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All that glitters is not (always) gold

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All that glitters is not (always) gold

CRITERION’S BILLY BURNSIDE RELFECTS ON THE OLYMPIC GAMES AND HOW WE MEASURE SUCCESS.


I enjoyed the recent Olympics from Tokyo and admit to being a bit of a fanatic about them. I believe this year’s was a huge relief for sports fans when you consider the pandemic and all the uncertainty that has brought to our lives.

There has been plenty of coverage of how well ‘Team GB’ performed and it got me thinking about how we measure success, as a nation when it comes to sporting events, and in business.

I watched with interest the reaction of some athletes to their own achievements.   One particular episode was Boxing Silver Medallist Ben Whittaker’s reaction to missing out on gold.  Asked about winning silver, Whittaker told the BBC: ‘You don’t win silver, you lose gold. I’m very disappointed with myself.’  While I’m sure a ‘heat of the moment’ reaction, he will hopefully reflect on his fantastic achievement more positively as time goes by.  His is not an uncommon reaction from athletes across sports.

The awarding of Gold, Silver and Bronze for the top 3 athletes is inexorably linked to success in the minds of all athletes.  But why is ‘true’ success, in the eyes of many, seen as the exclusive preserve of those who win Gold?

Gold, Silver and Bronze Medals were first awarded at the 1904 Olympic Games in St. Louis, USA – before that a variety of medals, cups, trophies, laurel wreaths etc. were awarded.  A little-known fact is that, in addition to the medals, every athlete placing 1st – 8th receives an Olympic diploma and all athletes receive a participation medal.  The IOC obviously recognise the effort and dedication it takes for athletes to even qualify to represent their country and compete at the games.  So why Ben Whittaker’s reaction to winning a Silver Medal?

Previous research in this area concluded that bronze medallists tended to be happier than silver medallists.  The reason?  Silver medallists were disappointed by ‘not winning gold’, whereas bronze medallists were content with bronze because they were more realistically facing leaving the Games with no medal.  I can understand the psychology, but it does emphasise the fact that silver medallists, through perceiving they have ‘missed out on Gold’, lose sight of the fact they have achieved a remarkable thing – winning an Olympic Medal!

Recognising performance excellence can be challenging in our industry.  One initiative that is setting out to do just that is STAR.  STAR is an industry initiative bringing together platforms, providers, life companies and transfer / asset managers to create a long-term solution to improving customers experience of transferring pensions, savings and investments between companies, by setting and measuring participants against a best practice framework.

STAR is about to enter a key phase, MI Reporting and Accreditation of participants.  This will measure all organisations performance across the four STAR categories (ISA/GIA, Individual Pensions & SIPPs, Occupational Pensions and Fund Managers) with each company receiving a Gold, Silver or Bronze Award.  The hope is that, through these annual awards, the industry will improve over time through collective investment in improved processes, investment in technology and clear, consistent and transparent customer communications.

The first STAR Accreditation is at the start of 2022, covering 2021 transfers and re-registrations.  It will be interesting to see how individual companies perform and I am sure many will covet a ‘Gold Award’.  But the bigger prize here is less about individual performance and more the fact that the industry has come together to improve service performance in this critical process, and improving the outcomes for customers.  In her excellent book ‘The Long Win: the search for a better way to succeed’ ex-Olympian, Dr Cath Bishop, looks at the damaging obsession with winning in all aspects of life.  She argues that ‘winning’ is about ‘pursuing excellence in a way that has integrity, within a framework of values and purpose’, and ‘seeing success as more than a short-lived, short-term moment in time’.  If STAR can deliver an easily understood framework that helps identify areas of process efficiency and encourages improvements across the industry for the benefit of customers, then all the participants, whether they achieve Gold, Silver or Bronze Accreditation, can feel proud of being part of this initiative.

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