Sir Clive Woodward OBE, Rugby World Cup Winner and Team GB’s Director of Sport for the London Olympics, gave the keynote address at this year’s Housing Technology conference last month. He revolutionised the way rugby was coached and played, and he is famous for his grave attention to detail and for planning the personal development of individuals within a team.
Another coach famous for attention to detail and personal development is David Brailsford, director of performance for the Great Britain cycling team. Remember the iconic photo of the Team GB cycling team where the gap between the rear wheel of one rider and the front wheel of the next is perfectly uniform? It is as if they were arranged by hand – a team in perfect harmony.
Brailsford is very keen on statistics and data relating to performance. In turn, he is an admirer of the achievement of Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics baseball team. Beane is famous for recognising that the way baseball players were assessed by everyone in the game, from coaches, managers and other players down to the fans and media, was flawed because they were based on outdated indicators that were a century old. Beane was brave enough to take a fresh look and drew up new criteria to measure individual performance. His new approach enabled Oakland Athletics, one of the smaller teams in US baseball, to compete with the big-spending teams.
What can we learn from the world’s best performance coaches that we may apply to business and indeed to technology investment? Well, there are two very important lessons in my view.
First, individuals must be assessed carefully and attention paid to their personal development as well as their role in their team. If you are happy with being adequate or mediocre, then simply hire people using job descriptions and interviews, place them in post and then hope for the best. However, if you want your team to outperform in your sector, then work at making that team better than the sum of the individuals within it. Woodward realised this and created a detailed development programme for each member of the 2003 England rugby team. The approach he adopted meant carefully assessing and developing each individual in the context of his impact on the entire team’s performance and the achievement of the long-term goal to win the Rugby World Cup. Don’t your business goals warrant that approach? Wouldn’t that mean that technology would be seen immediately as just a tool for the team and not as the panacea that it is too often positioned as?
When it comes to the technology tools at the disposal of the team, don’t just think that buying the ‘best IT system’ (or worse still, the ‘most advanced IT system’) will be the answer. All too often one sees elaborate ‘invitations to tender’ that measure all sorts of fancy things about a supplier, or about a technology, completely missing the point that many of these things will at best only have a slight impact on the performance of your team and the achievement of your business goals. Make sure you find out what your team really needs to achieve your business goals rather than selecting a fancy technology in the hope that it will in some mysterious way have a bearing on your team’s performance and the eventual achievement of your business goals.
You may recall the French cycling team complaining that the Team GB cycling team had an unfair advantage because they had ‘magic wheels’. It turns out that this was based on a quip by Brailsford about the ‘roundness’ of his team’s wheels. This does not mean that technology is not relevant – we have all seen how 10ths of seconds have been shaved off world records in almost every sport as a result of technical advances. But it is true that no successful coach has spent more time on technology than they did on people!
Now, ask yourself a question. How did you spend your time and money when you last selected and implemented an IT system that was intended to improve your business performance? Is the following table a true reflection of what happened?
90 per cent of time & money
- User and departmental requirements
- Supplier vetting and selection
- System vetting and selection
10 per cent of time & money
- Business process analysis and redesign
- Staff skills and personal development
- Team analysis and performance metrics
The second lesson from these great performance coaches is that there is no substitute for attention to detail. In a business context, that means getting real and accurate data on every part of your team’s performance, each individual’s performance and your technology’s performance. The hard part is not just getting the data, but also developing metrics or KPIs that bring to life the meaning of that performance and its successes or failures.
This is what Brailsford demonstrated through his obsession with the ‘cycling quotient’ data, so you need to be ruthless in examining the basis for your business decisions. For example, if you plan to invest in another property marketing campaign to sell your developments, do you really know the answer to the following questions:
- What marketing techniques are most likely to work in this context?
- Who in your team is best suited to working on initial follow-up?
- Is someone in the team better at closing?
- Of the sales that closed successfully – why was that so?
There is lots of data to collect and there are many questions that need examining. Together they provide a picture that should influence your business decisions. Going back to the sales example above, is the old-fashioned database or CRM system you installed capable of helping you to get the data and answer those questions?
In general, you might say there are five common fallacies that Woodward, Brailsford and Beane spotted and did not agree with:
- The majority of the sector does it this way and they can’t all be wrong;
- This is the accepted way you do it so I will follow suit;
- Equipment (i.e. IT) is important so if I have a lot of it that will improve performance;
- Individuals (i.e. my staff) all have different potentials so I cannot make them perform above those potentials;
- I have hired the best staff I can afford and they will instinctively know how to work as a team and produce the results I want.
It is up to business managers and business-oriented CIOs to look carefully at the performance and capabilities of their staff and their cohesion as a team. This should be done before staff are asked to select any given computer system. The business must have an ambition to only invest in technology and systems that are themselves performance-oriented. These are systems that are designed from the outset to automatically collect data on staff and task performance, and which are capable of reporting on KPIs and other user-definable metrics. Only then will business performance be monitored and improved upon systematically.
Finally, all technology investments must feature staff development and training as part of the plan and not as a chore that occurs after technology selection has been completed. It is the team that will achieve the business goal, not the technology.
Pete Mylett is CEO of BluTek.