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One team: communicating to unite a growing, disparate workforce under one umbrella.

Delivering the Olympic Games to the world's stage is a monumental task. In 2000 the workforce communication team for the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games designed and implemented programmes to inform, involve and retain employees and volunteers for the Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games. This article--part two in a series of three--examines the role that a powerful workforce communication and recognition programme can have in galvanising a huge, disparate workforce.

Diversity was the defining characteristic of the Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games workforce. By Games-time, the 110,000-member workforce included paid permanent staff, volunteers, contractors working for the organising committee, contractors with other organisations and a host of sponsor staff.

The Sydney 2000 Games workforce represented people of all ages, educational levels, nationalities and interests, with a mix of experience, expectations and motivations.

Paramount to the Games' success was having the workforce operate as a united front. The "one team, one tent" philosophy was strongly encouraged in the development of the organising committee culture during the years leading up to the Games. The challenge was maintaining that culture as the workforce grew exponentially.

With an estimated viewing audience of 3.5 billion and thousands of visitors converging on Sydney for the Games, it was vital that the workforce project a cohesive image. Externally we were to be one--even though internally we were many.


As the years counted down to September 2000, it became apparent that an overarching identity encompassing all workforce groups and acknowledging a shared vision would be essential.

Up to this point the Games workforce had discrete sections--volunteers had their own "Volunteers 2000" brand, paid permanent staff were known as "SOCOG," and the staff of contracting organisations rightfully identified themselves with their own company (e.g., IBM).

Despite these differences, there was one commonality: to help fulfill a dream-- the dream of athletes to compete for their country, the dream of Australia's people to host the best Games ever and the individual dreams of thousands who wanted to be a part of the Olympic experience.

With a workforce that could fill the stands of the Olympic Stadium, we needed a brand to sum up who we were and what we were about.

To recognize our common goal and our collective power, GamesForce 2000 was born, with the accompanying tag line "delivering the dream."

An identifying brand helped galvanise the workforce, says Claire Houston, former manager of workforce training for SOCOG. "It united the volunteer, paid and contractor staff into one group with set objectives and vision--it was about one GamesForce with one clear goal--no matter where you came from," she says.

It made operational sense for unity and clarity around defined shared goals. And as a handy by-product, there was finally a collective noun to sum up the team (previously it took several lines and a darn good memory to rattle off all the Olympic workforce segments).

In the 18 months leading up to the Games, GamesForce 2000 internal branding was used extensively on invitations, training material, commemorative pins, T-shirts and more. The GamesForce 2000 logo design was readily identifiable as "Olympic" in style and complied with the strict protocols governing Olympic branding--it paid homage to the "Volunteer" logo of the past and put athletes at the core of the image. The workforce brand worked because it dovetailed with the familiar Sydney 2000 Olympic Games look.

Nevertheless, a "buzzword" cannot create a culture or unite a team--no single name will suddenly create a workforce if the training, communication, organisational structures, policies and procedures, and a billion other considerations are ineffective. Nevertheless, it can serve as a useful "peg" on which to hang the whole thing.


To promote unity and cohesive operations, tangible communication tools were needed to overcome the logistical challenge of dispersing information to an army of volunteers. For the Sydney 2000 team, logistics problems were compounded by being restricted to non-electronic means of keeping volunteers up to date on planning progress, training and more. In the initial planning stages for the Sydney Games, the Internet was not nearly as advanced as the online world that awaited the Salt Lake City Organising Committee (SLOC). Salt Lake planners took full advantage of the quantum leaps in Internet capability, successfully using the Internet as a main vehicle for communicating with volunteers. SLOC's Team 2002 web site was established specifically for the volunteers, who were assigned access ID numbers.

"It was very successful and well received with our volunteers," says Nancy Volmer, senior communications manager, SLOC. The Team 2002 volunteer site, however, was only a fraction the size of SLOC's public web site--the largest event web site in sports history.

Although the Sydney 2000 web site featured general information aimed at encouraging site visitors to volunteer, it did not cater to the specific needs of volunteers once they were recruited.

Therefore, central to the wider communication strategy for GamesForce 2000 was a series of three workforce publications to support staff in their quest to become "Games ready."

The full-colour publications aimed to educate and motivate and also served as mementos for volunteers hungry for information. The publications' approach was to report news and event information and reinforce training messages that the staff would hear as they undertook orientation, venue and job-specific training, as well as to identify information gaps that would not be filled in any other forum.

The publications told the behind-the-scenes stories and provided simple, no-nonsense advice and information. Added to this was a healthy dose of expectation management. After all, of the 110,000-strong GamesForce, only a handful could expect to find themselves poolside as Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe took gold.

The publications were bright, fun and upbeat in design and content. They counted down to the big event in a way that would meet organisational objectives ("to have a Games-ready workforce") and audience needs ("tell us what it will be like") and that clearly represented the visions and goals of the Olympic movement.

Brendan Lynch, former manager of volunteer recruitment at SOCOG, says, "I believe the biggest challenge for an event workforce or in fact any major volunteer exercise is communication--the publications were important in getting succinct and generic information out to the volunteers."

The first publication in the series was the magazine On Your Marks. It painted the "big picture" of the Games and promoted loyalty in an environment where volunteers were exposed to negative Olympic stories in the media every day (many received the magazine at the height of the International Olympic Committee scandals).

On Your Marks contained amazing Games facts, volunteer profiles and athlete stories, as well as a mix of critical information such as dates for the diary and what to expect next.

The second publication, Get Set, a one-year countdown wall calendar, focussed on the Games as a wider festival and highlighted the Olympic Arts festival, torch relay, Share the Spirit school competitions, environmental messages and more.

Each issue featured two sidebars: a dot-point reiteration of training messages (e.g., customer service, disability awareness, etc.), and a brief description of a Paralympic sport.

The publications were written for a GamesForce being prepared for a 60-day event--the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Each included a Paralympic component, as staff could find themselves on a concourse fielding questions about boccia or powerlifting.

In addition, the calendar marked highlights in the countdown to the Games and encouraged GamesForce 2000 to get involved to "share the spirit" in the test events, festivals and myriad Olympic events taking place in the lead-up to 15 September 2000.

The third publication, GO, was passport size and contained a mix of handy hints and tips. It served as a vital tool for administering the volunteer recognition programme. Volunteers had their "passport" stamped for each shift worked, with the opportunity for prizes and rewards along the way.

The challenge for the workforce communication team was to pitch three publications to build excitement, hit the mark with a hugely diverse audience, and disseminate timely, accurate information.

Once Games-time arrived, each venue rook responsibility for its own newsletters and publications (on a much smaller scale). The "glossy" centralised publications had set the tone that was then built on at the venue level.


An important component of the workforce communication and employee relations programme was the GamesForce 2000 recognition programme.

The challenge was to identify what motivates volunteers and devise ways to keep them on track to the finish line--no mean feat when there were almost as many reasons for volunteering as there were volunteers.

Volunteers are not "free labour"--each person's commitment comes at a cost to recruit, communicate with, train, uniform, clothe, feed and transport. Attrition before or during the event costs money. A recognition strategy alone is not the answer. It must be combined with consistent human resources management policy, clear and creative communication, and efficient administration practices.

The recognition strategy was simple: equity, team spirit, and celebration of achievements and milestones. This approach included tapping into the opportunities arising from an event with a rich history, public aims and high-profile moments.

Previous Games had shown that simple, well-intentioned things like the distribution of tickets to events, the allocation of sponsor contributions (e.g., special merchandise) and differences in uniform kits had potential to cause unrest among volunteers. The aim, therefore, was to implement the recognition programme through a centralised administrative structure.

Test Events (international sporting events held in the two years leading up to the Games) were used to trial fledgling recognition programmes, which included daily staff newsletters, competitions, prize draws and end-of-event celebrations. The feedback and lessons learned early on helped shape the Games-time programme.

The budget for the Communication & Recognition programme amounted to a mere AUS$2 per head--a situation that called for creativity! With this in mind, the recognition programme was launched to existing Games sponsors under the GamesForce2000 branding, with an appeal for donation of goods or services to use as prizes in return for public acknowledgment throughout the programme.

An earlier launch of the programme might have resulted in a bigger slice of the "value-in-kind" pie and ideally would have been included in original sponsorship negotiations. At the time of asking, budgets were tight and sponsors were stretched to the limit on their Games involvement.

Fortunately, a number of sponsors were extremely generous, resulting in a range of goods gathered to support the programme at venue level. Items included T-shirts, caps, key rings, watches and more, in addition to the major prizes used in the post-Games volunteer prize draws, which included cars and overseas trips.

The recognition programme was launched publicly to volunteers at orientation training sessions nationwide, where sponsor contributions were acknowledged and the "GO" Passport, the recognition programme's administrative tool, was distributed.

At Games-time each venue staffing manager administered the programme using the "goods" supplied. Staffing managers were trained in the communication and recognition aspects of running their venue and provided with a comprehensive "tool kit" to put it all into action. Venue staffing managers (especially at larger venues with thousands of staff) recruited a "Communication & Recognition" coordinator as part of their volunteer team to take responsibility for newsletter production, competitions and other motivational activities.

Although the programme was built with volunteers in mind, it was important to avoid the "us and them" mentality. Thus contractors, paid staff and volunteers were all included in many of the venue-based activities with "special" draws and activities reserved for volunteers only.


Being an integral part of a workforce that delivered the Olympic Games to the world was a privilege. Despite the political battles and the exhaustion that goes with any event, it remains a career highlight for the communication team.

Did the communication programme work?

Tom Petryshen, former Olympic wrestler and Canada District 1 IABC member, says, "As a volunteer for the sport of wrestling, I got to experience many aspects of the Olympic Games. A big part of my experience was the feeling of camaraderie amongst the volunteers. Regardless of our role, we were all made to feel a part of the team. The GamesForce training and communication resulted in a unified team, and more important, the best Games ever.

Members of the SOCOG workforce communication team are currently in new roles in Sydney. Catriona Byrne is internal communications manager, Telstra Retail. Janet Houen is internal communications manager, corporate affairs directorate, Sydney Airports Corp. Ltd. Margaret Seaberg is communications manager, Financial Service Group, Macquarie Bank.
COPYRIGHT 2002 International Association of Business Communicators
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games
Author:Seaberg, Margaret
Publication:Communication World
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Apr 1, 2002
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