A Bit About Roger Black
Before I get too carried away, I should give a bit of background. Roger Black was one of Britain’s star athletes until he retired in 1998, winning a total of 9 gold medals, 5 silver and 1 bronze throughout his career. He competed in 2 Olympic Games (Atlanta and Barcelona), World championships, European championships and the Commonwealth Games. But perhaps the two things he is best remembered for are his resilience against illness and injury and for his part in the winning of a gold medal for the 4×400 metre relay team in the 1991 World Championships.
The final for this race is still considered one of the biggest upsets in athletics, and is still talked about regularly. Going into the race, the US 4x400m team were confident of an easy win, having not lost a race in any major championship in the last 7 years. They were even more confident when they found out they were up against Great Britain, who in contrast hadn’t even won a medal in the event since 1936 in the Berlin Olympics.
But the runners had a very different idea. While discussing tactics the night before the race, teammates Black and Akabusi had a brilliant idea.
It was common practice around this time to ‘save the best for last’, and put your strongest runner on the last leg of the relay. For the British team, this meant saving Black until the last leg of the race as the ‘anchor leg runner’.
However in this race, the team used Black as the starting runner, giving them a chance to gain a lead quickly. This bold strategy paid off, and going into the final leg of the race the US only had a small lead on the British team. This left anchor leg runner Kriss Akabusi to overtake the US anchor leg Antonio Pettigrew at the last moment and secure victory for the British team.
How Does His Story Relate To Employee Engagement?
On its own this is a great story about the underdogs coming through to win – but what does it have to do with the workplace?
In a brave move, and instead of listening to their Coach, the team hatched their own plan for the race. They made the decision to change the running order and that decision ultimately resulted in a win for the team.
Time and again studies show we’re most highly motivated when we get to choose what or how we do something. Not only are we more persistent we also perform better. Don’t forget, Kriss Akabusi actually overtook the individual 400m Champion Antonio Pettigrew on the last leg!
By giving your team members responsibility to make decisions about what they do, you will see an increase in engagement and commitment to tasks – because they have made it their own.
We are also driven by a desire to improve and get better at something. The British team were good at what they did, but they all had an innate desire to do even better and that drove them to succeed.
Furthermore when you achieve higher levels of engagement we are more inclined to think of innovative ways to improve and to challenge the status quo. In this case, the relay team turned the commonly accepted idea of ‘save the best until last’ on its head (to the shock of many) in order to achieve a better result.
And finally – teamwork. We’re naturally social creatures, and have a desire to belong to a group, team or family. By engaging as a team, the British team felt a greater responsibility to do well and perform better for the sake of their teammates – they didn’t want to let their team down.
I’m passionate about spreading the word about the benefits of employee engagement and I truly believe employers who adopt these principles see much better results. For more information or help engaging your team get in touch or book a place on one of our free events.