Igniting Improvement: success breeds success

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Jo Sampson, Programme Manager here at Haelo, discusses the role of leaders in inspiring a culture of success in organisations.

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 remarkably portrayed in the successes we have seen from Team GB in the Velodromó in Rio.

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 is required in an improvement team.

FILE - In this July 28, 2012, file photo, fireworks illuminate the sky over the Olympic Stadium during Opening Ceremonies at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Always splashy affairs, the parade of athletes this time around will take place Friday night, Aug. 5, 2016, at Maracana Stadium with a country-by-country show of fashion, along with speeches, flag-raising and the lighting of the Olympic cauldron. The idea is to showcase the host country's culture, something that has earned oohhs and aahhs through time, usually also accompanied by some head-scratching as traditions and history play out. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

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

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Britain’s most successful sportsperson, Sir Steve Redgrave dominated Olympic rowing for 5 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, Katharine Copeland, 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):

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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 mens and womens events, 8 of which were gold. Rebecca Romero and Victoria Pendleton opened the gateway for a new generation of sportswomen, such as Laura 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 Trott with Bradley Wiggin’s gold medal round her neck, eight years later she had not one, but two medals of her own. Following his victories in both the Team and Individual Pursuit, a charming image appeared on social media of a young Callum Skinner receiving a push-off on his bike from Chris Hoy.

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When we talk about innovation, often the focus is on the process, the problem, the outcome. That’s the story of marginal gains. But there is something missing. To achieve the incredible, we need to have the belief that it is possible. This starts to complete the picture of the components required to make ongoing improvements, and is where psychology comes into Deming’s Theory of Profound Knowledge. Success inspires further success. Hoy, Redgrave and Pendleton have shown that Team GB can beat the odds, and in doing so, have brought up a new era of sportspeople believing that they too can reach the unobtainable.

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 team who will nurture success from others? How will you utilise learning from the best?

Our annual conference, Haelo Hosts features a roster of international speakers renowned and celebrated for their commitment to inspirational leadership and the Haelo Hosts ’16 theme, Daring Greatly. Daring Greatly denotes strength and commitment in the face of adversity. Overcoming obstacles with sheer determination and fully epitomising the enduring strength of the human spirit. All our distinguished speakers have demonstrated these qualities.

And as a sports fan, I hope that in Olympics to come we will be seeing the fruits of Louis Smith and Beth Tweddle’s breakthrough performances…

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