We had the honour of speaking with Greg Searle, an Olympic gold medallist who won the coxed pairs event at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics – and 20 years later decided that there’s no reason for him not to enter the Olympic Games again. By winning a bronze medal in the men’s eight at London 2012, he proved that the key to overcoming self-doubt is knowing what you’re capable of, pushing your limits, and above all – believing in yourself regardless of what others think. Greg is now Chief Innovation Officer at Keys Business Concierge, using his knowledge and experience to help organisations support their employees to perform at their best.
CXM: People know you as an Olympic gold medallist, but are most likely less familiar with your business side. Could you tell us what your role at Keys Business Concierge is and how long have you been working there?
Greg: I’ve been working there for about 6 months, and my role is to bring a new approach to our product and how we take it to our customers. I’ve worked for 20 years as a business coach, and everything I do is about helping employees to feel more engaged with the companies they work for. Ultimately I would say it’s about improving people’s working life.
CXM: You recently hosted The UK Employee Experience Awards, and according to everyone who attended, made the entire event more inspiring. Was there perhaps a particular organisation or an individual you spoke to and found inspiring?
Greg: I would say all of the stories were inspiring – it’s inspiring to meet people who are maximising the working experience of their employees. These people go the extra mile to make people’s jobs engaging and meaningful, and to give them good training so that they’re equipped to do the job, but are also equipped to be better people – and that is really interesting to hear. There was one particular group whose story stayed with me – it was really good to hear about CrossCountry’s great leadership programme, in what way they engaged all their leaders and their team and what they considered to be the driving factors for their performance.
CXM: How does Keys Business Concierge aid businesses deliver a world-class employee experience within the workplace?
Greg: I think most of us come to work with a things-to-do list and we don’t get to the bottom of it. There’s always more to do than there are hours in the day – and we have to wrestle with getting the job done and getting our personal lives sorted out. There’s everything from shopping to booking a holiday to organising any treats that we might want for ourselves, our partners or our children. Keys Concierge provides the service where there’s someone else to support you with all of your personal and lifestyle needs. You can pick up the phone and speak to a real person who can help you to organise your life.
CXM: In your opinion, when engaging employees within the workplace, what impact does removing external interference have on employee performance?
Greg: I think that to perform our best we need to focus on our tasks at hand; our mind needs to be present and not distracted by other factors that get in the way of us delivering our best. Whether that is standing up and making a presentation, having a sales meeting with clients or being in our office and completing our reports on time – there are so many things that stop us from getting our actual jobs done. What we’re looking to do is cut down on all that interference so that we balance up how you use your time as effectively as possible.
In all walks of life, we wrestle between doing the jobs which need to be done now – I’d say the current needs of our job; but we also have in mind the future requirements of planning things that are further out – whether that’s innovating for our customers, creating a marketing strategy, developing our people or investing into new systems.
However, we often don’t get around to doing those important future-focused things, because we get bogged down in less important immediate requirements. So, removing external interference takes away the less important current issues to let us focus on the more important longer term future-planning issues.
CXM: What would you say is the key to improving employee experience, generally?
Greg: I could say four things here. Putting people back in control would be the first thing. Normally we’re out of control, there’s too much to do – and having someone to assist you helps you put things in control.
I would also say that having a sense of belonging, a good team experience and having someone who’s on your side is equally important – so, again, we provide someone who’s on your side and helping you.
The third thing would be having a sense of accomplishment and getting things done, giving people good feedback and recognition – that’s another thing that gives people a good experience.
And finally, I would say that doing something which is meaningful and feeling like you’ve made a difference is something that improves employee experience and engagement.
CXM: In your opinion, can a parallel be made between being a successful businessman and a successful sportsman? Are there key traits, such as persistence and willpower that lead to success, or talent and luck play the major role here?
Greg: No, I would say in both situations, to be successful in sports or in business, you need an amount of talent. But there are two things that make the difference which come across: one is having personal resilience – which is about learning from every experience and becoming stronger, always keeping in mind that no one has a completely smooth path in anything. It’s about how you get back up and carry on going.
And I would say that the other thing is having a learning mindset – being ready to learn, being ready to react to feedback and improve. In sports, there’s a huge need to keep learning and keep improving. You know the concept that ‘better never stops’? That’s quite a nice expression – ‘better never stops’. You have to be ready to keep learning and that is exactly the same and true in work.
CXM: If you don’t mind me asking, what compelled you to make that big comeback, and have another go at the Olympics 2012? Do you remember the exact moment, by any chance?
Greg: Yes, I do remember the exact moment. In 2009 I was in Poznan, in Poland, commentating at the world rowing championships, and I remember being part of the competition but only standing there watching it as a commentator, talking about it. I felt a desire to be a bigger part of this, and I had a belief in myself –a belief that I’d be capable of racing and winning a gold medal.
I was driven by the desire to improve and learn more, and the inspiration of London was massive for me. I knew that my children would be there to watch and I thought how they would then be 9 years old and 11 years old, so if I competed I would be able to be a good role model to them.
The vision for London, the overall heading for the Olympics was to inspire a generation. So I realised that I could inspire my generation if I could show them that I could be a competitor and try to win a gold medal.
CXM: Were there sceptics who thought that you wouldn’t make it to the Olympic podium again after 20 years?
Greg: If there were sceptics, then I couldn’t hear them. I had enough belief that they could think I might not, but I wasn’t listening. I was only listening to the voice in my head.
CXM: What do you think makes winning such a unique experience?
Greg: I think for me it is about striving to push yourself and achieve things that are stretching for you.
What I’m about to say is genuinely true: I won a gold medal at the Olympics, but the feeling of crossing the line when I won the Olympics was the same feeling I got when I won the junior world championships when I was 18. It’s the same feeling that I got when I completed the London marathon, even though I didn’t get a prize, I wasn’t winning – it was just my personal achievement across the line. It’s the same feeling I get when I see my daughter and my son achieving their ambitions. It’s the same feeling inside of personal challenge, stretch and achievement.
CXM: Greg, thank you for this wonderful and inspiring interview, it’s been a real pleasure talking to you.