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"Touch, Pause, Engage" - a lesson for business from Rugby Union

With the Rugby Union World Cup this year in England, I thought that a blog entry with a rugby flavor would be appropriate.

"I prefer rugby to soccer. I enjoy the violence in rugby, except when they start biting each other's ears off." - Elizabeth Taylor (1972)

In the game of Rugby Union, play is restarted after a minor infraction by a scrum. During the scrum the forward pack of 8 players will engage with their opposing pack to win the ball. These forward packs weigh close to 2000 lbs (~ 900 kgs), and so these scrums are a test of power and strength of these players, as they compete to win the ball back for their teams.  Before 2007, there were not may rules around how these packs engaged, resulting in many serious spinal injuries due to collapsed scums, and the violence of the contact. In 2007, the rule changed to require that each pack 'crouch', 'touch', and 'pause', before they 'engage', as the referee calls these instructions out.  Crouching allows the packs to correctly 'bind' and set up for the scrum. At 'touch', the front row players reach out and touch the opposing line - this ensures that they are at the correct distance before engaging.  'Pause' ensures that they wait for referee to control when the packs engage.

How does this translate to your business?  We all love sports analogies, and so I am suggesting this rugby analogy to help you with your next Business Planning cycle.  The three phases of strategic Marketing Plan are Analyze, Plan and Execute.  And so this example from the sport of Rugby provides a framework around which you can build a Marketing Strategy for engaging your competition.

Touch/ Analyze
  • Know your market and your competition's products/ services, pricing arrangements and terms, promotional campaigns, people and organization. 
  • Gather feedback from customers, partners and others in your sales teams.  Know the opposition's 'weight' in your market.
  • Know the gap between you and your competitors.  What differentiates you? What are your relative strengths and weaknesses?

Pause/ Plan
  • Develop a strategy and tactical plan for engaging with your competition.
  • Assess risks and opportunities in the competitive environment.
  • Make sure that your team is prepared and aligned on your plan. Align individual targets your market strategy.  Is the team well 'bound', and set to execute?

Engage/ Execute
  • Execute the plan as a team.
  • Adjust on the fly to remain aligned with your strategic objectives.
  • Win the ball!


Trust as a Leadership Attribute

"If people like you, they'll listen to you, but if they trust you, they'll do business with you." - Zig Ziglar

We can all understand that it is easier to do business with someone you trust.  Think of why you go back to the same mechanic for your car, or like using a certain contractor for home improvements.  If you don't trust the mechanic or contractor, you will take your business elsewhere until you find someone you can trust.   In the military, all team members are mutually interdependent.  They each have a job to do, and trust each other to do that job. In that organization, trusting your coworkers and leader can mean the difference between life or death.

However, in your organization, how important is the trust that you place on your coworkers, subordinates and managers on the effectiveness of your organization?  As a leader, do you trust your people?  Or do you focus more on being trusted?  The effective manager and leader understands and appreciates trust at both the personal and the organizational levels. Trust is a two-way street.

"Trust is the glue of life. It's the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It's the foundational principle that holds all relationships."  - Stephen Covey

According to the Ethics and Policy Integration Centre, trust is one of the four key components of Ethical Leadership. The ethical leader manages with a clear Purpose, Knowledge, and Authority. To be effective in this, the ethical leader inspires TRUST in her organization. Without this, people are afraid to exercise their authority.

The best managers I have known provide clear direction on the "what' and set clear targets around this.  Then, they trust their people to execute the 'how'. These organizations are empowered to take the necessary risks to achieve their organizational objectives to be  successful. Furthermore, in challenging times, people in these organizations hang in there to make things work. Strong trusting managers attract strong leaders into their organizations, and are able to retain people. These types of organizations also provide a good mentoring environment for people; and tend to be more agile and effective in their markets.

The least effective managers I have worked with micro-manage their people, because they don't trust that their people can execute the 'how' effectively. Generally, these weak leaders are also poor at setting clear targets and in inspiring trust from their employees. These are generally leaders who depend mainly on their organizational authority and power to get things done. It is hard to retain good people in organizations like this. Successful people in these organizations have to be 'yes-men' to this type of leader.

The truth is that most managers fall somewhere between the best and the worst of what I have described above. So how to you move your organization to the more effective type where there is mutual trust?

  • Do you focus as much on trusting your subordinates or co-workers as trying to get them to trust you? 
  • How do you earn peoples' trust? 
  • As a manager, do you provide clear purpose and ensure that it is understood for your organization (even to the level of ensuring that individual objectives are aligned with this purpose)? 
  • Do you have the organizational, business and other necessary knowledge for your area that inspires trust from people? And do you actively share this knowledge? 
  • Do you have the trust from your managers to make decisions and act on them? 
  • Would your managers, subordinates and coworkers answer the above questions in the same way as you? 
If not, what can you do to change this?

If you are in a small business, this trust that you create in your organization, and the empowerment that this generates with your employees is more easily observed by your customers than in a larger enterprise. For a small business, it is this trust with your customer that builds the customers' relationship with your organization and the connection with your brands.  This is the competitive edge that drives repeat sales and growth of your business.