Let’s learn a lesson or two from the Vikings.
The Icelandic miracle is over for this World Cup, but with inspiring play and a draw against Argentina (1-1) these North Atlantic peaceful marauders have captured our hearts once again.
How did a country of merely 350,000 make it so far? Others have described the miracle, including Time Magazine in a cover story on June 7.
A combination of investment in year-round facilities, more and better coaches, a sports-for-all philosophy, and full support from the population has paid off.
Can we learn anything from this in a business setting? Yes, I believe we can.
Increase the talent pool
On one level, it’s a numbers game. If you look at the best teams in football, you see big countries like Germany, the UK, and Brazil, but also small ones like Croatia, Uruguay, my native Denmark, and yes, Iceland, punching way above their league in terms of population.
On the other hand, China is a mediocre team which rarely qualifies, not to speak about India or Indonesia.
So it’s not about how many people, it’s about how many people play football. This is a different picture, with Iceland in 17th place with 11% of the population in 2006 (probably even more today).
The business application of this has been raised before. By actively or passively excluding minorities, you are reducing the talent pool for employees and leaders. And if you routinely discard half of your employees for leadership positions just because of your gender, you miss out on a lot of potential.
For instance, women hold only 14.2 percent of the top five leadership positions among S&P 500 firms, Sylvia Ann Hewlett wrote for Inc., stating: “Companies that ignore the insights of their talented women will lag the curve in delivering successful solutions to the marketplace.”
True to its name, Iceland has long, cold, and wet winters. This was previously a big obstacle for raising the level of outdoor sports, but by investing in indoor facilities and making them accessible to all children and young people, they effectively removed one of the key barriers to success.
To achieve equality in a corporate setting it is necessary to look at both invisible barriers. These can include work-life balance opportunities, meeting schedules, but also cultural elements such as excessive ‘locker-room talk’, small-talk in a native language, or other elements of stereotyping.
More and better coaches
Instead of relying on parent coaches, Iceland has invested heavily in upskilling of their coaches, with a huge increase in UEFA-licensed coaches, and not only to top-tier clubs. “In Iceland, anyone can join a local sports club that employs elite coaches, for an average of $600 a year,” writes Time.
To succeed in business, you also need good coaches and mentors. If middle-managers play the dog-eat-dog game, thinking only about their next promotion, they are not worthy of the manager title. On the other hand, having managers who nurture and guide their people, spotting talent, also in minorities, is essential to the long-term success of any organization.
Secure full support
Everyone in Iceland is a part of the football adventure. New York Times writes that “In a country of fewer than 350,000 people, most everybody either knows someone on the team or knows someone who does. There is no celebrity culture.”
Around 30,000 fans travelled to France for the Euro 2016 – that’s more than 10% of the population! Similar numbers are reported for the World Cup in Russia. And a staggering 99.6% watched the match against Argentina.
How’s that for a commitment to corporate values? Nobody would expect numbers like that, but if you do want to succeed as a company, you’re surely better off if your employees support the journey. And that’s all employees, mind you.
So, to sum up, there’s a lot to learn from Iceland. Who, by the way, had the world’s first democratically elected female president, from 1980 to 1996. Huh!