“When it’s fun, you work harder. When you work harder, you get better.” Eddie Jones, England Rugby Head Coach, November 2016
When Eddie Jones took over the England Rugby Union team in November 2015, he faced what seemed an impossible task. A month earlier, England had failed to make the knock-out stages of the World Cup for the first time ever, following inconsistent performances (but finishing second) in the 2015 Six Nations tournament.
Jones, a decent club player in his time, but a much better teacher, coach and leader, knew that he had what it takes to make England the best team in the world. One year on and 2016 has seen England, with pretty much the same team that Jones inherited, win a convincing grand slam in the Six Nations tournament, an unprecedented clean sweep of test wins in Australia, and overall 13 wins from 13 games. England under Jones is on its way to claiming top spot in world Rugby.
The simplicity of Jones’s secret to this extraordinary turnaround is typical of someone who just knows how to make success happen. In essence, his overall method, contained in what he said, is a distillation of the following key ingredients:
- Have a clear, common purpose
- Put people at the heart of what you do
- Create a trust culture where people can thrive
- Put trust in coaching
Quite simply, Jones articulated a powerful formula for success.
This formula, so popular and successful in sport, also works for businesses – so why don’t all businesses apply these lessons and become more successful as a result?
- Have a Clear, Common Purpose
Great sports players focus on their intent (or purpose) first and foremost. The most common intent phrase I hear great sports stars say is to ‘be the best I can be’. A clear and inspiring intent will drive the necessary behaviours to enable the performances to look after themselves. A lot has been written on purpose and intent in business, and I recommend Simon Sinek’s Start With Why as a good introduction. Sinek’s key point is that the core purpose of any business needs to be something that can foster an emotional response in people – Apple’s ‘Think Different’ philosophy is a great example. In contrast, a core purpose of simply ‘making money’ or ‘getting rich’ will rarely work in the long-term, or truly satisfy the key players, because the purpose is material rather than emotional.
Pure success requires the satisfaction of a person’s core, inner driver this is why they often retire happy and fulfilled. However, successful business leaders keep going, to make the next millions, the next power role, the next honour or accolade. For a business leader to feel true, permanent, success they will have to reconcile their achievements with their core purpose, vision and values in the same way top sports players do. Failure to reconcile success with core purpose is why many business leaders retire extremely rich but ultimately unfulfilled – this is why many choose a philanthropic route once the millions are made.
A focus on intent or core purpose first, with activity and behaviour second, will allow the results to look after themselves. This is what successful sports teams and players do. To focus on results first often leads to unsustainable or questionable methodologies – e.g. the Russian doping scandal, drugs in cycling (e.g. Lance Armstrong), diving in football, ball-tampering in cricket and so on.
In business, it is more common to see senior executives talking about business performance and results, rather than behaviours or core purpose. It does happen, but the balance of the focus in business tends to be on what is being done, and not enough on why they are doing it.
Apple, as mentioned above, is a good example of how a clear, powerful core purpose leads to success. However, Apple’s ‘Why’ of challenging the status quo (hence ‘Think Different’) was driven by Steve Jobs and it is no coincidence that Apple lost its way when Jobs left temporarily in 1985, and is perceived by many to be losing its spark again 5 years since Jobs’ untimely death in 2011.
In the world of sport, Tiger Woods dominated golf like no-one before, his core purpose being to please his father, Earl Woods, who had nurtured Tiger from a very young age and fuelled his drive. Tiger’s demise as a world beating golfer can be traced back to Earl’s death in 2006, since then Tiger has only won 2 of his total of 14 majors and has struggled to replace the purpose that his father clearly instilled in him. He still has the skills, and appears to have recovered from back problems, but will need to find a pure purpose from within if he is to win major championships again. I wonder how much of his coaching budget is spent on discovering purpose vs honing the swing?
2. Put People at the Heart of What You Do
Get the right leaders, at the right time, to create the necessary culture for the rest of the team to perform at their best. This is what Ian Ritchie (RFU’s Chief Executive) must have been thinking when he recruited Eddie Jones.
So how do you find the right people to yield success? What’s required is the combination of drive, vision, and appreciation of people and culture appropriate to the business. Specialist business knowledge and skill is merely helpful, but not essential. After all, Eddie Jones lack of international Rugby playing experience has not hindered his success as a coach (in fact it may have helped).
Jones knows that to be the best team you have to have the right people in the right positions working in the right culture with a powerful, common purpose. He knows that a focus on all the elements that make people want to perform is better than making people do well through simple financial incentives or through fearing for their jobs (i.e. team selection).
People perform best when they are happy and, as he puts it, having fun. There’s some neuroscience in this – the chemicals released when people are happy encourage collaboration, focus, passion and other behaviours conducive to optimal performance. On the contrary, when under stress the body releases hormones which, among other things, actually impair our brains’ functions which impact our creativity, collaboration, intelligence and memory recall.
3. Create a ‘Trust Culture’ Where People Can Thrive
If it is accepted that people are the prime assets of most businesses, then it follows that a successful business needs to be geared around optimising those assets – i.e. getting the best out of its people. The best way to do this is through developing and maintaining a culture based on trust, as opposed to one based on fear.
A trust-based culture triggers our core instinct of connecting with others. When we connect through trust we are happier, and we collaborate willingly and effectively. This is exactly what Eddie Jones created for England Rugby. It is also what Dave Brailsford created for Team Sky in Cycling (winning the Tour de France four times in the last five years), and it is what Claudio Ranieri created for Leicester City as they won England’s Premier League in 2015/16.
A fear-based culture triggers our survival instincts. The resulting responses (often called ‘fight, flight, or freeze’) were extremely useful to humans in days gone by when confronting real life or death situations like enemies, or predators. In the modern business world, such instincts are simply not appropriate. So unless we have developed high emotional intelligence to control our responses, we may underperform in the short-term. The long-term impacts of our uncontrolled instinctive responses, and the stress and chemical imbalances they cause, can yield dangerous health impacts including heart disease and reduced immunity.
Needless to say, the best sports performances come out of trust-based cultures, yet surprisingly many businesses still function with fear-based cultures resulting in unhappy, under-performing workers. It doesn’t need to be that way as it is extremely simple to introduce coaching techniques and programmes to any business in order to create cultures of trust for long-lasting success.
4. Put Trust in Coaching
Jones’ success is proof that leadership and coaching have greater impacts on results than talent and skill. Jones wasn’t a great player, but he is a brilliant coach – mainly because he understands how people’s brains work and how behaviours can be focussed around passions. The real value of Jones, is that his coaching expertise is about people, culture and motivation, as opposed to technical skills which are of secondary importance.
England has used mainly the same players before and after his appointment, but the outcomes are radically different. These players, as with most successful sportsmen, sportswomen and teams attribute their success in large part to their coaches – not their technical coaches, but their head coaches, the ones who understand what makes them tick and how to harness brain power and focus it effectively. Given the near universal acceptance of this type of coaching in high performance sport, it is remarkable that not all senior executives in business use the equivalent. Here are two key reasons why:
- Firstly, businesses attract highly driven people who rise to leadership positions through their confidence and drive. Those high in confidence don’t always appreciate there might be more to learn about how brain-power can be harnessed to make them and their businesses even more successful.
- Secondly, there is a degree of stigma still attached to using coaches in business – it can be perceived by some as a sign of weakness. A strange conclusion given the amazing impacts psychologists and head coaches are having on sports performances.
Laying the foundations for success
Like all top performing sports players and teams, the focus of any business should be on its core purpose, its key people, the culture within which they operate, and the behaviours required to perform at their best. These are the foundations for success – get them right, as Eddie Jones has done, and the performances will look after themselves.