Gold Coast Commonwealth Games - The Best We Can Be

Submitted by Mark on 18th April 2018

HR, Human Resources, motivation, employee engagement

What we can learn from Sunday’s two memorable Commonwealth Games moments.

Two contrasting images from the final day of the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

Each as dramatic as the other.  Each a demonstration of sporting excellence - both physical and mental.  Each just as likely to move you to tears … and each giving a dramatic insight into the factors that motivate us in our personal and working lives.

First, let’s salute Scotland’s marathon runner, Callum Hawkins.  A mile from home, he was leading by 2 minutes.  Running on empty, he was struggling - really struggling.  Not running, but weaving and stumbling, Callum’s race was effectively over.  Perhaps in a desperate attempt to lighten his load, he threw off his cap … but to no avail.  He fell across the kerb, staggered up, tried again, fell again, this time banging his head.  Callum didn’t accept defeat.  His body demanded it.  The officials rushed him to hospital, where, at the time of writing, he’s recovering well.

Better than Jonny’s World Cup winning kick?
As a happy contrast, let’s look at England’s netball team.  Had you dragged yourself from your slumbers at 4.00 on Sunday morning, you’d have witnessed the most wonderfully spirited sporting occasion.  If you thought Jonny Wilkinson’s last-gasp drop goal, winning the Rugby World Cup for England was the closest you’d ever seen to the perfect sporting finish, think again.  England’s Roses were appearing in their first major final.  The experts predicted one-way traffic for the favourites, Australia.  But England never allowed their opponents to move ahead by more than four points.  The match see-sawed back and forth, until the very last second of the final quarter, when Helen Housby scored the winner.  Cue scenes of unalloyed jubilation from the girls, the coaches, the travelling support and the hysterically incoherent commentary team.

Glory or failure - the motivation’s just the same
Do we ever stop to think, ‘how they do it?’  These elite sportsman and women - how do they reach these inspired heights of endeavour and excellence?  One instance resulted in glory and the other in heroic failure (it seems unjust to Callum to use the word), but is that the point?  Surely what we wonder at, and, to an extent, envy, is the motivation to push oneself, day after day after day.  To eschew a normal life - to train, often alone, in all weathers, focusing almost every waking moment on the opportunity to outdo all rivals - to win.

Do we ever wonder, “Wow!  Imagine if the people in my business could be even half as motivated as Scotland’s Callum Hawkins and England’s magnificent Roses.  What a difference that would make to my business!”

We’ll never turn your people into sporting greats and it’s questionable whether we’d even want to.  But why not use the example of these remarkable individuals to understand what motivates our people?  Wouldn’t it be great if we could bottle our understanding of what drives them to achieve and use it to inspire them to greater heights - for the good of our business and of themselves?

“It’s not about the money …”
Sorry Jessie J.  It most certainly is about the money, money, money.  Some come to work because they enjoy earning it.  But almost everyone comes to work because they have to earn it - simply to live.  Here your employees have little in common with sport’s high achievers.  It’s true, in sport, the elite earn vast amounts, many would say, to an obscene degree, but that’s not their main motivation.  Neither Ronaldo, Tiger Woods or Roger Federer embark upon a practice session or a match, motivated by the prospect of a fat pay packet.  Their aim is to be their best and to win.

But there are plenty of ‘drivers’ that your employees do have in common with the very best sportsmen and women.  And here are just a few - 

Feeling they belong - this underrated emotion is critical.  Being a valued part of the team is vital for your employees’ feelings of self-worth.  Look again at those English netball players and you’ll see what being part of a team means to them.  The manager, of course, plays a vital role.  Being part of the team on its own isn’t enough.  One of the most valued aspects of work is the individual time and attention given to each employee by their manager.

In an article in Workforce, "The Ten Ironies of Motivation," reward and recognition guru, Bob Nelson, writes, "More than anything else, employees want to be valued for a job well done by those they hold in high esteem."  He adds that people want to be treated as if they are adult human beings who think, make decisions, try to do the right thing, and don't need a caretaker watching over their shoulders.
The challenge - Though some won’t admit it, almost everyone enjoys a challenge, provided it’s achievable.  Variety is important too.  Plodding along at tedious, repetitive tasks inspires no-one and leads to boredom and poor results.  Callum Hawkins would never have reached the position of leading in the Commonwealth Games Marathon if his training had been repetitive.  He’ll have worked just as much on his interval training, short bursts of speedwork, as he did on endurance.

The opportunity for growth and development - everyone relishes the opportunity to improve, to get better at what they do.  Key to the success of every sportsman and woman is the desire to work on every aspect of their game, adjusting, tweaking, refining every skill until they become as good as they can be. 

Understanding their role in the masterplan - making sure your people understand their place in the big picture is a critical motivator.  People don’t mind being the tiniest of cogs, provided they understand the role of that cog and its contribution to the smooth running of the giant machine.  You can bet your life that, before the celebrations of the netball victory had died down, the coaches had made a point of acknowledging the contribution of the kit man or woman and the nutritionist.

Inspiring your people to be their best
The lesson is clear.  The next time you conduct a review of your people and seriously evaluate their performance, think about those high-achieving sporting heroes - the glorious winners and the magnificent losers.  Watch again their finest moments, listen to their interviews, read their stories.  

Then think about the changes you can bring about to the working lives of your people and how you can inspire them to reach their own pinnacles of achievement.

Motivate your people to be the best they can be.
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