Deeply emotional, immense pressure, and highly competitive. These are just some of the terms used to describe the recently closed 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. But these phrases can also be used to describe organizational management. Not only do sports teach us about life, but their lessons can also be applied to management as well. Let’s take a look at how we can apply the lessons learned from the 2014 Sochi Games to turn ordinary managers into champions.
In the past, men’s snowboard half pipe, speedskating, and short-track used to be dominated by the United States. However, in Sochi no individual medals were awarded to Americans in these events. Shaun White, Shani Davis, Apolo Ohno (now retired) were the champions of the prior two Olympic Games but where were the next generation of U.S. champions? The United States simply did not have any depth in those events now that our past champions are past their prime. In the workplace, the lack of depth can lead to the same deterioration in team performance. Managers can ensure continued high performance in the event that key personnel are absent by encouraging cross training of critical skills across numerous employees. Organizations can also create depth by encouraging the company’s superstars to mentor those with less experience and assist their professional growth thus transforming them into elite employees. Successful business leaders put a high priority into succession planning in order to ensure the long-term success of their organization.
The controversy surrounding the American speedskating suits can be described as both comical and embarrassing. Whether or not the suits were to blame for the U.S. being absent from the podium is irrelevant, however it is evident that there was certainly a breakdown in change management. A proper change management process requires thorough analysis and identifies the impacts of the change; in this case the skin suits. If a proper analysis were conducted then it would have been known prior to competition if the equipment would negatively impact performance. The same goes for business. A comprehensive change management plan should be in place to properly analyze the impacts of any changes to resources, materials, tools, schedules, and so forth prior to implementation. Don’t fall into the trap of rushing to execution instead of taking the time to properly plan and analyze. In the long run enforcement of the change management plan will save time, money, and embarrassment.
In an event that is traditionally dominated by Europeans, the United States bobsled team applied some innovation entering the 2014 Games. This year, the American 2-man bobsleds were designed by BMW resulting in a new look and application of carbon fiber instead of the traditional fiberglass. The result was three medals (silver and two bronzes) making it the most successful Olympic Games ever for American bobsledding. Today’s marketplace is highly competitive and innovation is what sets the winners apart from the rest of the pack. Innovation results in a measurable improvement and doesn’t just make changes for the sake of change. Successful managers invest the time and resources necessary to spur innovation. Employing new ideas can be risky but overcoming that fear of going against the mainstream is what will provide the opportunity for break-thru results.
Set Goals to Win Gold
Olympic athletes are motivated and driven. They all have goals, whether it is to finish on top of the podium or to just finish the race. Their success isn’t based on public opinion. They have their own measures of success to judge their performance. Organizational goals and standards have the same purpose. Too many organizations look at them as just merely words on paper. Properly thought-out goals guide employees and identify the criteria for organizational success. Goals create the motivation and pride necessary to reach for those heights that may have once been considered unobtainable. Managers should include their employees when developing goals; after all they are the ones who are going to have to do the legwork to obtain them. Goals provide us with the focus necessary to strive for success, whether it is a sales figure or a gold medal.
Like all other enterprises, the Olympic Games have an army of unsung heroes behind the scenes ensuring that the athletes have everything they need in order to shine. Whether it is the technicians ensuring the alpine and snowboard athletes have properly waxed skis, the cooks feeding the athletes, or the maintenance teams ensuring the venues are ready for competition, these are the folks that lay the foundation needed to build success. Our organizations are not any different. Business leaders, engineers, and salesman may get all the glory but their success was possible because of the support provided by others. Organizational managers need to ensure proper recognition is provided to those behind the scenes such as the IT personnel, human resources, assembly line workers, logisticians, and countless others who act as the backbone of the company. Allow them to share in the success of those in the spotlight. Ensure they understand how their hard work contributed to the success of the overall team. Take their morale seriously because if the supporting cast is not motivated then the foundation they provide will not be able to support the organization.
Though the 2014 Olympic Winter Games have come to an end their legacy will last for lifetimes. In many ways the Olympics are not just about sports, they are about life, they are about politics, and they are about organizational management. Successful managers take a look at the lessons learned in projects and apply them as they strive for continuous improvements. The Games in Sochi have provided us with plenty of lessons that can be applied in management and lift our organizations to the top of the podium.