Lessons from a day in an AFL Coaches’ box

A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to spend the afternoon in the St Kilda coaches’ box. Here’s what I learnt.

A day in the coaches’ box.

Sunday afternoon. The week’s preparation all comes to a point. Two and a half hours of moving parts. Action. Reaction. Decisions. Consequences. A room of specialists drive a team for performance. A room that requires focus and immediacy. What follows is what I learnt during my day in the St Kilda coaches box.

The day has been more meaningful for me in the few days since I have had a chance to reflect and think about the day. And as a management consultant, I’m always interested in the lessons I can take to clients and apply my own professional life. In my line of work I am often asked for advice on how teams and leaders could and should work. What works? What doesn’t? The cauldron that is the coaches’ box was a great example.

No chit chat

The first thing that struck me was that there was no chit-chat, no small talk, no jokes, no wasted time. From the moment the coaching staff walked into the box it was nothing but business. All the conversation was about the task at hand. Even as the coaches got settled the conversation was very targeted. Not having seen the coaches in the lead up my assumption is that they got all the pleasantries out of their system early. When they get to their “office” – it’s time to work.

Lesson: Intensity. Everything that is and nothing that isn’t. When there is a job to be done – do it with intent. Be present for the job at hand. There’s a time and place for chit chat – choose it wisely.

Clarity of role and accountability

One thing that was immediately clear was the trust that Alan Richardson had in his assistants. He trusts them to fulfil their role and manage their part of the team. The midfield, back-line and forward-line coaches manage their troops and make the decisions that they need to make. Their accountability is crystal clear.

Lesson: You hire people to do a job, let them do it. Set the boundaries and expectations then let them get on with it. Without a doubt you need to review performance but if your hiring regime is thorough and your expectations and values are clear, then let them do their job.

The importance of information

During the game there was information constantly being thrown around the box. Line coaches would call out their observations. Player movements, changes in position and match-ups, time left in the quarter. And most of the time the information called out was never directed at anyone in particular nor was it ever acknowledged unless there was a very specific follow up. Otherwise there seemed to be snippets of information “in the cloud” and people were expected to know what was important, grab it and do something with it.

Lesson: Know what matters and focus on it. Ignore the noise. Take what’s useful, do something with it, and leave the rest.

Once a decision is made – it’s made

There was often debate between the line coaches themselves or between the senior coach and a line coach. The debate was always specific and from memory never left unresolved. That resolution took a couple of different forms. The senior coach and the line coach agreed and the action was taken, or when there was a difference of opinion the senior coach made the final decision. This isn’t ground breaking but what followed was, once the decision was made there was no further debate or questioning. The senior coach decided on a direction and that was the way the team went.

Lesson: Leaders have to lead. It’s better for a leader to make ten decisions and get eight right then only make six of ten decisions, get them all right but leave four unmade. Debate which decision to take but once decided – get on it.

From game to team to line to individual

The senior coach watches the whole game but his attention always seems to be on a list of things. He sees his own team’s strategy play out against that of the opposition. He will speak of his team and the opposition. When necessary he will drop his attention down a level to discuss and review a specific thing that his team or the opposition is doing and he will use his IT/stats person to inform his point of view. He will question or discuss something with a line coach – and they better be ready to answer. The senior coach will also give specific feedback on an individual with very targeted comments for their development. The conversation also turns to specific things that the line coaches needed to take note of and work on in upcoming training.

LessonKnow the field you are playing in – your market. Know your organisation. Know your staff and always look and plan for development opportunities.

Feedback to players

The senior coach never missed a chance to speak to players that had rotated off. Sometimes it was just to reinforce the good work they were doing and other times it was to deliver a specific message. One thing that stood out was the tone of every single message. It was direct so that the player was very clear about what was required. And it was always positive. The message was always about what the coach needed more of or what needed to be done. It was never about what not to do. This left no space for ambiguity and reinforced lessons and principles.

LessonPeople respond to positive reinforcement. If you tell someone not to do something that can leave uncertainty. If you tell them to do one thing then there is clarity. 

The day didn’t end with the result that the team was after. But it’s obvious that the positives and development opportunities from the game will be taken and used to extend St Kilda’s journey. There are no hysterics. No tantrums. Just a focus on what needs to happen to improving.

This was an amazing opportunity and I was happy to be able to support Maddie Riewoldts’s vision at the same time. The hospitality shown to me by the St Kilda team and in particular by my chaperone Luke O’Brien, was outstanding. The day reinforced the two things I suspected all along. First, after 48 years of supporting the Saints and following football I still know very little about the game, and second, and more importantly, we are in good hands.

Performance Management – why is it so hard?

Every big company uses a system of ‘Performance Management’. It’s an increasingly complex way to assess employees and decide promotions and bonuses. In the latest episode of our podcast Dean and I turn our attention to  the merits of this system of assessment and the patterns we’ve seen emerging before asking, how could it be better?

We look at some examples of what we’ve seen through our working life and some examples of who might be doing it better. We hope you enjoy Episode 7 of Unpacked – Performance Management.

Remember to subscribe and rate us on iTunes and of course we’d love to hear from you. Leave us a message at unpacked.fm or you can always contact Dean and I on twitter (@deanpribetic and @jamessaretta).

While we are on the topic here is an interesting take from Accenture CEO Pierre Nanterme – which seems to align with some of the thoughts in our podcast.

For many companies – being on social media is a waste of time and money

It’s implied right there in the name – social media. Not anti-social media. Social media. The point and benefit of social media for individuals and businesses is the opportunity to interact with other people.

For individuals there are amazing sources of insight, information and inspiration available. Even at its most basic it is a brilliant way to stay in touch with family and friends as well as find people with similar interests – and often opposing views.

For businesses the real value comes from the ability to interact personally with current and potential customers. We’ve all heard the great stories of a brand taking the time to interact and have fun with their customers (Tesco, Yorkshire Tea, Jaffa cakes – being a great example – link). These are extreme examples – as great as they are – but there are lots of companies doing simple things that really make a difference to their customers.

The problem is that there are loads more that are doing it poorly. Having the presence is only a small part of the battle. Actually being able to respond to an interaction from a customer is where the action is. Same goes for individuals – if you’re not going to engage why be there?

The insights you can get as well as the good will you can build with customer are outstanding. While many will argue that it is very difficult to tie social media activity to real business outcomes I would apply a very simple test. Imagine two scenarios.

1. You tweet a question to a company on Twitter – no response.

2. You tweet a company on Twitter and get a response.

You don’t need to be a genius to know which one you would prefer or which one makes you feel positive about the brand. Of course we can argue about the quality and timeliness of the response – these are givens. And yes it will take some investment. No different to an experience at a counter or over the phone.

Personally, I would rather a company wasn’t on social media rather than be on there and be anti-social.

Unpacked – a new podcast demystifying the language of business

Anyone who has read any of the post on here will now that I’m a big fan of simplifying things. Those who have worked with me will say that I sometimes go too far.

Language is a big favourite which I wrote about in an earlier post (“Perhaps if we change the language” – Sep 2012). To try and pursue the topic of language even further a dear friend of mine – Dean Pribetic – and I have launched a new podcast. UNPACKED is our attempt at trying to unravel some of the terms that we all throw around in business. Sometimes without really understanding them, and often not using them correctly. It’s also our chance to have a bit of fun and talk about some of the things that interest us and make us laugh.

Dean is one of the best thinkers and facilitators I know. We worked together for a number of years and to this day can often be found debating some random topic from the business of language or how Sons of Anarchy went quickly downhill after season 5.

We are two episodes in and would welcome your feedback as we hopefully learn and improve how to podcast! You can find the podcasts at Unpacked.fm, or search for “unpacked” on iTunes. You can also follow us on twitter @unpackedFM. We would love to hear from you on topics that you might like covered or just feedback on the podcast. Enjoy!

Consulting….it needs to change… for the better

Gone are the days of consulting firms having the market cornered on solving a client’s issues.

After almost 20 years in consulting and having worked across almost every industry I’ve come to realise that the consulting industry is about to undergo it’s most significant change. Or at least it needs to. It’s not dead by any means, but it is about to be tested. I first thought this was 10 plus years away but like most things today it’s all moving a bit quicker.

In the early 2000’s most consulting companies shed staff at a great rate of knots. The firm I worked for went from almost 700 to 180 pretty much overnight. Most of those people went in to industry. They became the worst buyers of consulting services because they knew what we did and how we did it. And to be honest they didn’t need us to answer their tough questions. They could do that themselves.

Luckily the complexity of business is ever increasing. Or at least that’s what we tell ourselves – that’s a topic for another post on another day. And as a result consultants were back again. Whether it was cost reduction, innovation, digital strategy, globalisation, or more recently the “enormous” challenge of social media, they needed us again.

But there is a new generation of buyer and a new generation of problems. And as a result a new generation of thinking required to solve those problems. Very few of today’s traditional consulting firms have the capability or the business model to help clients deal with today’s business problems. They are slow. They overcharge. They think about their clients’ issues the same way they always have. Clients use them for their brand but at the same time resent having to use them. The traditional firms will live. But they will be marginalised to the work that needs to get done but really doesn’t challenge a client’s business. The interesting work will go elsewhere. That mean that the smart kids will go elsewhere. So the interesting work will go elsewhere. So the smart kids will go elsewhere…..you get the idea.

Their challenge is to stay relevant. And to do that they need to challenge their own model. Daily rates have to go. Firms need to start pricing for value. But that’s not news. The real change is how they harness capability. Consulting firms will no longer be able to house all the capability required to meet their clients’ demands. Business is moving too quickly. Technology is changing too quickly.

The real value will come from playing a major role in a network of capability. The way to stay responsive to the changing landscape is not to go through the long drawn out task of building or buying new capability. Rather firms need to foster and engage with networks where they can tap in to capability when they need it. From specific technical skills to more abstract areas like design and creative skills. Sometimes it will be with a smaller firm. Sometimes with one or more individuals. Some relationships in the network will be formalised while others will be form and disband as required. Some of today’s freelancer e-markets may provide a start.

Tapping in to these networks and fostering them will allow the traditional firms to respond quickly to changing markets, while meeting the specific needs of their clients. It will give them the ability to offer more interesting and varied work to their staff and the opportunity to quickly develop new skills. Which in the long run might just help them corner the market once more.

 

Giving of yourself ….. A Facilitator’s role.

I’ve spent a lot of my time as a management consultant facilitating both client events and internal events. I’m actually pretty good at it…or at least that’s the feedback I get. I often get asked to run training sessions on facilitation skills and as management consultants its usually a skill that we are just expected to have. The first thing that people learning the skill find is that it looks easy. But in truth the easiest thing is screwing it up.

The challenge is that it’s a skill of many dimensions. Probably like most things. But after doing this for almost 20 years I’ve landed on one fundamental thing that all good facilitators have – The Secret Sauce. But we’ll get to that later.

The first thing is that good facilitators don’t talk about “workshops”. It would have to be one of the most overused and therefore meaningless terms in working life today. Use it and watch people roll their eyes. Find a new word – event, session, party – anything but workshop. It will help you engage people in the planning.

Storytelling

We hear a lot about storytelling in business. The ability to create and explain a journey, a feeling, an experience. And this is one skill that good facilitators must have. Think about an event you’ve been at. And the good ones are not a series of disjointed exercises that in and of themselves may actually be quite good. These good events are inevitably a story. The way the exercises come together to drive towards a destination is the difference. This only happens through clarity of purpose and good preparation.

Tip: Write the story, draw the story – doesn’t matter. But get it down on paper.

Preparation

Preparation is not just about content. It’s about the content, process and people. The content bit usually comes easily. Facts, figures and research underpinning the topic are easy to get. With the outcome clearly in mind a good facilitator must design a process that needs to be able take people from virtually nowhere to an destination. While all the time making sure that the attendees own the end result. That means stress testing the process. Thinking of all the things that could go wrong, and all the different exits that each exercise might take, and planning for them. And expecting that at some point you are more than likely going to end up somewhere you haven’t planned for – and then also planning for that!

It’s difficult to know everyone at every event, especially with larger events. But understanding your attendees and what they will respond to will take you a long way towards getting the outcome you’re targeting. Speak to the people that are owning the session. Find out why people are coming. Discover and understand a bit about their history and their current work life. Understand the political factors that will inevitably play out. Design the process and interact with them in a way that will enable them to give as much as possible to the process and therefore the outcome.

Tip: Spend longer on preparation than you would in the actual session.

Presence

As part of presentation skills training I often do a session on “presence” – I have Kenneth Roberts to thank for that. Own the physical space but remember that you are only borrowing it. Make eye contact with the attendees. Listen to them. Really listen to them. Speak with authority but not arrogance. Use your physical presence as much as your intellectual and emotional presence. Don’t be scared to approach people to make the feel included. Use their names. Be completely in the moment. It’s the hardest thing to get right. And it hinges on the secret sauce.

What is the Secret Sauce? – Giving of yourself

Presence comes from within and the first thing you need to realise as a facilitator is that it’s not about you. Your role is to be the vehicle that carries the attendees to a destination. If you can do that with authenticity then the presence will be there. If the presence is there, the attendees will trust you to carry them to the finish line.

You must be completely selfless. At the end of any event you should be exhausted whether its 3 hours long or 3 days long. You should be spent. Because you have given of yourself. When attendees see you are immersing yourself in the event, and selflessly focused at getting them where they need to be……not where you need to be….where they need to be…then they will in turn give of themselves. And that’s when the magic happens. That’s when the process runs without conscious thought, where the contribution of the participants becomes almost automatic. This is when you get to outcomes that you dared not dream of in the preparation.

Finally….Reflect.

Facilitating can be one of the most satisfying things we do as consultants and the more you do the better you get at it. But like anything you need to step back and think about how you did. What you could improve? What new or different questions would you ask in preparation? Did the exercises or modules that you used work? If not why not? Take the feedback good or bad. You need to be your own toughest critic.

In the end if you only remember one thing, then remember that it’s not about you.

Good Leadership, Bad Leadership. We all know it when we see it.

Leadership is a topic that has been done to death in management books, sporting team analysis, politics, and most consulting engagements. Over recent months I have had a number of first hand experiences that have lead me to contemplate what makes good and bad leadership. There are of course thousands of examples of both good and bad leadership. And most of us know it when we see it – usually we are very quick to identify bad leadership. It’s obvious when people mess it up. It’s a topic that has been around for centuries – yet we still get it wrong. Over and over and over again.

1. The ability to sell the “why”?  We can all talk about what needs to be done and even how we are going to do it. But a compelling “why” is what grabs our attention. Simon Sinek absolutely nails it in his video below. Whether an army or an executive team, clarity of purpose drives people to action. People need to be “captured” emotionally (see my earlier post – Emotion makes more converts than reason). In his video Simon presents a very compelling argument. The Apple example is overused by many but resonates here. Recently I’ve seen many examples of the opposite. People in leadership positions who have not managed to engage or lead because there is no clarity of purpose. They have none – so how can they communicate it? Watch the video below – let me know what you think.

2. Know the individual.  Great sporting coaches do this very well. They know what it takes to get the team to perform by understanding what drives individuals and what they need to perform at their peak. Great leaders get the most out of their people. Alan Jeans the Australian rules football coach could tap in to the mind of his players and knew how to get them to perform. Some he would encourage and praise, others he would challenge, some he would belittle knowing that defiance was what made them perform. A dangerous approach if you don’t know what you are doing. This extends to giving feedback. Leaders will always be called upon to review performance, good or bad. If you don’t know the individual or how and what they’ve been doing, save your breath. All you will do is annoy people and lose them.

3. Get of your backside.  The simplest rule. Speak to people. Breathe in the air of the office, locker room, factory. Get away from your desk. What is really going on isn’t on your laptop.

Everyone knows I’m a bit of a sports nut….Vince Lombardi summed it up…“It is essential to understand that battles are primarily won in the hearts of men. Men respond to leadership in a most remarkable way and once you have won his heart, he will follow you anywhere.” 

Like I said we all know it when we see it – particularly poor leadership. I would welcome your comments on what you think makes a good leader.