Lessons from Team GB for your high performers. Are you Atlanta or Tokyo?

Derek Robertson.jpg

Derek Robertson , CEO

(Chartered FCIPD, MCMI, MInstLM, NLP Practitioner and Coach) 

Author of The Great Cape Escapade (A Fable about effective meetings)

8 min read



Love or hate sport there are lots of lessons and comparisons for your organisation – if you want it to perform well.  Put it another way, in the end its the elite athletes’ performance that wins the medals just like your high performers (top 5%) have arguably the greatest impact on your organisation’s performance.

Out of interest, think for a moment how much time, effort and resources you devote on below standard performers and how much on your high ones?

Let’s use team GB’s journey to prompt thought, reflection and actions for your organisation.  I agree there is probably a PhD here so I’ve prioritised for you.

Team GB and the medal table

Year City Golds Medals Medal table
1996 Atlanta 1 15 36th
2000 Sydney 11 28 10th
2004 Athens 9 30 10th
2008 Beijing 19 51 4th
2012 London 29 65 3rd
2016 Rio 27 67 2nd
2020 Tokyo 22 65 4th



Review key outcome metrics for you company and chart them over a time period relevant to you.

A review frame

Taking any successful organisational people initiative I’ve always found it valuable to use this image.  Most notable is that all four inner ingredients need addressing or success is unlikely.

Successful people development

As you read on keep thinking about additional connections between this blog and your approach with your high performers.


No question that strong leadership was needed to achieve the transformation in Team GB.  Leadership involving:

  • A compelling vision and plan
  • Lobby for your vision
  • Secure funding
  • Make evidence based decisions
  • Cojones for big decisions
  • Stick to the plan in the face of push back
  • Leave the spotlight on the performers

Cojones is best illustrated by the athletics chief admitting to 'crapping himself' at London 2012 needing Mo Farrah to win the 5,000 metres to achieve their target.


What is your plan for your high performers? Are you playing to win or not to lose?


The United Kingdom could not take on the sporting superpowers by supporting everyone.  It had to prioritise.  Basketball and gymnastics funding went away to give more to better potential medals like cycling.

Once already known medal potential athletes were done, the team looked for potential ones in a targeted succession plan.


What big decisions will you need to make to best support those with the biggest impact on your business success?

Focused people development

Shauna Coxsey active.jpgBeyond training in the specific discipline, the elite are supported with coaches, psychologists, dieticians and so on.  Shauna Coxsey the elite climber has a forearm and a finger coach to name but two.  Point is laser like focus on the elite.


Helen Glover (double gold in rowing) for example attended an event to try different sports.  She had no inkling for rowing till then.

Team GB Your elite and high potentials
Gatherings for people to try out Development centres to assess potential
Core skills development for future success Leadership, technical brilliance, skills for the future like EQ
Pin point focus on areas that make a difference Coaching, challenging conversations, influence
Supporting expertise, dietitians, sports, psychologists, etc. Personal development coaching, mental strength conditioning
Visit global centres of excellence like Cycling’s Kierin facility in Japan Exposure to global award winning businesses such as secondments


Review the people development focus on your high performers and potentials.

Recognition and reward

Obvious are the individual medals and total medal horde.

Less obvious but still in the results mix go from the individual to the Country.  Jade Jones (Taekwando) freely admits she was going down a wrong path from missing school, smoking and shoplifting.  Now she has Olympic hero status, inspiring others to take up sport.

Team GB Your elite and high potentials
Medals and Team GB performance

Individual metrics shift

Contribution to the organisation performance
Individual transformations

Mavericks become key specialists

Retention of more high potentials than industry average
Inspiring others to take up sport Others within your business see the rewards for the efforts and are energised

Ripple effect from sporting participation

  • Increases in school attendance
  • Increases in sports participation
  • Health improvements
  • Crime reductions
  • Less use of NHS

Ripple effect on focusing on elite and high potentials

  • Performance increases from those who want involved
  • Non performers leave on their own decision
  • Next Gen of key people get active
  • All staff see performance issues addressed and so feel more fairly treated
National pride

Your elites are raving fans for your organisation

Your brand gains polish



Remember gymnastics?  Louis Smith under his own steam (and his Mum) won four medals in three Olympics.  His first medal changed the game for athletics funding and so future results.  Same in business.  Someone comes through without the same support but takes your business forward.


Notice how switched on your reporting results is from the obvious ones to the ripple effect.

Your takeaways

Think about the transformation of Team GB.  In particular the conections between what they did with their elite and potentials to create a stream of people capable of delivering results for Team GB.

Final thought

Don't get side tracked with issues of budget, time and the obstacles you may face.  Instead develop your vision for your top performers and high potentials.  Make special emphasis on the organisational results you'll improve when you harness their capabilities and talent.

Start today.

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