An Olympic Legacy – workplace meritocracy

This piece should have been posted two weeks ago; August intervened.

I have been hooked, spending much of the past month dangling from the line of the “Greatest Show on Earth” – the Olympics. With wall-to-wall and morning to night coverage, I have watched sports I hardly knew existed. What is more, I thoroughly enjoyed it too. I tried to buy tickets on the original ballot and several times thereafter, but failed on each occasion. I was, however, successful on the first allocation of Paralympic tickets.

I spent most of my early professional years supporting disabled people, as they faced the daily challenges of living in mainstream society. Consequently, I have watched with interest the advancement of the Paralympics over the years and now eagerly await my visits to watch the athletics in the main stadium.

My attention, however, was caught by the inclusion of three disabled athletes who met their able-bodied peers on the Olympic ‘starting line’, the highest profile of them being Oscar Pistorius, sometimes known as the Bladerunner, completing in the 400 metre race. Also Natalia Partyka a Polish table tennis player, who was born without a right hand or forearm and, of course, Im Dong Hyun of South Korea, who with less than 10% vision, was nonetheless was able to break the world record in archery – astounding.

It should be noted that in order to appear, these athletes would have needed to achieve a qualifying standard; they arrived at the Games on merit and highlighted for me the theory of meritocracy, a social system that gives opportunities and advantages to people purely on the basis of their ability.

Are our workplaces meritocratic? Do the best employees always get their deserved notice and promotion opportunities; does the cream always rise to the top? From what I am told very often the clear answer is “No”.

Perhaps this should be one of the Olympic legacies for us all to learn from. Be prepared to express yourself at your fullest potential in the knowledge that you will be noticed, valued and rewarded. Employers and managers take note. Your responsibility here is to recognise, value and reward; it is your job to allow and encourage endeavour and achievement to rise to the top. Personal and organisational success will follow.

By the way, role on the Paralympics – I can’t wait.

About equalityedge

I run Equality Edge and its unique and creative "Working with Difference" project. It supports employers and managers in gaining a competitive and cost saving advantage from meeting equality and diversity best practice obligations. Coaching and workshops are used to deliver organisational, team and leadership development, assisting in improving communication and the understanding of the impact difference has on workplace behaviour.
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4 Responses to An Olympic Legacy – workplace meritocracy

  1. Michael, a very insightful post, and it’s good to see your unequivocal support for meritocracy.

    The private sector – unlike the public sector, needless to say – has a long and proud record of appointing people on the grounds of merit. Any company that didn’t do so would soon find its performance declining. But decisions on merit can only be made by those in charge – e.g. existing directors must appoint new directors – and of course you can’t decide your own merit (most people tend to flatter themselves).

    The reasons for the gender ‘imbalance’ on major corporate boards – and in senior executive positions more generally – are very well understood, and discrimination against women (whether conscious or subconscious) certainly isn’t among them. If anything, men discriminate FOR women. Just look at all the FTSE100 chairmen falling over themselves to support The 30% Club…

    individuals who don’t get as far up the corporate ladder as they wish tend to blame the system for not recognising their ‘true worth’. They blame the glass ceiling, the old boy’s network etc. and if they’re women, will be encouraged by other women to do so (men have no such ‘excuse’ for not getting as far as they’d like). But the glass ceiling is a baseless conspiracy theory, and the old boys’ network a myth – in the private sector, anyway – for at least the past 30+ years.

    There’s clear evidence that when people are appointed on grounds other than merit – for example, through the threat of quotas for women on boards, as we currently have in the UK – corporate performance will inevitably suffer.

    I’m looking forward to giving a presentation on this subject at the Institute of Economic Affairs next Wednesday. The fight against ‘improved’ gender balance on boards – a left-wing social engineering initiative – is finally underway. It’s long overdue.

    Have a nice day.

    Mike Buchanan


  2. Dr. Becky Byrn-Schmid says:

    I think it is important to find a way to value each employee in a sincere way – especially in regards to showing that we all have strengths and match assignments/responsibilities to those strengths. At times, it is also valuable to show confidence in an employee to help her challenge herself in a task that is difficult for her with the help of a mentor. This is a supportive and relationship-building opportunity if done with positive directions/training and a learning atmosphere.

    One of the most damaging things I see with managers is favoritism among employees and surrounding themselves with “yes” people. A clear vision in an organization paired with true and honest desire to have a fully inclusive working environment, being willing to look at all ideas (not just the manager’s), provides a great potential for success with high morale and productivity.

    In my experience, honesty is crucial. Seasoned employees usually know when they are being lied to and do not like it. This creates a wolf in sheep’s clothing feeling and undermines the organization. If there are a brave few who question the lies, they usually get permanently thrown in the troublemaker group by a dyfunctional manager. When there is no questioning of the lies, people roll over and take it, but harbor resentments and the divide grows bigger between management and employees.

    When favoritism based on being a “yes” person overcomes expertise, integrity and honesty, those not in the inner, favored circle, spend alot of time wondering why they are not recognized for their good work. At this point there is a great loss of loyalty to the organization and to productivity.

  3. alba says:

    in the current mainstream society what it means is the profit. the latter, to develop needs ignorance.

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