5 HR Lessons from the Winter Olympics


The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics have us glued to the results on a daily basis to see how our Canadian athletes are performing. While nothing can match enjoying the Winter Games live in your own city as we did in Vancouver four years ago, we can’t help but think about translating the experience of our athletes into HR lessons that be applied to your business.

Here are 5 HR lessons from the Winter Olympics:

1. Have a clear vision & goal

When Canada set out to “Own the Podium” in 2010, it inspired a team to get behind a vision that had never been accomplished before – be at the top of the medal standings at the end of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games. Resources were marshalled together to achieve this goal, and at the end of the 2010 games, Canada had the most gold medals of any nation. It remains to be seen whether they can repeat this performance in 2014, but the vision remains strong and the Canadian team continues to work towards this goal. So the question becomes – how clear is your corporate vision and how clearly do your staff understand what the vision is?

2. Align people with overall vision

One of the most compelling stories from the 2014 Winter Games is the story of Canadian long track speed skater Gilmore Junio giving up his spot in the men’s 1000 meter race to his teammate Denny Morrison. Morrison had fallen in the Canadian trials and hadn’t qualified in that distance for the Olympics. Junio believed that Morrison had a better chance to be on the podium than he did, and gave up his spot so Morrison could race. The result? Morrison won the silver medal, missing out on gold by a few hundredths of a second. Junio clearly believed in the Canadian team’s vision, and his actions were consistent with achieving that vision. How aligned are the actions and activities of your staff with your corporate vision?

3. Exemplify your values

Demonstrating sportsmanship is a key value of the Olympics, and Canada’s head cross-country ski coach Justin Wadsworth demonstrated that magnificently when he rushed to help a Russian skier after the athlete crashed and broke one of his skis. Wadsworth ran to the Russian with a new ski and attached the new ski to his boot, so that the Russian could finish the race. Wadsworth has received widespread attention for his act of sportsmanship. How are your leaders and managers living your organizational values? Are they “walking the walk” and “talking the talk” on a daily basis? Are their actions congruent and consistent with the values espoused?

4. Team play produces results

It is a common refrain from Olympic medallists being interviewed after finishing their event that they couldn’t have done it without the assistance and support of many others: coaches, medical staff, training partners, family, friends….. the list goes on. Achieving a vision requires a tremendous amount of cooperation and integration between many different people. Staff need to know what their roles and responsibilities are in accomplishing the overall vision and goals. Acknowledging and recognizing the roles that others play in achieving a milestone or goal empowers the group to achievement.

5. Celebrate successes & failures

The Olympics are well known for celebrating successes. After an event finishes, there are flower and medal ceremonies to acknowledge the medallists’ achievements. In addition, media coverage also includes celebrating “failures”. During the games, the Canadian luge team had several 4th place finishes, but no podium finishes. Some would consider that a “failure”, but instead we were explained how far the luge team had come in improving its finishes over the past few years, and how long a process it takes to improve results. Acknowledging personal bests and incremental improvements are important steps towards achieving medals. The same goes for corporate results – recognize staff for improved results along the way towards achieving the overall objective.

Our Canadian Olympic athletes provide tremendous inspiration for goal achievement, and there are many HR lessons that can be applied to our work lives. Go Canada Go!

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