What HR can learn from the Olympic Games

Olympics 2012 - Ladies Hockey

With the 31st Summer Olympics due to kick off in Rio de Janeiro next week, it would seem that the impending event has, so far, been making news for all the wrong reasons. Whether it be delayed construction, the Zika virus, or the Russian doping debacle, there’s certainly as much going on outside of the arena, as there is inside it.

The Olympic Games is, of course, a significant international event, which unites people of all nationalities and cultures in a common interest, sport. More than 200 countries are expected to take part in this year’s games, which will see more than 10,000 athletes compete in 28 different sports, across 300 events. Not surprisingly, this presents a mammoth planning and management challenge for the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

So how does all this tie into HR?

When you think about the vastly differing needs and wants of +10,000 athletes, there are a multitude of factors that need to be considered – and then planned for – in order to ensure happy athletes, happy spectators, and a successful event. And, in the same way that sprinters and swimmers have distinct needs and objectives, so too do the employees who make up today’s modern, multinational workforces.

The parallels do not stop there, however, and there are, in fact, a number of HR lessons to be learned from the world’s largest sporting event. Here are three key takeaways that HR professionals can glean from the Olympics:

1. Creating Great Experiences

The key to both sporting and business success is actually one and the same – creating great experiences that engage people. So in the same way that Olympic athletes have to be dedicated in order to succeed, business leaders need to facilitate engaging employee experiences before they can expect an optimized service delivery for customers. Disengaged employees will only lead to unhappy customers, it’s as simple as that.

While this is a debate that has received more attention from industry thought leaders over the past couple of years, business leaders still have a long way to go in elevating this issue up the C-suite agenda. Initial steps in the right direction are being made however, and we’re starting to see some HR leaders embracing new concepts such as the employee journey, workforce experience and people analytics.

2. Diversity is King!

With so many countries taking part in the Olympic Games, the different ways in which country teams operate and conduct themselves is often a hot topic of discussion in the commentary box. Indeed, part of what makes the Olympics so captivating, is its plethora of cultural diversity.

Similarly, diversity in the workplace can also provide more enriching experiences – both for the employee, and the customer. And, with a more diverse team, comes a broader skill set and new opportunity.

Of course, a diverse workforce does not come without its HR challenges however, and in today’s increasingly disparate and global working environment, business leaders need insight from sophisticated HR systems in order to be able to cater to the specific needs and wants of individuals.

3. Play to your peoples’ strengths

Unless you understand what the strengths and defined skill sets of your employees are, you can’t use these to your joint advantage. This is why knowing your people as well as you know your customers is vital to identifying where strengths need to be reinforced, and where skills gaps need to be closed. In the same way that sending a gymnast in to run the 100m sprint might seem like a mistake, so too is asking your Finance Manager to act as interim Marketing Manager. If it’s not their thing, it’s not going to work.

The flip side to this is that company leaders also need to understand how people want to develop their skills, knowledge and careers. It might just be, for example, that your Finance Manager actually does want to learn more about marketing and take his/her career in a different direction. This ‘career engineering’ is a relatively new HR concept, but one which is quickly gaining advocates who see opportunities for employees to use transferable skills in a different context.

People analytics, too, is a rapidly growing area of business intelligence that can paint a real-time picture of the workforce and provide the actionable insight needed to solve business problems and optimize outcomes. The opportunities it can unveil are endless, and your workforce will thank you for it.

Whichever country you’ll be supporting at the 2016 Olympiad, the team here at Sage People would like to wish all athletes the very best of luck for a great summer of sport in Rio.

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