The Champions of Culture

The Much Needed Champions of Culture, Retention and Trust

This week EP hosted – alongside Sanlam UK – an event with four Olympians: Crista Cullen (GB Hockey – Gold 2016 and Bronze 2012), Phil Burgess (Rugby Sevens – Silver 2016), Matt Brittain (South Africa Rowing – Gold 2012) and Kate Haywood (Swimming 2008 and 2012). They all spoke with passion and honesty to an audience of 60 senior business executives for over an hour and kept the audience fully engaged.

EP has recently hosted regular events with top sporting figures and the one thing that strikes you is that they really understand the importance of trust and respect for each other’s team members. They will talk in almost old fashioned terms – about honour, friendship, care for your fellow, belief in a common vision, and trust in your leadership and in each other and commitment to the cause.

These are the same traits that many will argue have been eroded – often unintentionally – in the workplace and at board level. However they are the traits that most employees aspire their businesses to possess and to stand for.

The event was partnered by IndiCater and The Sporting Wine Club who both believe in this activity.

All workplace stats are painting a picture of a silo culture; one that is not at ease with itself and struggling with the modern pace of life:

  • 1:4 employees today suffering from mental illness
  • 1:10 suffering from depression
  • A reputed extra 1m people in the UK should be prescribed antidepressants
  • 63% of people do not trust leadership across the world. In the UK this can possibly rise to only 1:5 trusting their leaders

The budget noted the problem over employee productivity that has fallen behind France, Germany and USA

There is work to be done and change is needed. It is not acceptable to simply sit and wait for others to create new answers. Whether one agrees with the above stats or not, it is the responsibility of all leaders to try and build greater trust in the workplace and also a culture that fuels productivity and teamwork.

It, therefore, is a logical step to note that former sporting players could play a very valuable role alongside boards with a focus on culture and on retention. Retention is still one of the most important issues in business and the cost of employing a former sports player would easily be covered by retaining great talent. It would pay for itself and add an extra dimension to every business and provide a new set of eyes for the CEO to view the business.

This is something that EP is championing as we believe it could be so important to businesses in all markets and make a real difference.

All the Olympians highlighted how they were given the freedom to make decisions, to be accountable but responsible. They also talked fondly of their teams and friendships and how they would work for one another.

It was noted:

“Maybe one of the differences is that sport is brutal. Work is far less so. In Sport, we would tell the truth to each other in an almost ruthless manner as we were focused on an end result – on winning. Those ruthless conversations – that honesty – built trust in each other and we would be there for each other. We were a team”.

Another noted; “Maybe one of the hardest things adapting to the workplace is learning that not everyone is honest and tells the truth. We all take honesty as a given in sport but the workplace can be less clear and this creates barriers and tensions. This is where strong leadership can be as important as these tensions are very rarely helpful to anyone achieving the end result.”

Kate Haywood noted that “failure is a good thing in sport as that is where one learns; that is when one goes back and watches the videos and looks for how to improve. It is said that many in work have a fear of failure but failure is an important part of learning.”

Crista Cullen agreed and talked about how the 2016 Olympic team responded to poor performances in 2014 which acted as the catalyst for their journey to success.

EP also hosted a Think Tank this week and one of the comments made by a senior figure was that with Brexit coming at us the focus needs to be almost more on retention of talent than on bemoaning the challenge of future recruitment. Retention and recruitment do go together and the real linking factor is culture. HR has changed and they do take a lot of blame for much of what goes wrong with culture, retention and recruitment but the culture is often set by the board and again we will argue that having someone working alongside the board who really understands the importance of trust, communication, honour, honesty and care is invaluable. As one Rugby player noted: “When I go out to play I am ready to put my body on the line for my colleague and he will do the same. If they don’t, one of us could be badly hurt.”

Crista Cullen spoke of the team playing in the most pressurised moment of an Olympic Final and everyone followed all the methods and practices that had been drilled into them and their coaches just asked them to find answers on how to win. That too takes trust.

There is so much business can learn from sport in this modern era – and if we can bring lessons from sport and implement into culture and retention of talent, then it will more than pay for itself and may well even help raise the enjoyment factor in the workplace which is intense at the best of times.


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