The Press, June 2005
Playing good rugby is the least of Sir Clive Woodward's challenges on the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand. The real key to glory is achieving what business managers attempt to create every day - their entire team working towards a common purpose.
With 45 players and 29 support staff from four different nations with hundreds of years of mutual antipathy, Sir Clive's task is not enviable. He has to create a vision for his touring party than is strong enough to overcome personal and national differences.
Wouldn't winning most of their 11 matches be a strong enough goal for the Lions? Possibly but probably not - it would be like a company simply saying that a certain amount of profit was its ultimate vision.
Winning games, or making money, is less a motivating vision than a measure of success. Just as All Blacks will often talk of playing for the jersey - the powerful symbol of a century of proud rugby heritage - the Lions' will need a broader vision.
It was the inability to achieve that unifying vision that prevented Sir Clive's All Black nemesis Graham Henry achieving success when he was coach of the last Lions' tour, to Australia in 2001. In a professional era where players are very even in terms of physical fitness and skill levels, it is the mental aspects that help deliver success.
Our beloved Crusaders are a great example of this. Robbie Deans was recently quoted as saying it was not excellence in the technical aspects of playing rugby that delivered a fifth Super 12 crown. It was the ability of the team to play for a greater purpose, for the greater good of the team, that was crucial.
Successful sports teams, and successful businesses, provide their staff with three key ingredients - involvement, hope and context. That is, being involved in and contributing to something worthwhile (beyond making money or winning a match), hope that through sincere, intelligent effort they will prosper and grow and so will the company/team, and some context that helps guide their everyday decisions.
Successful companies create involvement, hope and context by articulating a compelling vision of what they want to be.
"People are more inclined to be drawn in if their leader has a compelling vision. Great leaders help people get in touch with their own aspirations and then will help them forge those aspirations into a personal vision." says Harvard University leadership expert John Kotter.
Does this mean you need a mission statement to be successful? Mission statements are the much loved butt of jokes these days and rightfully so. The Dilbert website has an automatic mission statement generator that creates mission statements like "It's our responsibility to competently engineer economically sound paradigms so that we may endeavor to conveniently facilitate error-free materials while promoting personal employee growth."
"If we took the mission statements of 100 large industrial companies, mixed them up while everyone was asleep, and reassigned them at random, would anyone wake up tomorrow and cry, 'My gosh, where has our mission statement gone?'" say management writers Gary Hamel and CK Prahalad.
Mission statements have a bad rap because they are typically too internally focused and not compelling enough. They are not motivating everyone towards a common goal because they don't provide a platform for involvement, hope and context.
Some examples of strong visions include Wal-Mart's "To give ordinary folk the chance to buy the same thing as rich people" or Mary Kay Cosmetics' "To give unlimited opportunity to women". They are simple, clear and expressed in the context of their customers not their own company.
Another example is Giro Sport Design, a manufacturer of cycle helmets, who in 1991 set a goal that envisioned their product on the heads of Tour de France winners and Olympic champions. A simple goal but it has a lot of depth - champions will only use it if it is of great quality, it is accepted by the industry, it looks stylish etc. It provides their staff with a powerful unifying vision.
Sir Clive is putting a huge effort into this tour. As the Independent's Tim Glover said "Sir Clive has bet the family silver and everybody else's money on the 2005 Lions, the super de luxe version." Sir Clive himself was quoted on stuff.co.nz saying "if we're going to be successful this has to become the best prepared Lions team ever".
Whether that translates into success, depends on how well Sir Clive can get everyone working together. Sir Clive will be working hard on this no doubt, finding a mission that helps his players and support staff focus on something more than just getting more points on the scoreboard. As ice hockey legend Wayne Getsky once said, the Lions will need to "skate to where the puck is going, not where it is."