Lessons in Excellence from the Olympics

Just over 3 days left now until the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics. The last rehearsal for the ceremony took place last night, and by all accounts went well, with all who attended (60,000 folks!) being sworn to secrecy. One chap who posted a photo onto Twitter obviously thought better of this breach of trust and took it down pretty quickly. One blogger  (@JillLawless) describes it as “splendidly British and magnificently bonkers“, whilst another (@petehendrick) declares “If you’ve got plans Friday night, cancel them. Opening Ceremony out of this world.” So there you have it! I shall be watching, how about you?

Since this is a Future Shape of the Winner blog, I will be thinking about which of the features of our model we can see in action during the course of the Olympics and whether there is any learning for the rest of us mere mortals!


To start at the very beginning, the most obvious analogy is the pure Talent that is on show at the Games. Every single Olympian or Paralympian athlete  is a textbook example of the core element of an Excellent organisation – an individual who is determined to be a master at their own craft. (By the way,that’s our definition of Talent) It seems so tough that there can only be one winner in every competition, which inevitably means there will be far more ‘losers’ than ‘winners’. But having the chance of glory is clearly a really powerful incentive to thousands of would-be gold medal winners.

The drive to achieve Personal Best Performance that matters so much in sporting circles gives those of us in business something to reflect on about our own capabilities. Do we each know what our own current Personal Best is or are we stuck in a rut of sameness or mediocrity? And if we do have a sense of our current best, have we got a plan to better it?

As leaders, how do we manage to set up a situation at work where people will want to strive to be as good as they can be? What is our equivalent of setting Olympic Goals?


Whenever there is a big prize to be won, there is always the chance that less scrupulous characters will find ways to create advantage for themselves.  I think that sport has done a pretty good job of making the disincentives for the use of performance enhancing drugs outweigh the benefits and have put in place some really reliable processes that check that people are complying. Doubtless there will be folks that are still trying to circumvent these rules, but it is harder and harder to make it pay! In FSW, this is an example of  Performance characteristic 17 in our Excellence Audit; Our measures drive truly professional behaviors in our team and the right partnership behaviors with clients, customers, and suppliers.

When you examine some of the greedy and selfish behaviour amongst our business people and politicians that we’ve seen in the last few years I do question the balance of measures that we find in so many organisations. Maybe we can learn some lessons about the surveillance and punishment we see in sport for ethical misdemeanours?


I’m not much enjoying the rearrangements that are being made in London to facilitate the movement of traffic during the Olympics. Unfortunately, I have three rehearsals this week at the BBC in Maida Vale (NW of the city) and my journey from the east normally takes me through the centre. Not this week, I can assure you! On my last two trips, I had to allow 2.5 hours and 1.75 hours for a journey that is a mere 25 miles. Oh dear;-(  Then again, it is just for 3 weeks!