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Fostering gold medal performances in your organization

It’s been hard to miss the Olympics, and face it, who would have wanted to miss the exhilarating, elegant and extreme gold medal performances of the 2014 Sochi Olympics! Canadian athletes came out on top of the podium in multiple events including the nail-biting women’s gold medal hockey final and Alex Biloudeau’s flawless repeat gold medal run in moguls skiing. Russia had some incredible performances in figure skating from both an aging star and an emerging one in the team skate event.  Both Canada and Russia performed very well in the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Canada and Russia have also come out very high in the final medal counts, with Russia finishing on top and Canada placing 3rd in the gold medal count but their medal results have been fostered in distinct ways. The two countries have different ways of inspiring their athletes to the top of the podium that provide contrasting lessons for the development of “gold medal” organizational performance.

The Russian way

Russia’s strategy is a combination of excitement and build up to a one-time event, hosting the 2014 Olympics, and the resulting “home ice advantage” for its athletes and its long-time strategy of high compensation for individual medal winners. Russia compensates its athletes well! A gold medal winning athlete will be rewarded with a base pay of $113,200, but this amount may be tripled if you include regional and private bonuses according to Russian Olympic Committee head Alexander Zhukov. In the 2012 London Olympic games the Russian team was paid more than $5.5 million in prize money for the medals won.

In business terms, this type of organizational strategy rewards performance driven goals and star performing individuals with higher than market average pay and stellar performance bonuses. It also relies on building momentum and excitement around key event and is in many ways a “getting to the market” first strategy. (Russian athletes were able to practice and compete in the Sochi facilities)

The Canadian way

In Canada, it doesn’t really seem to pay to be a medal winning athlete. The COC’s Athlete Excellence Fund provides Canadian athletes with prizes of $20,000 for a gold medal, $15,000 for silver, and $10,000 for bronze. Canada did host and compete extremely well in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics but Sochi was no longer home ice.

So how did Canada foster so many medal winning performances? The Canadian organizational strategy is the Own the Podium (OTP) program. This strategy is brings life a team based, sustainable vision of excellence that is greater than individual performers while still supporting unique effort and talent.

Fostering excellence the OTP way

The next few paragraphs outline some of the organizational mechanisms of the OTP strategy and highlight their transferability to other organizations.

Set out a vision and values statement

The OTP vision is to be an international, organizational leader in a highly competitive arena. Their mission is to achieve sustainable winning performances over a long period of time.

Consider corporate social responsibility

The OTP goals are focused on winning but these goals are tied hand in hand to a corporate social good of also fostering winning performances in the Paralympic Games. This is a cause that is a very good fit with the organization, fosters diversity and creates wins in its own arena that support the OTP vision and values.

Set specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-based goals

The OTP strategy set specific targets for its podium performance in the Olympic and Paralympic Games. For example they decided to contend for the number one spot in the Sochi Winter Games and to contend for a top three in the Paralympics. Similar specific goals are set for other Olympic Games. These goals need individuals to achieve them (similar to specific individual or department targets) but are seen as a win for the entire organization.

Set systemic (organizational culture) goals

Goals that are important to the organization but are harder to measure such as partnership development, innovation, research, collaboration, national policy creation and commitment to excellence were also set by the OTP.

Be strategic with resources

Having an OTP strategy doesn’t mean that medal winning performances can be achieved with no resources. It is just a different way of allocating the resources. For example, in Feb 2014 the Tories’ committed to an ongoing annual contribution of $23 million to amateur sports — mostly to fund the development of medal-potential athletes.

The OTP uses strategy to target efficient delivery and allocation of these types of resources to high performance areas to ensure maximum performance.

Russia vs Canada

Does your organization foster gold medal performances the Russian way or the Canadian way? They both seem to get results but the Canadian way seems be about belonging to something bigger than yourself rather than individual achievement and individual financial reward.  With either strategy your employees will have to buy into your organizational model and engage in purposeful and dedicated practice of the desired activities in order to achieve winning results.  It will take the 2018 Winter Olympics to see how both Canada and Russia compete when there is no home ice advantage. Go Canada!!

Marcia Scheffler, M.A.
CHRP Candidate

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Marcia Scheffler

Human Resources Generalist at Wawel Villa
Marcia Scheffler, M.A., CHRP Candidate is a Human Resources Generalist with M.A. working full-time as a Senior HR Officer. She is interested in the intersection of human resources theory and current best practices in HR. Read more
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