Kangaroos, sharks and stakeholders

“A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark” – Alvy Singer to Annie in Annie Hall

Last Monday, the relationship between the Australian Olympic team and the Rio Olympics was on the verge of becoming a dead shark. Here’s a quick recap of what happened.

On the previous Sunday the Australian Chef de Mission, Kitty Chiller, and her team headed to the athlete’s village in Rio to check all was well prior to the team moving in that week. What they found was water coming down the walls, shorting of electrical wiring and a strong smell of gas. They had no choice but to delay their arrival and stay in hotels instead.

They didn’t feel that site staff were addressing their concerns, so they went public in the hope of spurring action. They acknowledged the long hours and hard work of the staff in trying to prepare the village, but that in its current state, the Australian village was ‘unlivable’.

The Olympics is the world’s biggest sporting event and Rio 2016 will be the largest event ever staged. 10,500 athletes from 206 National Olympic Committees will compete in 28 sports across 38 venues in Brazil, nine of which are new.

The athletes village itself cost over $2bn to build and includes about 80,000 chairs, 70,000 tables, 29,000 mattresses, 60,000 clothes hangers, 6,000 television sets and 10,000 smartphones.*

On top of that there are transportation, safety, catering and a myriad of other factors to take into consideration in order to make the games successful. It’s fair to say that it’s a slightly bigger undertaking than the original event held in Olympia in 776 BC.

It’s a political hot potato too, especially this year. What with Russian doping, the Zika virus and terrorism concerns in the press almost daily. However, as Barack Obama said, “Everyone knows that politics is a combat sport” – so where better to play it than at the Olympics.

It’s the kind of project that people in my profession would either jump at the chance of managing or run a marathon to avoid.

But back to the legitimate concerns of the Australian delegation.

In any project, whilst the stakeholders may not always be right, they must always be listened to. Their concerns must be heard and their passion felt, before a measured response is provided. One grounded in fact, empathy and action.

So it was a surprise when the Rio Mayor, Eduardo Paes, countered the Australian concerns by telling the media: “I almost feel like putting a kangaroo in front of their building to make them feel at home” and that the Olympic village in Rio was “nicer than the one in Sydney”.

I can’t vouch as to whether the latter is true, but I’m certain that unless that kangaroo was a plumber, electrician and gas fitter, his flippancy wasn’t going to go down well with his stakeholders. It didn’t.

The state of the facilities and his comments were reported all around the world and suddenly the Rio Olympics had another PR crisis on its hands.

Thankfully, Paes realised his error and by Thursday had responded in the way that he should have done first time around. He apologised, admitted that the Australians had the worst building and that the feedback from the delegation ‘was right’. He said “It was not in good shape. That was a mistake of the organisation. What we have to do now is go ahead and organise it.” I’m pleased to say that the team moved in not long after this statement was made.

Gathering stakeholder feedback throughout the life of any project is an important strategy that project sponsors and managers need to undertake if they are to maintain good relationships. It ensures that expectations are understood and that buy-in throughout the project is retained. It’s also an important mechanism in ascertaining what project sponsors and managers can do to improve the way they plan, manage risk, lead people and communicate progress.

The last thing that a project needs is a sea of dead sharks. Particularly if their last act is to take a bite out of those running it!

ProjectNPS is the world’s only tool for gathering feedback on the quality of leadership being provided by project sponsors and project managers. Find out more here.

*Rio Olympics stats courtesy of Wikipedia
Image by Banksy

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