Monday, July 16, 2007

Better People Make Better All Blacks

The countdown to the September Rugby World Cup is well underway. But still, there’s lots of issues out there in the world of rugby, and many commentators believe New Zealand has the best two teams in the competition - the All Blacks A side and their B team! The Northern Hemisphere are of course waiting for them to choke, as we have done four times before. This time I believe they will be disappointed. While it is true South Africa, Australia and Ireland will become competitive and push the All Blacks to the max, I think this time the AB’s will be ready for them. And the reason they’ll be ready is Graham Henry, an All Blacks coach who has taken a different view on player development. Rugby has only been professional for a decade, and it was only three or four years ago that we saw players coming through the system who had done nothing except play rugby. And it was a pretty boring way to spend your life – gym in the morning, gym in the afternoon, naps all day and that’s pretty much it. The result was mental stimulation and personal growth at a minimum and underdeveloped personalities ill equipped to cope with public expectations and pressure. Men expected to become leaders because they wear the black jersey, but incapable of boiling an egg for themselves.

In August 2004, Graham began a process of change that has proved the most significant in the history of the All Blacks. Prior to becoming a professional coach in 1996, Graham was a very successful school teacher in New Zealand, and one of the most admired principals in the nation. He opened up his All Blacks campaign with a belief that “better people make better All Blacks". His focus was on good balanced lifestyles that included interests away from rugby and learning every day. Simultaneously, the management team made a concerted effort to stamp out the drinking culture that’s been endemic to the All Blacks for many years.

Empowerment is all the rage in my world, and is now all the rage with the All Blacks. The players have been set up into specific leadership groups that they run themselves. It is these groups that provide feedback to management. We lost the Rugby World Cup in the Semi-Final at Twickenham because a) France played sublimely, b) the ball bounced for them, and c) our leaders were the coaches on the benches, not the players on the field. Now we have an eleven-man leadership group in the All Blacks with each player/leader taking responsibility for a bunch of six other All Blacks on and off the field. To do this job they are empowered to construct their own parameters, their own culture, their own ethics and their own punishment systems.

In my business we believe in unleashing and inspiring our people, not in command and control. Now the All Blacks are thriving under the same system. If there is an unsung hero of the squad, it is Gilbert Enoka. Gilbert is a sports psychologist who has helped identify with the players what it means today to be an All Black, with all the history and all that expectation. The new Haka was first performed twelve months into this program and reflected what this new team of All Blacks felt the Haka and the All Black jersey meant to them.

Graham and his management have maximized the potential of this All Blacks team on the rugby field and have given us our best chance of success. They also help make the NZRU job much easier because this new approach is obviously of much greater appeal to sponsors.

Gregor Paul, on the NZ Herald’s website, wrote a great summary of Graham’s initiatives, which I think are both groundbreakers for rugby, and offer a great stimulus for business everywhere.

Empowering the players – what they do:

  • Set the alcohol limit for any given night.
  • Help determine protocols for dealing with media, sponsors, fans.
  • Assess management’s performance and provide feedback about training sessions and game plans.
  • Recommend punishments for those who break protocol.
Building better people:
  • Richie McCaw has gained his pilot’s license.
  • Anton Oliver is heading a lobby group opposing the construction of a wind farm in Central Otago.
  • Nick Evans is a qualified physiotherapist.
  • Conrad Smith has completed a law degree and worked for a legal firm last year while he recuperated from a broken leg.
  • Dan Carter has opened fashion retail outlets.
  • Byron Kelleher launched a plastic pallet business.
Sport learning from Business; Business learning from Sport. A virtuous circle.


Kempton said...

Interesting two lists at the end of your post. You are quite right that this is a virtuous circle indeed.

Now, I hope some All Blacks games' highlight will be available online when the new season starts. And I trust you will link us to them. (smile)

Susan956 said...

Firstly, way to go re teachers (Susan doing the closed fist round air action salute). Teachers are one of the most potentially dogmatic groups in the world (I was one for many years so I can say that and get away with it :) but also one of the most creative and flexible and well able to see 'make sense' connections.

There is some debate as to whether second professions/interests detract or enhance however, in the main, I believe they make for a more well rounded and relaxed person - certainly a goal (no pun intended) person. A strong interest elsewhere can break the sense of confinement within a world and this can in fact bring new visions and energy about said context.

As an Aussie, I may consider drawing on the power of my gum leaf and just going all out for the Wallabies of course :)

Enjoy Eden Park on the 21st, it should be an excellent match.

Susan956 said...

Having an interest in environmental issues (I also did my Master's degree on environmental conceptions) I was intrigued by Kevin's inclusion of Anton Oliver opposing a wind farm given that wind farms are usually mooted as a strong option for environmentally friendly energy generation.

I did a search and came up with many articles however, I felt the following article (url) a rather inviting piece for its cross dimensional approach to 'telling' of Anton and some of the issues:

Susan956 said...

May I offer the following Lovemark video. Note two elements about the speaker. One the duality of pride and personal humility in speaking about the All Blacks. Two, the lilts of the different national accents mixing together:

CONSUL said...

I must admit my total ignorance with respect to Rugby, so don`t take this comment too seriously..

What I know from the All Blacks is that they have forged an incredible identiy based on some –if you want questionable- merits but the sports results were there, year after year but also creating a strong Lovemark globally known even for non Rugby fans.

Changing habits, introducing all those changes to the “good”, is of course fantastic but it`s still to be proven if these new merits won`t modify their real identity, the idiosyncrasy of the players and the results of their game.

You don`t shoot a winning horse and the introduction of a sports psychologist (I have seen the results of that in Real Madrid soccer team) punishments-system, the stimulation of secondary activities et al, are only modifications for an unperfect system but that worked and created this worldknown Lovemark called The All Blacks!

What`s next? Changing the colour to pink? The ALL PINKS performing the POWHIRI instead of the Haka?

Again, don`t take this comment too serious, I have no idea of Rugby..

Piotr Jakubowski said...

This is an excellent example of what a change in management and managing style can do for a company (or a team). By putting the responsibility of six other players on the team leaders, it is now the players that are accountable for their actions, both on and off the pitch. This is such a great incentive as it is a strategy, because the leaders of the team can see and feel that they have more influence over the way the team is run. Not only that, it also promotes closer, tighter relationships between the players. It's interesting to see this with the fact that I played football for an NCAA Division I team. The blatant disregard of the players for their own behaviors (especially on weekends), mixed in with their lack of accountability for lower performance on the pitch, made it a difficult team to play with. Not only was I on the bench, but watching these players essentially ruin themselves and others wasn't very fun either. And then they complain that it's the coaches fault. Maybe more accountability for their own performance as well as those of their teammates would've helped. Teamwork a la Mighty Ducks, with the team tied together having to skate around the rink?

Its remarkable how much has changed since the All Blacks have been infused with this new life and vigor. Good luck to all the members in their preparation for the RWC in France. And great performance this past weekend in walloping the Springboks (did you give Tony an earful? ;))