The SmartCompany Olympics challenge: Pole vault your team to new heights

feature-pol-vault-400I have been surprised this week that individuals in the Australian athletics team have been tweeting about their disappointment regarding decisions selectors and managers are making inside the Olympic village.

Never before in the history of sport have individual athletes had such an opportunity to voice their opinions in a medium that is not mediated by journalists and experts.

Is the Olympic athletics team much different to any business I wonder? Is it back-to-basics time in order to get everyone aligned and pulling for the same cause?

Whether you’re a start-up, have been in business for a year, or are preparing to launch the next income stream of your growing enterprise, the essentials of goal setting and team engagement never change. You need your people to be speaking well of you.

Some basic things to do as you ready, steady yourself to hoist you and your team to new heights would include:

  • Get clear on the team purpose – you want to win the most gold medals!
  • Be sure of the team’s shared values – what does the team stand for?
  • Recruit on values first – who is the best talent, role models and contributors to the reputation of the sport?
  • Deliver specific, tangible rewards and recognition for living those values. You need to notice and celebrate all team successes and not just the medal tally.

Don’t make it about working

A clear sense of purpose is critical. No amount of money will keep people happy long term if you don’t capture their hearts and minds.

The athletes clearly don’t do it for the money. Discretionary effort is something people choose to give; it is not something you can ask for. So it is up to the leader to inspire people to rally behind the cause, the purpose.

My original purpose was to change gifting in Australia forever, with a specific, measurable goal. Now we are close to achieving our original goal, our purpose has shifted to delivering a meaningful experience to every Australian.

RedBalloon has a painted picture document of what we will look like in five years. It means we can create goals that stretch us beyond our comfort zone. You have to dismiss the voice in your head that will ask, “But how?” If you let the how drive your decisions you’ll get stuck playing small. All Olympians start with a dream – they can see themselves on the podium, they just don’t know exactly how they are going to get there.

Stick to your values and employ others that share them

The best advice I received was to work out what is really important to me, harness that passion, share and inspire others to get behind that vision, and get help with the rest.

You don’t have to do anything alone, in fact you get to your destination faster with a team. The success of RedBalloon has been largely about me getting out of my own way and building a great team who share my vision and help make it a reality each and every day.

Set values to live and breathe, work and play by. Every Olympian does. They don’t have to be lofty. They simply have to encapsulate what you are. By giving yourself the discipline and the freedom to follow them, you know you will always be delivering the very best version of yourself and your business.

Reward and recognition – small thing, big difference 

There have to be other celebrations along the way. Simply having one massive goal way out in the future is not enough.

It could be as simple as saying an authentic thank-you. Each of our managers uses our Big RED (Reward Every Day) Toolkit to recognise great work. The kit contains funky themed ‘Post It’ notes and cards to offer immediate recognition for jobs well done. Each team leader has a bank of points to award team members, all of which can be redeemed for RedBalloon experiences.

And it appears to be working for us. RedBalloon has listed in the top 50 Best Places To Work list four years in a row – only one of 13 organisations to do so.

The winner is…

So do values, vision, purpose and recognition combine for gold medal success? Absolutely. RedBalloon may employ a relatively small team, but we achieve great numbers, shipping hundreds of thousands of experiences every year with just a team of 60.

According to Gallup research, up to 21% of employees are disengaged across Australia, costing some $42 billion per year in lost productivity. Don’t let your business be a part of that figure.

One of Australia’s outstanding entrepreneurs, Naomi Simson regularly entertains as a passionate speaker, a blogger and a published author, most recently publishing Five Thanks a Day. She has received many accolades and awards for the business she founded,, including the 2011 Ernst & Young National Entrepreneur of the Year – Industry.


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