Lessons From Olympics for GRC Professionals

The London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony will be remembered for the Queen’s act of Bond girl. While reflecting on Olympics, I realized that risk managers, compliance and ethics officers can learn a few lessons from it. I know, most of us are watching the games and hoping our country’s athletes win a few medals. But just take a look at these points, and think whether they apply to your role.

1. Planning & Execution

Olympics are remembered for the awesome opening and closing ceremonies. The games run smoothly without a hitch for two weeks with thousands of athletes participating. The grand scale of the game requires years of preparation. Organization committees plan and implement each detail, and synchronize all cogs in the wheel. The stadiums are developed, the ceremonies are rehearsed several times, traffic planning is done in advance, etc.  Different teams collectively dedicate themselves to ensure a spectacular performance.

Risk managers, compliance and ethics officers, fraud investigators and internal auditors sometimes tend to work in silos to protect their own turf. Additionally they make annual plans and most do not have a 3 to 5 years plan. To build an ethics culture and/or risk culture, the foundation has to be laid and each brick put in its place to deal with the present day complexities of the business environment. Hence, organizations will give a spectacular performance only with the long-term planning and hard work of the risk teams.

2. Coaching & Training

Athletes train for years to become national and international champions. Their coaches train and guide them continuously to improve their performance. GRC professionals have two takeaways from this. First, to dedicate themselves to learning continuously. Risk management is a dynamic field, with new risks emerging everyday. GRC professionals cannot rest on their laurels and must learn new disciplines.

The second aspect is from business teams perspective. Ethics or risk management training isn’t a one time job. Psychologists state that once the moral compass shifts downward, a person starts losing moral judgment on most things in life.  Business teams must be trained and coached regularly to stay ethical and effectively manage risks. When athletes need so much physical training to win, business managers require an equivalent amount of moral training to operate effectively.

3. Importance of Fair Play

Britishers coined the term “fair play” and its importance in sports is such that all athletes, coaches and referees take an oath to play by the rules. Breaking of the rules is severely punished and dopers are banned.

On the other hand, the recent scandals of the corporate world show that the value of fair play is lost. The reports are damaging; clearly indicating that all rules and laws were disregarded to make money, achieve targets and get the upper hand. It is tragic that corporate citizens believe that nice guys finish last. Ethics officers must inculcate a sense of fair play within the corporate culture. Performance must be measured on merit and skills,  and not on capability for foul play.

Closing thoughts

The games reflect the changing times. For instance, China and US are competing for the top slot. In the last century, the developed world took the top three slots and the BRICS were hardly a group to be reckoned with. However, now they win a significant portion of the medals.

In this Olympics, gender equality took center stage. It is the first time in Olympic history that each country has a woman athlete and 49% of the total athletes are women. It is an amazing change, because when Olympics started women weren’t allowed to participate. Simultaneously, the growing power of women was reflected in the corporate world. A CEO and a pregnant woman were two mutually exclusive terms. Marissa Mayers appointment as CEO of Yahoo showed that a woman can be both.

Watch the games and let us hope the better sportsperson wins.

Parts of this post were selected by Company Secretary magazine (US) for posting in their article Olympics coverage: earning a gold medal in ethics” on 3 August 2012.