Strategic commentary

3 strategy execution lessons from the England rugby team (and 1 from Guinness)


Strategy, Rugby’s Six Nations and Guinness have more in common than you’d think, as Steve Kerr investigates…

Last weekend the Guinness Six Nations kicked off and I got to enjoy the England victory in a pub with friends and we toasted the win with a few pints of Guinness. Also, I am nearly 1 month into a brilliant new role at i-nexus. We provide a fully-featured Hoshin Kanri strategy execution solution that helps the world’s largest companies to turn strategy into results. So with all of that, I was thinking it would be fun to write a blog which answers what can business leaders learn from the England rugby squad in 2019.

Lesson 1: Have a strategy, and execute it!

In 2017 the RFU CEO Steve Brown set out a strategic 4 year plan entitled “Game of our Lives”. It follows on from the previous plan that took the RFU through hosting a successful 2015 Rugby World Cup and will run to 2021.

The plan is focused on four key areas to allow rugby union to continue to grow and thrive in England – Protect, Engage, Grow and Win.

The RFU have also set targets for the next few years which include medalling at 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, as well as winning the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2021 Women’s Rugby World Cup.

Eddie Jones is relentless in his pursuit of making England the number one team in the world; he has his own strategic plan which contains goals and initiatives cascaded from the RFU’s 4 year plan, and in turn he expects his assistants to come up with credible strategic plans.

At its most basic concept, this cascading of strategic goals is essentially Hoshin Kanri, where organisations pick a few big issues important to long-term success and try to deploy initiatives to address these issues.

Hoshin Kanri is at the heart of the strategy execution systems of the world’s best-performing organisations.

Organisations that adopt Hoshin Kanri consistently outperform their peers.

Lesson 2: Strategies shift and improvement is continuous

My old director at Orbit used to quote Mike Tyson’s famous line “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face”.

Rugby is a very strategic game, where the players battle out to press towards the try line.

Blood, sweat and tears are involved (and sometimes a punch in the face or two)!

England didn’t have a great Six Nations season in 2018.

They went into the season with the ambition of becoming the first team win 3 successive Six Nations titles, yet were beaten by Scotland, France and Ireland and finished 5th (but we still finished above Italy which is all that matters in my English/Italian household).

Yet, they bounced back in the Autumn internationals after a slight shift to a more controlled and disciplined game plan that also pushed the boundaries of legality. But they still played in patches and were not at the peak of their performance.

Now they appear unrecognisable. A completely new back row. A new unproven centre pairing. A new intensity. They took nearly every chance that Ireland provided.

Sure, there are many factors behind success – a great product or service, growing market opportunity, overall stick market confidence to name but three.

But all things equal, what sets market leaders apart from the competition is their commitment to continuous improvement.

Technology solutions such as i-nexus are perfect to aid this and will help you to set-up consistent reports and dashboards to update and review KPI performance.

Lesson 3: Success is based on careful analysis and management of metrics

Clive Woodward famously copied the NFL approach of being obsessed with performance metrics and data and demonstrated the effectiveness of data led strategy with a World Cup win in 2003.

Eddie Jones is equally as obsessed. Last year he said “Running metres is one of the key metrics for winning rugby and we don’t feature in the top three in the world” and focused on developing the team’s attack to fill this gap.

He calls his approach to acquiring knowledge, skills and analysing data “intelligent coaching” and works with elite performance analysts to stay ahead of the competition and continuously improve.

Business leaders need to be equally obsessed with data and measurement.

Hoshin Kanri also helps organisations to consistently measure results. But be warned! If your business has significant scale this exercise can quickly turn into Excel hell without technology to take the heavy lifting out of Hoshin.

And the 1 lesson from Guinness?

Too many and you’ll get a sore head! So apply this to anything…

Too many emails? Sore head!

Too many KPIs? Sore head!

Too many meetings? Sore head!

Too many projects? Sore head!

Too many distractions? Sore head!

Focus on what adds value.

I am still to find the magic number – the optimum number of Guinness to enjoy with friends yet not feel the adverse effects the morning after.

Want to learn more about i-nexus’ Strategy Execution software?

The perfect place to start is with our webinars and workshops, hosted in a city near you.

Click here to learn more about our breakfast briefing sessions and how you can transform your strategy.

Or, if you’d like more great content, tips, advice and free templates, be sure to sign up for an account on i-nexus’ StratEx hub, available here.


About the author

Steve Kerr is i-nexus’ Marketing Campaign Manager. Having worked in marketing for nearly 10 years, he’s passionate about bringing i-nexus’ value to life through creative, thought-provoking, strategically minded content and communications. Working across broadcast, the arts, housing and software, his strategic mindset has brought fantastic results for every organisation he has worked with!