(As published in the NZ Herald, July 17, 2022; you can read it HERE)
It was an interesting feeling watching the rugby on Saturday night. I’d guess half the country was actually hoping that the All Blacks lost, because that might finally force the NZ Rugby into action to make some changes.
So where have we gone so wrong? I know as much or as little about rugby as a typical armchair fan. I know a bit more about business where I am a coach and adviser. Saturday’s game had me thinking: what has working with some incredible New Zealand small and medium size businesses taught me that would be relevant for the All Blacks and especially NZR?
FIND THE ROOT CAUSE OF THE PROBLEM
When a business is failing or at least not living up to its potential, the first thing you’d do is some root cause analysis.
This means you ask why, why, why and keep asking why until you get to the root cause of why the less than ideal thing is happening. I really hope that NZ Rugby keep asking why, why, why, are the All Blacks not what we are meant to be.
Especially in a phase when you cannot blame a heap of new blood and loss of experience. It will be interesting to see if NZ Rugby can ask the question multiple times and then have the guts to do what they need to do to address it. Or will they be arrogant and/or weak like businesspeople can be when they do not want to face reality…
After some deep soul searching as to the reasons why a business/team is failing, you’d do some strategic planning. Strategic planning is big-picture thinking around how you will achieve your goals in business.
For the All Blacks and NZR, surely the current goal to consider is to not get knocked out at RWC23 in the quarterfinals. Everyone knows the legend of how, after dire performances, Sir Ted (Graham Henry) and his able lieutenants Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen came up with a brilliant strategy at the end of 2007 to give us a close-to-guaranteed chance of glory four years later, which came to fruition.
A quality strategy is hugely important; if you have a poor strategy, no matter how good your culture or team is, you will not win. Our current strategies with the wider All Blacks team are not working — and they haven’t been for some time. We have seen the Northern Hemisphere teams and the Springboks blunt us more regularly than we’d care for since 2018.
Our competitors have been way smarter strategically and have leapfrogged us.
Yes, they have some great players but so do we. I’d hazard a guess and say they are winning because they likely have good to great cultures and brilliant strategies. The All Blacks and NZR need some major new thinking thrown into the equation to come up with some new strategies that will actually give us more consistent performances and a better chance of getting back to the top of the world.
IMPROVE THE LEADERSHIP
The buck stops at the top. I’d suggest we need to look at the leadership team of current players and the coaching team. Leaders need to take almost full responsibility for the performance of their team because they get to choose their team, to guide them and to grow them.
With our national team losing four of the last five games, you do wonder if the team needs to hear different messages than the current leaders are providing. You’d also hope that if the current leaders are to carry on, they’d be open to more self-development and guidance to improve their leadership and ability to react to pressure.
You’d hope that some of the leaders involved would be brave enough to put their hand up for the greater good of the team and say that they are out of ideas, please help me. There is highly likely good help not that far away.
KEEP A CLOSE EYE ON FUTURE TALENT
All NZ businesses know the challenge at the moment of trying to get staff, let alone world-class recruits. The labour shortage is chronic and it’s stopping companies reach ultimate success. It’s interesting that most rugby armchair fans probably thought that (bar Scott Barrett’s injury) the team that played on Saturday was right up there with the best team that could have been picked.
Yet we lost three-quarters of four.
While there are several other classy Kiwi rugby players who could force their way into the All Blacks A-team, the reality is that we are faced with a true shortage of actual world-class players in NZ right at this point in time. Not many of our All Blacks would make a world rugby 15 today.
Like the NZ labour market, we don’t have enough A-plus grade rugby players to come in and take the place of any of the current team — beyond that, it also seems we don’t have a plan to turn our current best team into a team of A-plus players.
Rugby fans know France’s focus on winning in 2023 on home soil started strategically several years ago with the French under-20 grade teams. What can we be doing to develop more of a labour talent pool earlier in the piece to help our player pool have more depth, so that future players can handle pressure and make the correct split-second decisions that the famous All Blacks teams of the 2010s had in spades?
It will be interesting to see what happens with NZR and the All Blacks in the coming week. I’m really worried about being knocked out in the quarter-finals of Rugby World Cup 2023 at this rate unless we make some brave major strategic changes. Let’s have our fingers and toes crossed for some proper leadership and guts to shine through to change the performance of this team.