Igniting Improvement: the importance of role models


Jo Evans, a Senior Improvement Adviser and avid sports fan here at Haelo, shamelessly uses the Olympics to discuss the importance of inspiring belief to enable an organisation to improve.

If you hear the words “improvement” and “Olympics” together in the same breath, you’d be forgiven for immediately thinking of British Cycling. Sir Dave Brailsford’s mantra of focusing on marginal gains (making many 1% improvements rather than looking for a single 100% improvement) has been successfully replicated across many sporting disciplines.

The team behind individual sportsmen and women is incredible: nutritionists, data analysts, sports psychologists, physiotherapists, engineers, the list goes on. This support team is absolutely crucial to success, much like the depth of knowledge and skills required in an improvement team.

There’s no arguing that investment has made these resources possible, but is there another factor at play behind Team GB’s growing success?

One of Britain’s most decorated sport-stars, Sir Steve Redgrave, dominated Olympic rowing for 4 Olympic cycles, but something interesting happened when he (finally!) retired. You might expect Team GB to win fewer medals without the presence of such a spectacular talent, however the Team GB medal tally increased. Kath Grainger, James Cracknell, Helen Glover, Heather Stanning, men’s fours, men’s eights, the list of winners goes on. Did success breed success?

Perhaps the ‘Redgrave effect’ can be more clearly seen in another sport, cycling (this is one of my favourite events so bear with me on the details):

In 1992 Chris Boardman revolutionised track cycling, with a relentless focus on aerodynamics and engineering, he blew the field away to win gold. Four years later, Chris Hoy emerged on the scene as a budding young cyclist. The next Olympics, an enigmatic Bradley Wiggins broke onto the scene, and by 2008, the cycling team had expanded to bring home a whopping 14 medals across both men’s and women’s events, 8 of which were gold. Rebecca Romero and Victoria Pendleton opened the gateway for a new generation of sportswomen, such as Laura Kenny (nee Trott), Joanna Rowsell-Shand and Becky James.

From a lone pioneer in 1992 testing the boundaries, GB cycling has grown into a team of successful sportsmen and women.

There’s a picture of a 12 year old Laura Kenny with Bradley Wiggins’s gold medal round her neck. Now she has not one, but four gold medals of her own. Following his victories in both the Team and Individual Pursuit at Rio, a charming image appeared on social media of a young Callum Skinner receiving a push-off on his bike from Chris Hoy.

When we talk about what we want to achieve, often the focus is on the problem, the methodology, the outcome. But there is something missing. To achieve the incredible, we need to have the belief that it is possible. Hoy, Redgrave and Pendleton are role models and have inspired a new generation of sportspeople to have faith that they too can reach the unobtainable. This is where psychology comes into Deming’s Theory of Profound Knowledge and starts to complete the picture of the components required to make improvement happen. If harnessed, the achievements of others can inspire success.

So here’s a thought. When taking on a new challenge, who will be the pioneer that inspires your team to believe that change is possible? Has anyone else achieved this? Is there a natural leader within your organisation who will inspire success? Who out there can you learn from?

Now, back to sport… As I eagerly watch the Winter Olympics and Paralympics, I’m hoping that the breakthrough performances of early pioneers will bear fruit in Pyeonchang, Tokyo and Beijing #GoTeamGB!

(Team GB has won a medal in Skeleton every Olympics since Salt Lake City, and now we have 3 more medals to add to our haul, including GOLD!)

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