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British Olympic Success in Rio: Reasons for Success

By Jon Saywer on 06/09/2016 - 0 Comments

This Article was originally posted on the 19th August, updated following the completion of the Olympics.

Not long ago British athletes used to struggle to make their mark against the ‘professional’ athletes of Eastern Europe, Russia and the United States. At the Atlanta Games in 1996, the UK won just one gold medal - Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent in the coxless pairs.

Since then Britain has gone from strength to strength and achieved a 2nd place ranking in the medal table behind the USA with 27 gold medals and 67 total (gold, silver and bronze).

What are the reasons for this and what lessons can business also take from this?
Owen Gibson writing for the Guardian on 15th. August puts the success down to 5 factors:

1. The National Lottery Funding

UK Sport has ploughed a record £355m into preparing our athletes for Rio. It has done so on what Gibson describes as a  “no compromise”, Darwinian approach to medal winning which owes much to the way that capitalism works in a free-market economy. It was John Major who decided to divert funding from the national lottery to British sport.

The total funding now stands at around 20% of lottery receipts and accounts for around 75% of total investment in British sport.

A major change to the amount invested and the allocation of resources based upon potential for success has had a dramatic effect on our results. There are clear parallels to be taken for British business.

2. No Compromise Culture

This means that cash is targeted in the areas that are most likely to bring podium places. Some sports such as British basketball and table tennis have lost out to other sports such as rowing and cycling. Quite simply the focus has been on winning medals.
In your business do you know what your key goals are and have you got allocated your resources to achieve them?

3. The High-Performance System

Recruiting high quality coaching talent where the focus is on every single marginal gain that can be achieved has had a transformative effect. Attention is given to every minute detail, and coaches such as Sir Dave Brailsford from London 2012 put cycling on the map with this approach. Success can now be seen in the cycling team in Rio with every single British entry coming home with a medal. 

As a business owner, how often do you get involved in the detail? It is often in the small areas of small change that we can make, that can have a compound effect, leading to an even greater results. Stephen Covey (‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’) describes a key area of performance being a business owners’ ability to ‘Sharpen the Saw’.

This, he says, will help them focus on improving all areas of detail. It may be time to invest in yourself to renew yourself physical, spiritually, mentally and socially which will help you to design high performance systems for your business.

4. New Stars Emerging

To win medals, you will need high performing teams. The essence of the how those in charge of funding have been able to achieve, is in developing a system that constantly regenerates talent. So far, there is plenty of evidence of this in our cycling and rowing teams.

Finding good people is therefore not enough. To stay at the top you need to develop systems that help nurture, develop and train emerging athletes to follow on in the path of previous medal success.

There are clear parallels here in developing sound and robust training and development programmes for teams in the workplace. It is not just enough to spot individuals to promote through the company. The requirement is to have a system that constantly equips and skills new talent to take over i.e. a process for a succession plan at all levels.

5. Team Spirit

Unlike their English football counterparts, the British team in Rio have been a unified and cohesive ‘whole’. Every elite athlete has worked alongside emerging stars to build good morale. Big names such as Andy Murray, Justin Rose and Bradley Wiggins have all been involved in imparting ideas and sharing knowledge and experience. This is probably the best team dynamic that British sport has ever witnessed.

Building a strong team culture that reinforces team morale and enables a clear drive toward achieving goals has to be a pre-requisite for any business. How many businesses actually achieve this?

These 5 success factors will inevitably help to drive further success in the next Olympics.

For business, there are many lessons that can be learned. We can always just bask in the glory of the British Olympic success, or we could may be take time out to see what lessons we can learn in order that we may improve what we do in our business.

Having a discussion over coffee with your local ICON advisor is the best, no obligation start you can make to getting your business to the top of the medal table.

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