Eight Olympic HR Lessons

Eight Olympic HR Lessons

Eight Olympic HR Lessons

It’s just days to go until the Olympics takes over our TVs and our attention, so how do Olympic teams go about pulling together the best of the best, and making them better?


  1. Know your top performers
    Your top performers are not just the people bringing in the best results now - they  could also be the future of your company if you maintain their engagement, training and forward momentum. A lot of top athletes become coaches after they stop competing. The same goes for your top 10% of employees – they’re the ones you want working towards management positions.
  2. Don’t discount the also-rans
    Just because your top player is out of the game doesn’t mean you should expect failure. Sometimes the unexpected athlete comes from behind to win, and sometimes they were always just waiting for a chance to shine. When two US gymnastics superstars dropped out due to injury most people thought their team’s medal chances were over. Instead they came home with a team bronze and an individual silver medal.
  3. It’s not all about the money
    Michael Phelps won the gold medal in the 200m butterfly in Beijing and set a world record, but he was disappointed that he didn’t beat his personal speed goal. Money and rewards are important, but make sure you know what else your staff are looking for.
  4. Coaching is key
    It’s hard to analyze your own performance or to motivate yourself to improve. The best athletes have multiple coaches, and in the workforce such feedback and mentoring is also vital. Are you coaching a star, or do you need a coach of your own?
  5. Improve your employer branding
    Athletes want to be on the Olympic team. They compete against others and push themselves further all in the hope they’ll make the team. Do people want to work for you? It’s a lot easier to hire the top players if they’re looking for a place on your team.
  6. Results trump qualifications
    Olympians aren’t selected because of their list of accomplishments – they earn their spot by beating a set time, winning at specific events or by being one of the top 64 athletes worldwide in their sport. If you want to hire winners, look for performance measures, not just an impressive resume.
  7. Know your players’ strengths – and weaknesses
    There’s no point putting a snowboarder in the skiing race, even if they’re both snow sports. The same is true about employees, some of whom might have the exact right skills for one role, but will flounder if they’re moved to another. It can go the other way too: your enthusiastic but ineffective accounts manager might be the exact right person for a customer service role.
  8. If it’s a team sport you need team players
    Some roles require a solo superstar, but others are all about group effort. If you don’t have someone who works well with others your team can’t succeed. Consider the US basketball “Dream Team” which in 2004 lost more games than any previous US team. The expert consensus was that the team was full of stars, but the stars didn’t play as a team. In 2008 a return to “fundamental team values” put them back on top.


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