Going for Gold- What the Olympics can teach us about successful Change Management

With the Rio Olympics in full swing, many of us are glued to the TV as we watch talented athletes from around the world come together to compete, pushing their limits and hoping that years of hard training and preparation will all pay off.

Kate Bestow writes about change managment and lessons learnt from Rio Olympics for myHRcareers HR blog. powered by Veran Performance, HR transformation consultancy.

I find Olympic athletes fascinating and inspiring individuals, constantly taking our breath away as they continue to achieve the unachievable; jumping higher, throwing further and running faster than we thought would be possible. How is it that these individuals are able to challenge their own mental and physical limits? Can we learn anything from the Olympian success story when facing our own challenges in our professional or personal life? And how can we incorporate these lessons learnt when driving organisational change?


  1. Have a clear direction- For Olympians, the goal is obvious and the path to reach this goal is clear resulting in the athletes feeling optimistic and confident. Unfortunately, during organisational transformation this may not always be the case; the direction and end result may become increasingly foggy as different levels of the organisation become involved. This may result in employees lacking motivation, becoming increasingly anxious and resist change. To ensure employee engagement, adoption and commitment to the change process it is advised to identify leaders at various levels of the organisation, committed to aligning the individuals’ goals to the overall organisational goal and motivating employees to adopt the change.


  1. Don’t go it alone! – Olympians have a fantastic support system of teammates, coaches, friends and family to boost their confidence and enhance their morale. This is even more important during organisational change as collaboration is key.


  1. Small changes make a big difference- Sir David Brailsford, British Cycling coach and former head of British Cycling applied a theory of marginal gains to his team’s performance. He stated that if you improved every area in cycling by just 1%, ultimately all the small gains would add up to great improvement. He considered everything, from diet, to tyre weight, to the pillows that the athletes sleep on. His theory proved successful and he changed the face of British Cycling. When driving organisational change it is often tempting to think that big change= big difference, however, it is often the smaller changes that end up making the biggest difference overall and a more successful change process.


  1. Monitor progress- Most Olympians keep a training log to increase the effectiveness of their training in the lead up to the Olympics, making sure they reach their targets and record any issues or problems that arise. Monitoring the effectiveness of organisational change is not as straight forward but is still vital for the success of change management. For example, how do we know that employees are accepting the change? How do we know how employees are reacting? Do we need to slow down the change process or even speed it up? Due to the qualitative nature, this can be difficult to measure, definitely not as simple as recording an athlete’s performance, however, provides room for creativity and innovation. Possibilities include employee surveys, questionnaires or informal feedback meetings, recording stats on Help inboxes to monitor technical issues where new technology is involved and progress reviews.


  1. Celebrate and repeat!- Possibly the most important thing when learning new skills, stepping out of your comfort zone and pushing your limits is to celebrate your success and Olympians really go all out with a bang! Success makes you happy and inspires you to carry along your path to further success. Celebrating is a great opportunity to reflect on how far you’ve come and recognise your improvements and achievements. For most athletes they are not celebrating the win- they are celebrating the accomplishment of hard work. Athletes revel in their celebrations, enjoy every moment and once they’ve had a taste for success they return to their training with the next Olympics in sight. I think we can learn a lot here from the Olympians about celebrating success, recognising the small wins and coming together to celebrate as a team. Within Change Management, small changes, adoption of new technology or new ways of working and long terms wins must be recognised and celebrated. This celebration boosts morale and is necessary to cement and embed the change in an organisation. Continued monitoring and reinforcement also helps further sustain the change, avoids employees reverting back to old ways of working and results in successful change management.


If your organisation is about to experience any kind of organisational change, don’t fall at the first hurdle and be prepared for the change. Keep your eye on the end goal, work as a team and don’t forget to celebrate those all important successes.

Do you have questions or change management advice to share? Join the debate! 
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Kate Bestow, HR transformation consultant at Veran performance, writes about change management and lessons learnt from Rio olympics for myHRcareers HR blog. Powered by Veran Performance.

Kate is a HR transformation consultant at Veran Performance. Her special interest is change management in large organisations.