Swimming Australia is in turmoil at the moment – there is no other way to put it. An eight month investigation into the performance of our swim team following the London Olympics has seen damning evidence released on the internal behaviours and culture of some of our elite athletes. The accusations include bullying, substance abuse and general loutish behaviour by high profile members of the male team. This comes hot on the heels of the ASADA report into our elite high profile sports where they identified a culture of performance enhancing drugs, illicit drugs, underworld links and match fixing. It makes it hard for the health lobby who are working hard to encourage children to exercise when their idols are embroiled in such scandals.

So, what does all this mean for those of us not involved in elite sport? I draw a parallel with the workplace and acceptable behaviours within teams. I draw a more pertinent parallel with the measurement of performance and implore and leaders reading this to remember that behaviour must be considered when assessing performance. So how does this work?

The number one performance indicator in nearly every job I have assessed has something to do with targets. These targets are often related to financial goals but may also include output measures, quality control or things of this ilk. They tend to be objective and quite easy to manage. They also tend to have a direct correlation to remuneration and assist businesses with equity and transparency.

However, I argue, that they really only tell part of the story. How many “high performers” have you managed, led or worked with whose behaviour was such that they made it difficult for others to succeed? How many “high performers” had their behaviours excused and interpreted as “single minded focus” rather than addressed as selfish and destructive? I have been guilty of this in the past and am working hard to ensure that I don’t allow it again. Yes, high numeric performance grants you some favours but it can never excuse poor behaviour.

Addressing and rectifying this can be a difficult thing for leaders to do. Having any conversation about behaviour is awkward and tends to lead to defensive and often emotive responses. I would strongly advise that you highlight acceptable and non-acceptable behaviours in performance management documents and use these as your point of reference. Use these behaviours as key deliverables and measure them, both objectively and subjectively. If you are able, link them to remuneration, reward and recognition and then you stand a good chance to facilitate proper behaviour and cultural change.

Failure to act on bad behaviours regularly leads to a toxic and non productive culture. This is often magnified when it is your senior team members or high performers who are guilty of it. When management turn a blind eye for fear of upsetting a star, they are, by virtue of doing nothing, condoning it. I wonder if the head coaches of Swimming Australia are regretting letting six swim stars to run riot at a Manchester hotel eight months after the event.

Brad McMahon – Managing Director

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