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Going for Gold – What internal communicators can learn from Olympians

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Going for Gold – What internal communicators can learn from Olympians

While you could argue the likes of Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah aren’t exactly relatable to the average Joe on the street, we may have more in common with these super humans than you think.

What do we know about some of our greatest Olympians, currently on their way to Rio 2016? They’re at the top of their game, in peak physical condition and have committed the best years of their life to achieving their dreams. Following London 2012, they also inspired a generation to get moving and enjoy participating in sport.

That’s all well and good, but what does that have to do with internal communications? Well sport is about more than just winning or physical exertion, it’s about realising what you’re capable of, gaining confidence, commitment, team work, accomplishing goals. Sound familiar?

There’s a reason Olympians do the corporate speaker circuit once they’ve retired (other than the money of course!) – we can actually learn something from them. Here are our top five Olympic takeaways:

  1. Dream big

Winning gold at the Olympics is a pretty big dream. And to achieve that kind of feat takes self-belief, a clear strategy for success and for everything else in your life to be built around it.

The same can be said for an organisation’s vision. Everyone needs to buy into it and believe in it. And for that to happen it needs to be just wild enough that people are genuinely inspired by it, but not so wild that it seems unachievable. And it’s not just about inspiring your employees, but your customers, local community, maybe even the world.

Just like with the London Olympics, people want to feel part of something bigger than themselves. As IC pros it’s our job to make sure people understand the dream, how it will be achieved and what their part in it is. If you get that right, you might just inspire a generation.

  1. Brush up on your coaching skills

Behind every Andy Murray, Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt is a great coach (and mum in Andy’s case!). You don’t reach the dizzy heights of Olympic gold without a bit of support, advice and constructive criticism.

Whatever level you’re at in your career, it’s important to have a coach or a mentor. And it doesn’t have to just be senior people coaching junior people; peer to peer and reverse mentoring are great ways to share experience and skills – plus it’s advisable to have a healthy dose of constructive criticism once in a while. Whether you’re an intern coaching the CEO on how to use Twitter effectively, or a manager pushing their team out of their comfort zones helping them to be the best they can be, coaching is fast becoming an important part of business.

And it’s not only the person being coached that benefits; being a coach is extremely rewarding, and you’ll no doubt learn something yourself. So when you do reach your goals, don’t forget to share the success with people who helped you along the way.

  1. Assemble your best team

For rowers and relay runners, Olympic glory depends on teamwork. They already know everyone in the team has talent, but can they work together and trust each other to do what they need to do, when they need to do it? Unusually for athletes, it also means putting aside your own ego, and focusing on what’s best for the group.

It’s no different in organisations. Picking a team with a variety of skills and talent is common sense. But can they work well together? Success relies on everyone believing in the big dream, understanding the role they play in the team and the value it adds, and to feel that they are appreciated for their contribution.

It’s not uncommon for internal communicators to be notoriously bad at communicating with each other. A bit like how the shoemaker’s children were never shod. So make sure you have the team meeting that’s so easy to postpone in favour of other work, organise a fun team day to just be creative away from the four walls of the office, and remember to acknowledge and thank each other for a job well done – a little bit of appreciation goes a long way towards team morale.

  1. Be prepared to fail

Even the most successful Olympians have experienced failure. Olympic Bronze medallist high jumper Robbie Grabarz has become the forgotten champ of London 2012, following a knee injury that left his place at Rio in doubt. In a recent interview with The Guardian he spoke about how he considered giving up, but hard work and determination showed him just what he was capable of and he’s now secured his place at Rio 2016.

That’s what sometimes happens when you try to achieve a crazy dream – you have to throw yourself into it wholeheartedly, try new things and be prepared to get back up and dust yourself off if it doesn’t work out quite how you planned.

So your big campaign didn’t quite have the impact you hoped for. But what did work well? What would you change next time? What opportunities has this ‘failure’ unexpectedly presented? Sometimes failing is the best way to learn.

  1. Celebrate your success

How often do you stop and take stock of what you achieved or are you already moving on to the next project?

Athletes not only celebrate their wins with victory laps, kissing of medals and draping themselves in their country’s flag, they also review their performance to understand what they did well and what they could have done better.

As internal communicators we need to get a lot better at measuring the success of our work and shouting about it from the rooftops. Remember the shoemaker’s children? Well sometimes we’re our own worst PR.

Our credibility relies on proving the impact we have, and no one will be any the wiser unless we tell them.

Be clear at the beginning of a project what success looks like and how you’ll measure it. If it works shout about it, and organise a Friday night trip to the pub to celebrate. If it doesn’t quite work, shout about what you learned – it’s just as valuable and encourages others to not fear failure. Oh and of course, organise a Friday night trip to the pub – your hard work is still worth celebrating!

On your marks, get set, go!

So, now we know the secrets to Olympic success, hopefully you’ll be inspired by Rio 2016 in a slightly different way. Whether your big dream is a personal goal such as running a marathon, or a professional one such as implementing a wildly creative idea for a change programme, you don’t have to wait for the starting pistol.

You can start right now – so what are you waiting for?

By Helen Deverell for Alive with Ideas

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