Nick Richmond


Olympians don’t do things by half measures

Helen Glover is such an inspiration! Helen was discovered after taking part in a talent finding and development initiative funded by the National Lottery. As a rower Helen went on to become, double Olympic champion, triple World champion, quintuple World Cup champion and quadruple European champion! I was totally inspired as I watched, “The Mother of All Comebacks on BBC.” Not only has Helen achieved so much, she’s had to deal with tragedy, become a Mum to 3, and has returned from retirement in the midst of COVID to become one of the few mothers to compete in the Olympics.

The documentary reminded me of the British Secretary of State for Defence who was quoted in a paper on organisational health, saying that his department “must not merely be match-fit, it must be permanently fit” in order to be ready to meet the full range of operational tasks.” Reflecting on Helen Glovers experiences and this metaphor of fitness there are a number of insights which need to be considered as leaders work on their organisations health.

  • Intentional work – In the documentary you see Helen scraping ice and snow off the seat of a rowing machine so she can exercise while her babies are sleeping. Throughout Helen’s life she has worked hard a succeeding. When she switched to rowing, it was a completely new sport for her but by intentionally putting in the work she first become competitive and then a champion. Leaders need the same mindset to recognise their organisations strengths, the changes needed and then to continuously work at improving the health of their organisation. In two of my recent clients, the most impactful change needed was to clarify roles and accountabilities between the Executives and their direct reports.
  • Holistic perspective –As an Olympian Helen recognised that preparing and competing in the Olympics is not something you do by half measures. It requires the dedication of your whole life, mind, body and spirit. This included changes to her diet, scaling up her exercise regime, building her mental fortitude, and getting the support she needed from a physiotherapist. Similarly research highlights that developing Organisational Health is strategic, holistic and systematic work. In addition leaders need to consider the health of each part of their organisation, paraphrasing Aristotle this allows the whole will be is greater than the sum of it’s parts. Impactful interventions we use to look at a whole organisation and the individual parts include process mapping, creating Lego models, and software simulation. We often hear clients say, this has improved their understanding of how their organisation operates and how differing perspectives have led to organisational issues.
  • Resilience – Helen has had to cope with setbacks such as, a broken rib, illness and sleep deprivation that only new-born twins can bring! She’s had to bounce back due to illness and adapt her training to remain present for her family. By intentionally developing a health organisation leaders will develop the same resilience within their organisation, to be able to bounce back from and / or adapt to new demands. This shows up as an adaptive capability which enables your organisation to continually monitor your environment to make sense trends and adapt in response. In addition the mindset and motivation of your people will be to resolve issues and make improvements through embedding innovative solutions.

What lessons have you learned from watching or maybe even participating in the Olympics that inform how you lead your organisation? How have things worked out?

We will be exploring different aspects of organisational health over the coming months – sharing evidence, experience, insights and views from a range of guest contributors and our team. Our next post will be by Steve Hearsum who argues that Organisational Health is not a thing.