Case Studies

London Olympics supply companies

In the months running up to the London Olympic Games of 2012, two large companies had to undertake major recruitment exercises. They took totally different approaches with very different results.

In 2010, security company G4S won the contract to become the official provider of security services to the Games. At that stage, the requirement was for 2,000 staff to check tickets, patrol sites, operate X-ray machines, monitor CCTV and search bags and vehicles. However, late in 2011 the requirement was suddenly increased to 10,400 staff – all to work for a maximum of just seven weeks. This meant that G4S had to change its initial strategy of targeting people with experience of security work. Instead, in addition, it sought applications from unemployed people and students with a view to providing them with appropriate training. A five-month recruitment campaign was run between November 2011 and April 2012 using a wide variety of methods including online ads, local radio, billboards, ads in buses, on trains and in football programmes. Over 100,000 people expressed an interest, but many withdrew when they were informed about the 12-hour shifts, lack of assistance with transportation, the £8.50 an hour pay rate and the complex screening and vetting procedures they would have to go through. In the end, with a few weeks to go before the start of the Games, G4S managed to make the required 10,400 appointments. But it was not easy.

Major problems then started to develop as large numbers of the recruits failed to turn up for their training sessions and first shifts. Views vary on why this happened. G4S claims that it kept in touch with everyone it had recruited using a dedicated intranet site, but press reports suggest that these efforts were inadequate. Early recruits heard nothing from the company for weeks on end and either lost interest or took up other employment opportunities. The upshot was a shortfall of around 3500 staff just two weeks before the Games started. This required the government to draft in troops at very late notice to cover for the absent G4S recruits. A media storm then developed, newspapers heaping scorn on G4S and particularly on its Chief Executive, Nick Buckles, who was given a torrid time by MPs when summoned to give evidence to a Select Committee in the House of Commons. Huge reputational damage was done to G4S, putting in doubt its capacity to secure public sector contracts in the future, while the value of the company’s shares plummeted.

At around the same time, McDonald’s was appointed as the official provider of restaurant services to the London Games by the International Olympic Committee, a task it has performed at every Olympics since 1976. The UK company was charged with establishing four restaurants on the main Olympic park (including one for the athletes) and several more at other Games venues. A total of 1,900 staff would be required for the duration of the main Games and the Paralympics that followed.

Managers at McDonald’s took a completely different approach from G4S, preferring to recruit internally rather than externally. They ran a competition among staff at all existing restaurants in the UK, the aim being to reward their best people with an opportunity to work at the Olympics as part of what they labelled their ‘Olympic Champion Crew Super Team’. As official sponsors of the Games, McDonald’s was able to give the selected staff tickets to many of the events. Mobile phones were also given to successful recruits, who were accommodated in a large, central London hotel for the duration of the Games. The key attributes that they sought were:

  • the ability to work at speed
  • outstanding customer service skills
  • the ability to work well in a team.

The company was determined to ensure that its Olympic restaurants ran to the highest standards of quality and efficiency as it expected that one in every ten visitors to the Olympics would make use of them. In the event, 6,800 staff from across the UK made it through to the final selection event in London, from whom the final 1,900 were selected. McDonald’s also won the contract to recruit and train 70,000 volunteers to work on the Olympic sites and 12,000 further staff directly employed by the London Organising Committee (LOCOG). Both tasks were accomplished smoothly and in good time.

Sources: Gabb (2012); Woods (2012); press reports


Q1. What key R&S lessons can be learned from this case?