. "Swim your best performance of the season and your life when it counts... do that and I'll be a happy chappy ... we will count the medals at the end of the week."

You know your competitor's strengths and weaknesses up to a point.  What you cannot account for is individual performance at specific times which can throw all previous thinking out of the window.  Your competitor might be that much quicker at responding to a crisis, or opportunity than you which means they take the lead.

This is practical, motivational, supportive leadership from Furniss.  He has instilled within the organisation a culture of focus, resilience and released the psychological and potentially negative burden of targets.  Instead he's offered them  the positive driver of doing your best when it counts". 

He didn't select Ross Murdoch, the Commonwealth champion because of a poor time in trials. Murdoch didn't perform to his best when it counted.  It was controversial but it set the marker and the team are responding to it.

Peaty knew when it counted and he's got the Olympic gold medal as a result.   

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