What can we learn from our Olympic Team?
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What can we learn from our Olympic Team?

Last month we saw a record number of GB gold medal team performances at the Rio Olympics. So what can HR and management learn from this?

Many of us will feel a huge gap in our lives now the Olympics coverage has finished. (Don’t worry the Paralympics runs from 7-18th September and The Great British Bake Off is back!) But rather than just forget the mesmerising team performances we should look at a few and the lessons we can learn from them.

  1. Jessica Ennis – Hill wins a silver medal for the team

Returning to Olympic form after taking a break to have a baby. Jess is obviously in a unique position, coming on the back of winning Gold in London however this year’s performance shows that women returning to the workforce after having time off to have a baby are able to juggle their new responsibilities and their career. However, research published earlier this year reports that 77% of pregnant women and new mothers reported negative or discriminatory experiences at work. (this equals 390,000 women – EHRC and BIS).

Additional research published this month from Citizens Advice shows a 60% rise in maternity related discrimination in this last year. The question you should be asking yourself is: Does your company give pregnant women and new mothers a fair chance? Because if not, you could be losing valuable talent from your organisation. We’re pleased that Jess was, as she remains the best Heptathlete the UK team has to offer.

The British cycling team wins everything in sight (well almost!)

So the British cycling team wins again. Their performance surpassed their own records set in London and every member of the team came home with a medal. This high performance culture was evident as Mark Cavendish said he was disappointed not to win gold rather than being delighted at winning his first Olympic silver. The culture of marginal gains has been well documented.  Dave Brailsford credited with instilling this culture said ‘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.’ This culture has now spread to other sports right across the GB team with similar results. So if it can be done in sport with a team of 366 athletes, it can be done in your organisation.

Are you making that 1% improvement in everything you do? 1% is not a lot to ask but put all the 1% gains together and you’re sure to be in a stronger position for it. Another point worth bearing in mind is that Brailsford became Perfomance Director in 2003. The team won two gold medals in 2004, then Eight Gold medals were won in 2008 and 2012. This year, under new leadership but a maintained focus on the gains, GB won medals in eleven separate events. The key here is to look to the long term. Even if results are seen soon after the changes are implemented, stick with it, as there is even more to be gained.

Mo Farah and Usain Bolt (I know he’s not British) retire (maybe) from the Olympics.

After completing the ‘Double Double’ and the ‘Treble Treble’ Mo Farah and Usain Bolt look likely to retire from Olympic competition. Thankfully, there have already been calls for the great athletes/entertainers to be kept involved in the world of athletics in some capacity. In the UK we are experiencing skill shortages. So we can copy this and look at our retirees to help fill the skills gap.

The CIPD reported that in the UK we have 9.4 million people in employment over the age of 50. Equivalent to over 30% of the workforce. ‘Many industries have a poor record on retaining older workers, seeing a large drop-off in the number of workers between the ages of 45–49 and 60–64. In particular, finance, public administration and ICT all see a drop of greater than 60% between the number of workers they employ in their late forties and in their late sixties. Such falls suggest that these sectors are not doing enough to support longer working lives. They will be hampered by the loss of skilled and experienced staff’.  We now have the flexibility to allow employees to remain in work for longer.

This  means we can retain their skills for longer but what should business and HR do to help?

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