I was watching the Six Nations rugby international between France and Wales last night. At half time, France were winning 20-0. The commentators pulled up the traditional statistics, showing possession, territory, line-outs won and lost, and so on. Looking at these statistics, there was very little between the two teams, and yet the most important facts, the score, suggested that France were doing something very different to Wales.
Talking this over at half time, the difference seemed to come down to two points, France had had two lucky breaks, and seemed to be passing the ball out of the tackle more than Wales. And yet neither of these were included in the statistics shown on TV.
If lucky breaks can change the result of a game, then they should be counted and analysed. Do lucky breaks just happen? Or can a team prepare and train to spot them and take advantage of them?
In business, do we look at the statistics that really tell us what is going on? The amount of cash in the bank, or profit, are easy to measure and give us one indication of how we are doing, but they do not explain why the result is what it is, or whether it is better or worse than reasonably expected.
Whether as a Finance Director, or the coach of a national rugby team, I always look for the information and data that tells me what is really going on. Traditional statistics tell one story, but is it the most useful one?
This question was asked at a recent conference for new entrepreneurs and sole traders. It struck a chord; not just with those in the audience, but also those on the panel, and with others who have been asked for their thoughts.
A client of mine actually describes themselves on their website as “self-effacing”, and see this quality as helping make them attractive to potential customers, by being seen as not pushy. Others I have spoken to, talk about how they struggle with collecting money due from clients, and how they are worried about being rude. On the other hand, we can probably all think of someone who succeeds through relentless salesmanship.
As usual, I suspect the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
I would suggest that you can be incredibly persistent without being annoying; by being polite, or by pointing out the (potentially mutual) benefits of getting what you want, for example. In theory, with humour and good grace, it may be possible to be rude, without becoming annoying.
In business, and to an extent in our personal lives, persistence is a key skill to getting what we want.
The point of being persistent is to keep asking for something you want, until you get it. Becoming annoying suggests that the person you want it from has reached a point where they don’t want you to have it.
How do you get the best out of your staff? I was talking this through with a client recently, and stumbled across something that I called the Martin Johnson Syndrome.
My client was without doubt employing some of the brightest, most knowledgeable, people in their field. But he was frustrated by their unwillingness to demonstrate through actions that they had bought into his vision, to take risks, or to stop “playing it safe”.
He acknowledged that the organisation’s culture was changing, from being fairly autocratic, to one of empowerment and delegation of responsibility, but he couldn’t get his team to take the initiative.
After talking with some of his managers, I had one of those “light-bulb” moments. I knew that my client was well respected, in his field, as well as by his colleagues, but I hadn’t realised just how well he was respected. His managers were afraid of failing, and in particular, of failing in the eyes of their boss – my client.
I had read recently about the poor results of the England rugby team. There was little debate about the quality of the players, and how their collective ability was, on paper, excellent. But they were lacking that something special, that bit of magic, which turned them into a winning team. The writer surmised that they were in complete awe of their manager, Martin Johnson. Johnson is an inspirational leader, who has achieved the ultimate goals in the game (including captaining the England team that won the World Cup). The players, so the theory went, were afraid of taking risks, of trying something adventurous, in case they failed.
My suggestion to my client was simple. He needed to convince his team that he had trust and confidence in their abilities. Telling them was not enough. He needed to demonstrate through examples what his reaction would be when they failed. I even suggested that he create a situation in which one of his staff was “set up to fail”, so that he could show them how supportive he was.
Empowering people who are not used, or willing, to fail is not easy. Demonstrating your trust and confidence in them requires a special kind of management. I hope for England’s sake that Johnson has cracked it. Have you?