These Olympic Games are just wonderful. What strikes me most, is once again the impact that they have on individuals and nations. Now we all know about the positive internal impact, the new role models, and the pride in a nation and its performance that can bring a real uplift and increases the desire of the people of a nation to work together, to do better, and to move to the next plane. The national identity becomes alive and forms the social cohesion. It allows a nation to believe, to believe in their achievements, in a better future and in the knowledge that determination, concentration and creativity still can lead to success and that success doesn’t corrupt. It also hopefully gets everybody to remember that they are ‘owners’ of this nation and to behave accordingly.
As internal and external are intrinsically linked, the virtuous circle described above also influences the external perception. It influences what other people think about a nation, how they perceive it. I have mentioned in in several blog posts before, that public diplomacy – the person to person, citizen to citizen interaction – is the strongest form of diplomacy. The individual is the single most important brand ambassador. But it needs to be reinforced with every single act, watching Jessica Ennis, is not enough, it needs to be backed up by the next personal interaction. That is another reason why volunteers are such an invaluable part of the Olympic experience and the nation brand creation.
The effectiveness of this public diplomacy depends on the level of pride, ownership and voluntary participation of the individual citizen towards his or her own nation brand, which is exactly what the Olympic Games are achieving in the UK.
At the same time, the personalisation of a brand is mainly driven by the one outstanding performer. Individual star performers and athletes are the embodiment of the national team and therefore of the nation brand. While teams may be respected, only individuals receive the strongest form of admiration and will be remembered even long after the actual event. That makes individuals more important than the team and in extreme cases the public may transfer the individual’s values onto the nation brand. David Beckham stands for Brand Beckham and Brand England, with his brand values being transferred onto the nation brand. It has to be said, however, that he is one of only a handful of athletes in the world with such a strong influence. Usain Bolt certainly does the same for Jamaica. But I also think that a nation that has several smaller yet still powerful personalities can benefit and I am very glad if the values that Jessica Ennis and the British Olympic athletes display are transferred to the nation brand. That can only be good.
And what is the take away for companies from this?
Treat your employees as citizens. (and watch this video). Don’t try to silence them, but allow them to develop ownership, as through ownership becomes pride and through pride comes voluntary participation. Instead of people showing up just because they need a job, they arrive because they want to participate. They know they matter and they know that their performance influences the perception and therefore ultimately the results and success of their company. And they care about it, as they feel and behave like owners. Work is suddenly filled with enjoyment and excitement.