Lessons from Rio
"Attributes such as perseverance and taking control of your destiny are crucial."
Chan Kataria, emh group Chief Executive
Like millions of others, I spent many evenings in the summer watching the Olympics. The success of Team GB and their improvement over the last twenty years has been nothing short of spectacular and inspirational - and it is across the board in swimming, cycling, rowing, gymnastics, athletics and other sports. This success has since been matched in the Paralympics.
On one of those evenings, I began to wonder how positive it would be if we could replicate even a fraction of this winning formula within our own organisations and sector. How transformative would that be for our customers and stakeholders?
Let me start by saying that our achievements collectively are significant and I am not naturally gloomy about the prospects for our sector. However, we do often have a tendency to feel besieged and develop a victim mentality. This is compounded by negative perceptions about our sector as shown in the NHF’s perceptions audit. So what are the reasons behind the Olympic success and what can we learn from them?
First, there is the question of resources. Team GB’s success owes much to the generous Lottery Funding awarded to UK Sport. On average, each medal in Rio 2016 cost £5.5m. It is true that housing associations have suffered from cutbacks in rental income, capital subsidies and welfare reforms. Despite this, the sector is more resilient and financially robust than many others. On the whole, our services are still strong and we continue to develop new homes. And in terms of finance, it is probably the best time to access new funding from the capital markets.
Other factors were equally important in Team GB’s success. The results-focused and “no compromise” approach adopted by UK Sport is a key factor. The world class coaching offered to successful athletes is based on strong performance standards and continuous improvement.
At emh group, we have placed a lot of focus on developing leaders to become effective performance coaches. Coaching does not come naturally to all leaders. I myself have benefited from being coached and am always looking to develop my own coaching approach to others. We are trying to embed a coaching culture across the organisation to replace traditional top down management approaches.
UK Sport places a great deal of focus on identifying and supporting the next generation of athletes to replace the likes of Bradley Wiggins and Jessica Ennis. I can draw similarities with our own apprenticeship programme, which is designed to draw people into the organisation at an early stage and then develop and retain them. I know we could do a lot more on this as talent management strategies are particularly important in the context of a tight labour market. This is bound to get more difficult if we move away from the free movement of people from the EU.
Attributes such as perseverance and taking control of your destiny are crucial. How inspiring is it to listen to stories like that of the Paralympian, Dame Sarah Storey, who turned from being a world class swimmer to a gold winning cyclist, allegedly because of a persistent ear infection. Adaptability and the ability to turn a negative into a positive is what strong organisations are all about and is the basis of the NHF strategies ‘Owning our Future’ and ‘Ambition to Deliver’. It is crucial that we all get behind these campaigns.
Effective teamwork is essential. The gold winning teams in women’s hockey, rowing and keirin all attributed their success to team dynamics and how the whole team was ‘moving as one’. These athletes work and train together and understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses, compensating for their colleagues when necessary so that the team as a whole is better than the sum of its parts. At emh group, we are trying to restructure our teams to be more service-focused rather than purely functional (e.g. client-contract split in maintenance). This is more likely to engender greater team performance. There are also lessons for the sector, which doesn’t always act as ‘one big team’ when required. If we can all sing from the same hymn sheet, imagine how effective our messages would be.
There are other analogies to Rio 2016. UK Sport continuously invests in high level technology to develop new equipment to enhance performance. As a sector, we could get a lot sharper at using technology to improve the digital inclusion for our employees and customers.
However, if there is one thing that impresses me most, it is the power of positive thinking. Virtually all of the successful athletes had a strong belief in their ability to succeed. This, combined with a clear focus on the end goal leads to success and inspires others to follow. As leaders, we often forget that simply developing a positive attitude and believing in ourselves can have a huge impact on those around us.