Performance building - taking the Olympic view

Performance building - taking the Olympic view

So, your business is going through growing pains and you’re wondering how to have the right team in place in a year or two’s time when scale really starts to happen?

I’d argue a look at the GB Paralympic team and how they both invested for success for the “home match” in 2012 but have then maintained their performance over a long period can teach us some lessons in business.

Too often I see young organisations, led by the two or three capable start-up entrepreneurs, finding themselves stumbling at year 3 when the owners become overwhelmed by the combined task of looking after existing customers, hunting for new ones, managing the growing business and creating the product pipeline.

Businesses supported on the shoulders of inexperienced interns with too much knowledge in too few hands.

Sustaining growth and performance becomes the challenge, the frustration and a common problem.

So, what was the approach taken by our hugely successful Paralympic team? What can we learn from some of their key strategies?

  1. Invest in the successful – notice the word invest not just reward. For the current key performers who are expected to deliver next year focus on maintaining, motivating and funding them to be dedicated to you. Interestingly in sport funding the “bonus” for winning a medal is relatively small, the real reward if future funding. One to think about in sales-world where far too much is often paid for delivering sales today or yesterday in bonuses. More structured rewards of salary and shares might keep that high performer around and incentivised for longer.
  2. Invest in talent – this is the key shift for many young businesses. Identify early your next leaders and start their learning process. Teach them, train them and then reward them for staying. Interns can be seen as “cheap labour” which moves on. Some of it needs to stay or who are you going to hand parts of the business on to. Spend time and money here, even at the expense of some of today’s high flyers. This is exactly what the talent programme seeks to do in para-sport. It guarantees, even when budgets are cut, that some funded places go to junior potential future winners, even if some of today’s performers get less. Controversial in some ways but it leads to sustainability of team performance.
  3. Create the structure and environment for success. Who are your coaches? What specialist help will your team need to get the best out of them and how do you embed learning as well as performance in you culture. All your partners and leaders need to be developing their replacement at an early stage. This will develop and retain the best talent.

The other side of this for us is to be clear about what your business needs to be organisationally great at. What are the real skills that differentiate you and your product? These are most likely to be directly connected to your product or proposition. Use this insight to identify key talent. Who really gets excited about what you do and loves it?

Business process skills such as finance, payroll and operations are important, but more likely non-core and can be guided on a part time basis or effectively outsourced to trusted partners.

This year’s Paralympic squad delivered an amazing result overall with 124 medals, more than London 2012 (120) and only slightly down on Rio’s peak of 147. Given Russia returned to these games this time and took 118 medals this is an amazing result.

Of course, this required them to have an amazing bunch of committed high performers. But that was only delivered because of the years of investment in coaching and talent development…

What’s your squad development strategy to keep your business an Olympic performer?

A short bio of Stuart

Stuart Wood, son of one of our part-time directors, arrived at Tokyo for his first Paralympic Games having previously delivered bronze at the worlds and as reigning European Champion. Nottinghamshire based and having come through the GB Talent programme he came away with a bronze as part of the single most successful sport team from GB. More on Stuart and the team here.

Nigel Wood
Portfolio Commercial Director