The Olympics and Why Mark McMorris Deserves Gold

Congratulations to Mark McMorris, our local snowboarding super-hero, on his Olympic bronze medal in the Men’s Slopestyle competition.

This event takes the highest single run score from the finalists’ three runs to determine the winner. It encourages big performances and big risks which are very entertaining for the audience and pushes the athletes to step up and perform beyond their expected capabilities.

Scoring for each run in this event is based on six judges, with the top and bottom scores tossed out, and the average of the four judges’ scores used to determine the competitor’s score.

Here were the actual final standings.

Table 4.1 Men’s Slopestyle Final Standings

These scores are awarded out of 100. The difference between first and third place was 1.94 points or less than two percent. Wow, that’s close. And a majority of points are allocated by judges, so it’s subjective, not objective.

However, just like the worst team can beat the best team on any day, sometimes individuals can get lucky outside of their normal range. Yes, even world class Olympic athletes can get lucky. That’s why I always like to look at the numbers.

When I calculated the average for each of the finalists over their three runs, the results were significantly different for two of the competitors.

Table 4.2: Men’s Slopestyle, Three Run Average

Based on the average scores, McMorris finished first with 73.73 and a 13.53 point lead over second place Parrot who received 60.20 and a 14.77 point lead over the now third-place finisher, Gerard, whose three-run average was 58.96. That three-run average margin between first place and third place is seven times larger than the margin between the actual system used which rewards individual runs.

Taking the three-run average would make much more sense, especially given the subjective judging and scoring process of this sport, which likely has more than a two percent margin of variability and error. Remember that the difference between gold and bronze was less than two percent.

It’s important to reward the best performance. But the system to reward a single run does not reward the best performer.

McMorris, who has overcome life-threatening injuries from a snowboarding accident less than a year ago, is clearly the best on the slopes according to the numbers.

Lessons for your Business

  1. Are you rewarding the occasional best performance or are you rewarding the consistent best performers?
  2. In fact, are you actually rewarding your top performers at all, with extra training and recognition, for example? Or, are you like many companies who spend more management time and money on remedial training and trying to fix poor performers (an often-hopeless cause and proven waste of money) rather than optimizing their best performers?
  3. Are you actually rewarding results or just paying people to show up and do their best? In sports, we call that practice or training.
  4. Individual competitors still require support people around them. Who is supporting your stars and how are you rewarding the support people?
  5. How are you building a team culture that is focused on performance?

In many companies, the founder originally did the best work because he or she had the most experience and had the passion and drive to build the business. The founder was the star. But the team was tiny and the capacity for growth very limited.

The most successful founders I’ve worked with built management teams around them who had more specialized skills and could function at much higher levels than the founder could ever get to on their own or by being the star of the show.

We often estimate the lifetime value of a customer. Have you estimated the lifetime value of your best employees and allocated developmental resources accordingly?

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