Unless you’ve been in hiding this past weekend, you’ve probably heard that England beat tournament favourites New Zealand to reach the Rugby World Cup Final.
In Eddie Jones’ post match interview, the England Coach talked briefly about how happy he was about reaching the final before stating “we know we can play better next week, and we’re going to have to play better next week no matter who we play against”. Despite achieving one of the biggest results in the last decade of English rugby, Jones’ sole focus was on how his team can get even better.
Quite often our clients turn to us for support to take their performance to the next level. Their teams are already hitting their targets and heading in the right direction. What separates these teams though, is the desire to do more, and make their boat go even faster. They want to take their performance from good to great.
The GB men’s eight crew I was part of were a good team in 1998. But despite being one of the top crews in the world there were usually 6 or 7 other teams who would consistently outperform us in major finals. For us being good wasn’t good enough. Together we set ourselves a crazy goal: to win a gold medal at the Sydney Olympics in just two years’ time. To achieve our goal we needed to go from good to gold medal performance levels. We had to make some uncomfortable changes and started to develop habits that would help us improve our performance to get the result we wanted.
What’s your crazy goal?
An overarching ambition, or crazy goal, is fundamental for anyone or any team to perform at the highest level. For Tiger Woods, who won a record tying 82nd PGA Tour Event at the weekend, his goal is to equal or beat Jack Nicklaus’ haul of 18 Major championships. For Liverpool FC it’s to finally win The Premier League. In Eddie Jones’ post match press conference he revealed England’s crazy goal:
“We’ve got the right focus, four years ago we decided we wanted to be the best team in the world, right now we’re not the best team in the world but we’ve got the opportunity to play in a game to prove that we are. That’s all we’re focused on”
For teams or businesses, their crazy goal needs to be motivating and stretching at the same time. It needs to be something that challenges them immensely, whilst not being impossible. An example may be becoming a market leader in their sector, or achieving a 95% customer retention rate.
Control the controllables
Setting yourself a crazy goal is the first step to becoming a high performing team. But simply having a goal will not make you achieve it. There are many other factors that will affect whether you are able to achieve your goal, some in your control others outside your control. For example in rowing, you can’t control the weather, the water conditions, the umpires and you certainly can’t control your opponents. So it’s important to only focus on the things you can control, your performance. Eddie Jones alludes to this in his interview: “we also need to understand what gives us energy, what makes us play to our strengths, and then be disciplined enough to stick to that game plan.”
In business it’s the same, you can’t control what’s happening with Brexit, or whether your competitor is bringing out a new product to the market. But you can control your internal processes and the way you work together as a team. It’s important to focus on the things you can control, and to make sure that you are giving yourself the best chance of achieving the result you are looking for.
Changing your way of working is not easy
Making permanent change is not easy. You have to really want to do it. That’s why having a focal point or crazy goal for a team to unite behind is so beneficial. But it’s also important to keep challenging yourself you improve. For my crew, the question “will it make the boat go faster?” helped us to do that. Eddie Jones talks about making uncomfortable changes to ensure he was challenging the team to keep doing better:
“We went through a bad period through the 6 nations last year, so I made a decided policy to push the team as hard as I could. We had won two games in a row but I didn’t think the state we were in could win us the world cup, we had to change and go to another level. Sometimes you have to create a why for the players to change, we didn’t purposely lose games, but I pushed the players physically further than they had gone before. It was a hard period because we lost games, and the media started to get on our back.”
Despite achieving good initial results, Jones saw that his team weren’t performing well enough to achieve their ultimate goal, winning the World Cup and proving they are the best team in the world. He sacrificed the short-term results to improve their performance. Even after beating the All Blacks Jones is still obsessive about improving the team even further.
“We don’t feel like we’ve played as well as we can, the challenge for us is to keep improving. As you go through the tournament the margins get smaller, but the improvements you can make are still significant. We’re looking to see how we can keep improving for this week’s game, and that’s the exciting part for us.”
Looking ahead to Saturday’s final, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jones’ men putting in their biggest performance yet, and achieving the goal they set four years before.