Cast your mind back to the 2012 Olympic Games and you might remember sporting icons such as Jessica Ennis-Hart tearing up the track, Mo Farah winning double gold and Usain Bolt remind his rivals of his cool confidence with his infamous lightning pose.

But although these runners possess a rare talent to run impeccably well, behind the scenes there were also some pretty impressive running from HR.

They might have not been athletes, but their active organisation, commitment and drive to make London 2012 go down in sporting history is to be commended. For a country that so infrequently celebrates success – it's time to recognise a truly world-class project.

Approaching hurdles the HR way

As people took their seats in the stadium, many would have been unaware that people generally expected the Games to go to Paris, rather than their home city.

At the time London was selected, there were well-known infrastructure projects that were over budget and delivered late so many people were sceptical about the capability to deliver.

The hurdles the ODA (Olympic Delivery Authority) had to overcome included:

·      Starting from scratch with no employees and deliver to an un-moveable end date

·      Create a public sector organisation funded by £7bn focused on regeneration and 20+ projects

Remember, that in 2006 the Olympic park didn’t even exist!

Cartwright’s unique strategy

Heading up the ODA was HR Director Wendy Cartwright, a highly regarded HR leader. She’d already led the ODA’s HR function from organisational start-up in April 2006 and prior to that, held senior HR roles in both the private and public sector. Having been ranked fourth in HR Magazine’s Most Influential HR Practitioners list 2012, she seemed the natural choice.

But what exactly did she do to make the event run so smoothly and create that buzzing sense of inspiration that echoed through the streets of London long after the flames had been snubbed?

Firstly, she was adamant that the end goal would result in everyone leaving the business with the same positive outlook as when they joined. Delivery was also of crucial importance – the venues had to look good as well as operate well. They had to support regeneration to help make the London 2012 dream of building a legacy a reality.

Keeping the resilience going and ensuring people could perform and enjoy themselves through every minute was key. The ODA’s ‘Athletes at Work’ campaign came into force, merging sport and staff performance and helping everyone involved in HR to learn about nutrition, the importance of rest and general health and wellbeing in order to meet their own unique goals.

A rewards scheme was also in place. Traditionally, each city hosting the Games use pin badges as a mark of dedication and memento that lasts. The ODA used pin badges in a wider recognition scheme handing them to people who had gone above and beyond. This unique reward served as a high motivation to do more to continue that stream of success.

The result? The ODA ended up delivering ahead of time, a huge achievement for a project of such global recognition, importance and scale.

Impressive figures

While the athletes were keeping an eye on their numbers – how far they’d jumped, their splits on the track and the rankings on their dives, HR also had some important figures to consider.

The bulk of the workforce resulted in approximately 2,500 Locog staff plus a 70,000-strong volunteer group. HR staff played a critical role and were screened, filtered, interviewed, appointed, trained, employed and decommissioned.

The staff were committed to developing an internal workforce culture that reflected global Olympic values. It was incredible, influential and it made you feel proud to be British. But what can we learn from this?

What HR professionals can take from this exemplary feat of organisation

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