Every two years, I am amazed not only by the athletic skills of the Olympic competitors, but also by their stories. From painful injuries to refugee athletes competing without a country to represent, the tales of determination and bravery make my first-world small business problems look small and easily conquerable. The lessons I’ve learned from the Olympics have real-world applications for me and I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned so far from the 2016 Rio Games.
Be Prepared to Handle Potential PR Nightmares
When Hope Solo of the U.S. soccer team made a joke on social media about the Zika virus, she set off one of the first Rio-related uproars by offending the host country. Tweeting a picture of herself in a hat with mosquito netting and holding a bottle of bug repellent, Solo immediately received jeers and taunts during the game and lots of bad publicity. When your small business makes a PR blunder—especially on social media—think carefully about how you will handle the backlash. The best solution? Don’t get defensive. Apologize for your mistake, do your best to make amends, and move on. Solo addressed the issue by saying it was fun to have a loud and rambunctious crowd during competition.
Create a Culturally Diverse Workplace
Ibtihaj Muhammad not only made the Olympic fencing team, but she also made history by being the first Team USA member to compete wearing a hijab (the traditional Muslim head scarf). By doing so, she challenged misconceptions both outside and inside the Muslim community, telling reporters, “I want to break cultural norms.” Diversity recruitment is one of the hottest topics in hiring. Recent studies report a diverse workforce creates better connections with your customers, motivates your employees, encourages employee innovation, and enhances the quality of products and services. Start by establishing an atmosphere with zero tolerance for discrimination and make it clear all cultures, religions, and races are to be respected.
Persevere—Crucial for Any Small Business
There are stories of determination and perseverance in every Olympic competition. This year, they include swimmer Michael Phelps coming back from a suspension and rehab to win even more gold medals for Team USA, and champion boxer Mikaela Mayer who didn’t make the women’s lightweight boxing team in 2012 but who dug her heels and got back in the ring to earn a spot on the 2016 team. No matter what the setback, winning athletes strategize, weigh their options, get help from experts, and persevere—all tactics that also apply to the world of entrepreneurship and small business.
Do Your Best with What You Have
Watching the opening ceremonies in Rio, you would not have guesses the budget was one-twelfth the budget for the London ceremonies and one-twentieth the budget for the ceremonies in Beijing. Creative director Fernando Meirelles made do with a simple set consisting of a large floor acting as a video board and a few raised platforms. The effect was amazing and just as spectacular as more expensive events. Whether you’re planning a grand opening or having clients visit your office for a presentation, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to make the event special. Have a contest on social media or hold a free raffle for a restaurant gift certificate.
It’s All About Teamwork
Finally and most importantly, the Olympics show how teams are essential to success. From men’s swimming to The Final Five of women’s gymnastics, the Olympics showcase the ultimate team success stories. Are you creating a team-driven workplace, or is your philosophy “every man for himself”? Competition within a company has its pros (motivation), but can also lead to bitterness and employees undermining each other. If you want to compete on a global level, team-based management is crucial to success. One study published in The Harvard Business Review found the time managers and employees spend in team-based activities has ballooned by 50 percent or more over the last two decades. At many companies, more than three-quarters of an employee’s day is spent communicating with colleagues—and you can apply this lesson to your small business. Instead of assigning a project to an individual, try splitting your staff into teams to conquer a problem and see how your business thrives.