What the Olympic Games can Teach Leaders About Reward and Recognition

Sally Hetherington   13 August, 2021
Employee Engagement Featured

The Olympic Games have always been synonymous with guts and glory, pushing to the limit and achieving at all costs. However, in the wake of the Covid19 pandemic, the postponement of the 2020 Olympic Games and a general change in global priorities, the 2020 Olympics (it was officially known as the 2020 Olympics given that was the year it was meant to go ahead) have shown a definite shift towards inclusivity, diversity, acceptance and recognition - not only for those who take home the medals, but for those that have had the courage to participate in disruptive times, and those who have chosen their health and the unity of their teams over the overall desire to win.

Here are some of the lessons in recognition and reward that business leaders can take from the 2020 Olympic Games.

Leadership Doesn’t Only Recognise the Leader

To be an Olympic athlete takes not only courage and determination, but also self-sacrifice, focus, team-work, guidance and resilience - qualities which are also intrinsic for someone leading a business. Leaders however need to know when to step up to the plate, and when to hand the reins over to somebody else, much like American gymnast Simone Biles who chose to step down at a moment of crisis for the benefit of her mental health. 

Biles’ decision to resign from the competition is a lesson for leaders that teamwork is key - and showing support and recognition to your entire team is integral for cohesion and inclusivity. It’s important to know your limits and not to let your ego get in the way to the detriment of your mental health.

Successful leaders who show empathy to their team and recognise every individual also improve employee engagement, increasing collaboration, innovation, productivity and retention. Biles empowered the rest of her team to show their worth, recognising every team member as being part of the bigger picture. It’s not only about the top achiever, but about everyone’s contribution to the team.

Want to know more about what it takes to be an effective leader? Click here for the steps you need to take.

olympics track start line of female running race

It is Okay to Fail

The Olympic Games is one of the most public competitions in the world. Everyone strives for a chance at a podium finish to show the entire world their achievement, however, the converse is also true, that should you fall flat on your face, the whole world will know. You will need to face the disappointment of your team, your country, and yourself, but as a leader, it’s important to know how to respond to failure. 

Failure is an inevitable part of life, and it’s meant to build character and resilience. However this doesn’t take away from the fact that failure is hard, and if not dealt with appropriately, it can lead to anxiety and depression. 

Set the example for your team by recognising and acknowledging your negative feelings, and seek professional help to talk through your difficulties if necessary to gain perspective. Avoid making big decisions while you are not thinking clearly, and remind yourself and your team that you are only human and you will move on. 

Employees who have suffered a failure, be it being passed over for a promotion, losing a big deal or even something personal like a divorce, may feel ashamed and unable to talk about what is essentially a loss. 

Encourage an open-door policy in the workplace and make sure that you have processes in place so that your employees feel that they have a safe space to work through their disappointment. Recognising them in this way, even during adversity, will make them more engaged and add to a positive employee experience.

Collaboration & Communication is Key

Much like the workplace, the Olympic Games are both competitive and collaborative, and therefore a team must work together in order to achieve. Retired Olympic boxer Angel Bovee sums it up: “In order to triumph, athletes must understand how each individual on their team is important to the collective goal.” 

Bovee believes that this is a concept critical to the workplace, as goal setting helps to build trust and understanding between colleagues, and that teams that are transparent, diverse and communicate well are more likely to be resourceful and innovative: “Under-communicating goals can cause team members to feel disconnected and unsure of what they are working towards, which inhibits teammates from appreciating each other’s strengths.”

Having set goals also opens the space for rewards and recognition. Incentivise your staff with small treats as they reach smaller goals to keep the momentum going and foster a community of collaboration towards the bigger goal. 

Are you struggling to collaborate effectively with half your workforce being remote? Click here for our favourite marketing collaboration tools.

olympics cyclying teams from new zealand, great britain and australia are rewarded on the podium with medals

Reward & Recognise 

Team Great Britain did an outstanding job in the 2020 Olympics Games, receiving a total of 65 medals, higher than the predicted 52. This ranks team GP in fourth place overall - surprisingly it’s lowest ranking since Beijing 2008. Team GP chef de mission Mark England however only had praise for the team, calling their achievements under difficult circumstances the greatest in British Olympic history: “ Not only has the team made history but it has probably made history on the back of the most complex and most challenging and difficult environment that we will face certainly in my lifetime.”

UK Sport Chair Katherine Grainger also recognised the team not only for how they fared on the podiums, but also for other unexpected strides, citing athletes like Adam Peaty, Tom Daley and Alice Dearing for creating platforms to speak out about mental health, support for the LGBTQ community and diversity. 

The lesson here is that it’s no longer just about the win, but about recognising a range of challenges facing people today, not only in sport, but in all areas of life: “These athletes are more than just athletes, they’re wonderful people who are incredible examples to the rest of us. And I think that’s why they’ll trailblaze in all different ways and will continue to do so for a long time.”

Reward and recognise your staff not just for the big win, but for the smaller achievements along the way. A reward also doesn't necessarily have to be a financial gain, but can be a small treat snuck onto a desk, a weekly office pizza lunch, or even just a ‘thank you for going out of your way’ email every now and then.

Did you know that employee recognition and company culture go hand-in-hand? Click here to find out how.

The Olympian athletes are paving the way for a different type of competition, where a podium finish is not the only goal, but also to show leadership that invests in diversity, collaboration, mental health and recognition beyond the expected. Show your staff that you recognise their ongoing efforts with rewards and treats from Staff Treats.  Book a demo today to find out how.

Sally Hetherington

Full time teen wrangler, part time writer, passionate traveller and wannabe chef.

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