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HR lessons from the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games

It is true that business is not a sport.

But there are many parallels behind the coaching, training, motivating and learning involved in international sporting events, like the upcoming 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games in Toronto, and the dynamics of today’s successful workplaces.

Employers should model the practices and techniques demonstrated during the Games in order to bring the best out of their employees, especially during the next month when inspiration may be running high. 

What can employers learn from athletics and the games

Pan Am athleteTraining can help develop “learning machines:”
Many companies greatly undervalue the necessity of investing in ongoing training, resulting in a loss of skills and knowledge. In order to help create an environment of continual growth, you should invest in your employees through the training that matters most to their staff.  As employees pick up on important new skills, confidence and engagement will soar.

While watching the Games, your team members may come to understand that the Pan Am athletes are “learning machines.”  The hours of studying, practicing and long sessions with coaches and mentors may inspire employees’ work ethic and the concept that excellence does not develop without great effort.

The Games may also remind employees that athletes allow themselves to be “coachable.”  Most people will only accept the amount of coaching or training that their egos will allow.  Pan Am Game athletes need to be open to coaching in order to achieve.  Employees may be inspired by the Games to accept the same level of coaching from their leaders in management.


Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester UnitedInspire, don’t just criticize:  Sir Alex Ferguson, the famous coach of UK football (soccer) team Manchester United, shared his thoughts on criticism when he stated,

Few people get better with criticism; most respond to encouragement instead. For a player, for any human being, there is nothing better than hearing ‘well done.’ Those are the two best words ever invented.”

This advice can also be applied to business! In the working world, if your team is working in a “do it or else” atmosphere, chances are your employees may have already disengaged.  Inspiring employees with a positive message rather than trying to whip teams into action is more likely to lead to a motivated, engaged staff.  With this in mind, employees may be inspired to strive beyond ‘good’ to ‘great.’ For an average employee, to be classified as ‘very good’ may be something to be proud of, but for great employees it’s a motivator to do better.


NFL coach Bill WalshBelieve in your employees and your ability to coach them: 
If you are having doubts about an employee’s potential, chances are that employee has already picked up on your concern through your body language and approach. This in turn may negatively affect motivation, confidence and engagement. You should demonstrate belief by listening, praising effort and spreading credit fairly. Even constructive criticism and feedback can be framed in an encouraging way. By fostering this intentional positivity, you can help team members to discover that with enough effort they could accomplish amazing things.

Super Bowl-winning legendary coach, Bill Walsh articulated this concept eloquently when he explained that,

The difference between winning and losing is the bottom 25% of your people.  Most coaches can deliver the top 75%, but the last 25% only blossom in the orchestration of skill.” 


Joe GirardiLead by example and be self-aware: Joe Girardi, the 500-game-winning manager of baseball’s New York Yankees said that whether you are managing rookies or stars,

you have to lead by example. You ask players to be prepared mentally and physically, so you have to be prepared.” 

Part of being a great leader (whether a coach or supervisor) is inspiring people to push themselves, and in turn the organization, to greatness.  To do this however, a good leader will show them the way by doing it themselves.

A good place to start is in the honest acknowledgement of your own weaknesses and strengths. When a leader is honest about his or her own capabilities, it encourages staff to adopt the same attitude, resulting in a workforce with complementary expertise. It is also crucial that you understand and acknowledge your own biases and attitudes. The better a leader understands these pitfalls, the better they can adjust to avoid poor decisions.


Canadian athletesReward the success and effort of your stars: 
Never forget to acknowledge, reward and celebrate when your employees push themselves to achieve great things!  You don’t necessarily have to hand out gold medals, but that leaving things unsaid is a crucial mistake.

People like to their efforts to be appreciated, especially if they result in the successful completion of a goal. Even if the goal is fully realized, if you are seeing behaviour that you want to continue, you should encourage it!

Employees aren’t always looking for financial compensation either (though it certainly doesn’t hurt). Publicly acknowledging their success in a timely manner (not six months later) in front of fellow team members and perhaps the entire company, is a great way to drive up morale and loyalty.

In conclusion

The Pan Am Games can remind employers on the importance of pushing employees to be continuously great, which may mean movement within a company.  Athletes are consistently great because their actions are congruent with their thoughts; they have a clear mental picture of what they want, why they want it and how they will move closer to their target.  Employers should adopt the same approach with their workers.  The results may surprise you.

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Clear Path Employer Services

Certified HR consultants and medical professionals at Clear Path Employer Services
Clear Path Employer Services is a team of certified HR consultants and medical professionals dedicated to resolving the human resources and claims management challenges facing businesses across Ontario. The company was founded in 2003 by Anna Aceto-Guerin, a Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) specializing in WSIB claims management and NEER cost containment, with a focus on return-to-work programs and acquiring SIEF cost relief for employers. Read more
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