It is no exaggeration to say that the Olympic games, with 28 sports, 300+ events, dozens of venues, 10,500 athletes, over 7 million attending fans, 4.5 billion TV viewers, and over $5 billion in total revenue, add up to the most complex mega-sports event on earth. Everything about the Olympics is big. But the complexity is not a result of sheer size; it arises because success depends on myriad autonomous actors making good decisions, and on many different stakeholders seeing their (sometimes competing) expectations satisfied.
Clearly, the expectations of what LOCOG (London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games) and its Chairman Sebastian Coe can deliver are stratospheric on all fronts. Sponsors expect vigilant oversight to protect them from ambushers. Officials expect swift justice for athletes that cheat. Attending fans expect smooth transportation, well run and entertaining events, and guarantees of safety. Local citizens expect minimum disruption to their daily lives. Local businesses expect maximum economic gain (some supporters even naively expect the London Olympics to pull the UK out of recession). TV viewers expect drama and expansive coverage. Broadcasters expect to sell out their inventory of ad space. And the host country expects to demonstrate fiduciary competence by breaking even (if not running a profit) while also looking distinctively appealing to the rest of the world.
When an event this complex is expected to deliver so much, the notion of managing it takes on a different character. Coordination becomes an exercise in influence more than control. The challenge is to create the framework within which many others—from major contractors to armies of volunteers—can do their part and achieve their aims. The usual management focus on ensuring predictability has to be tempered with the recognition that surprises are inevitable.
So let me suggest a new set of criteria for judging whether a given host has done its job well. If organizing the Olympics were itself an Olympic competition, and we were the judges, here is how we might tally up LOCOG's score.Was it able to provide a solid framework? How effectively did it deal with surprises? How inspiring was its leadership?
The Games aren't over yet, of course. But the past seven years of work getting to this point do indicate that LOCOG was able to provide the framework within which other stakeholders could operate efficiently. It created the right atmosphere for others to do their jobs successfully. The organizing committee has been able to maintain its focus on its highest responsibilities: the overall vision, planning, and development of the 2012 Games
LOCOG has also responded rapidly and effectively to surprises. When security contractor G4S declared early in July that it had failed to hire the 10,400 security personnel it promised, the news came as a shock. Coming so close to the start of the Games, it threatened to be an embarrassment and could have amounted to much worse. The message the public received, however, suggested that Mr. Coe and his team were not caught off guard. "I can't put it more simply than this," Coe explained. "G4S expected people to materialize and when they didn't, as the home secretary has said, we moved very quickly to fill that gap." Soon thereafter the British government and LOCOG officials announced that security would be assured by the deployment of several thousand troops.
What about LOCOG's ability to inspire? This may be the hardest part of the task, in a world that craves authenticity and rejects anything perceived as too slick. A key challenge for organizing committees is tapping into emotions and avoiding perceptions of rampant commercialism. Mr. Coe and his LOCOG team scored early points by enthusiastically embracing the Olympics as a force for social good, and by emphasizing the resonance between London and the Olympic Movement. Both are vibrant celebrations of old combining with new—the Olympics as a tradition born in 776 BC, yet reinventing itself every four years; London interweaving inventive new venues with centuries-old architecture. Both are cultural melting pots: More than 300 languages are spoken in London, making it an ideal host for athletes from 200+ countries. As it happens, Great Britain is also the birthplace of many of the world's most popular sports. LOCOG's ability to deliver authentic, emotional messages about this Olympics' quintessential "Britishness" not only helped London win its bid for the Games, it also helped the effort stay true to its vision by inspiring everyone involved in bringing them to fruition.
How best to measure athletic performance is often a matter of dispute. In figure skating, the standards have changed substantially over time. Gymnastics scores now recognize the difficulty of routines as well as execution perfection. Judging an Olympics organizer's achievement will likewise be an evolving challenge. Count on two enduring realities: The complexity of the management challenge will continue to increase. And to be bold enough to host an Olympics will require the confidence to hold one's country up to the closest scrutiny. Future host cities, and managers of other large and complex enterprises, too, should mark LOCOG's achievement. The bar is being set.
Full Story at John Davis