HR's Game Plan for the Olympics

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The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics are set to start tomorrow – and the whole world will be watching. Fans of all ages will cheer over athletic feats of the century. HR professionals will be "oohing" and "ahhing" as well, but over completely different feats. How did they pull off staffing for this thing? How do workplace standards get communicated and implemented? How do they keep all those volunteers happy and engaged? 

Most recently, the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) took on the responsibility of executing an event featuring 200 countries, 14,700 athletes, 21,000 media, over 100 heads of state and heads of government, and 10.8 million ticket holders flawlessly. Sounds a little daunting, doesn't it? What was HR's game plan to make it all happen?


This organizing committee controls everything from housing for Olympic athletes to transportation for visitors. This means there is an immediate need for a (not so) small army of workers to perform services from media handling, event management, and sports arena supervision to tram driving, ticket taking, and ushering. And let's not forget about the thousands of volunteers.

The actual staffing itself can't be too hard. After all, the Olympics is a pretty attractive gig. But how does HR handle the enormous influx of resumes? Here's how the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) did it.

As resumes poured in, the staff would code them based on the experience of each applicant: sports supervision, security, transportation, etc. All of the resumes were then put into the ACOG's database. After that, if a certain area needed people with a sports background, HR could hit the code and scroll through the appropriate resumes. Prior experience was a crucial factor since there wasn't a lot of time for training. Once a selected group of candidates was identified, they were interviewed just as in a normal job, but with one understandable catch: in order to become an employee, each candidate also had to go through background checks, drug tests, and security checks.

Standards and Spirit

"This is the way we've always done it" has no place in Olympic HR – largely because it literally hasn't been done before. There's no established way of doing business; there's no set pattern for people to follow. Because the workforce is so diverse, it's difficult to establish a set of standards and guidelines; they're all coming from different backgrounds and different ways of doing things. Because of this, HR has to be flexible and ready for anything. Their jobs cover anything from handling an upset employee to signing off on new jobs or salary increases to dealing with a person who isn't dressed appropriately.

Despite the widely diverse Olympic workforce, the Olympic spirit of friendship and inclusivity is a strongly positive culture that people want to share and help to build. And this is how HR brings and keeps everyone together. The culture doesn't aim to smash the competition, but ultimately wants to build a better world and who wouldn't want to be part of that?

Rewards and Recognition

Even though the Olympics occurs every four years, the athletes receive constant feedback along the way. Fans recognize them and provide support and they receive coaching from their team managers to verify positive progress. Think of your employees as if they are Olympic athletes. Without on-going communication, coaching and recognition, your workforce can't and won't improve, nor will they know to repeat behaviors that are leading to success. Business is competitive and your employees are the competitive advantage.

Take the Games Makers at the 2012 London Olympics. They were a volunteer workforce who used up personal vacation time, spent their own money on accommodations, and instead of just doing the job – actually exceeded any expectations. Why? As one Games Maker put it, "It was an opportunity to showcase what's good about the country and welcome people from all over the world."

They were regularly acknowledged and appreciated. Lord Coe, chairman of the organizing committee, said they would make a difference between a good and a great Games. The job title itself is a clear statement of how important these volunteers are – they aren't "helpers" or "assistants" – they are Games Makers. They were also trusted to deal with any issue themselves as much as possible and they rose to this responsibility. Even though they did not receive a paycheck, the simple honor, recognition, and appreciation of being a Games Maker was enough motivation for these volunteers to remain engaged and perform at their highest level.

The 2014 Winter Games will be a depiction of hard work, dedication, pride, ownership, growth, and recognition, among other this. Wouldn't we all love to use those same words to describe our businesses as well? What HR best practices can you take away from the Olympics?


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Guest January 22 2018