“We owned the process”. Not the words of a senior manager in a workshop explaining a corporate campaign, nor those of an inspirational speaker imparting advice after scaling some personal Everest. In fact, these were the words of Kieran Trippier, one of England football’s new young vanguard, after the victory over Columbia in the World Cup. He went on, “…. and we knew that if we trusted the process, we’d win.”
Compare that to the hedonistic drinking culture of the 1996 squad (Gazzer and the dentist’s chair) or the egotistical entitlement of the last golden generation (Wayne Rooney screaming at the camera about unsupportive England fans in the 2010 World Cup.) What a difference. The youngest squad in the tournament, starting with the lowest level of expectation, got as far as any English team since 1966.
So, apart from a more media-friendly and less sensational public image, what’s the difference? I don’t doubt that all England teams in the past have worked hard. And other teams have also benefited from the luck of the draw, if that was a factor. It doesn’t take the greatest sporting commentator or team psychologist to spot the signs that things were being done differently this time:
BELIEVE in your vision and do the right thing: Manager Gareth Southgate did things the way he thought was right, making best use of the resources he had available. He chose Harry Maguire, for example, from an unfashionable team and with little England experience, who ended up as a star performer. He deselected others who would have been more palatable choices to the public. This belief must have taken considerable personal resilience, given the missed penalties and relegations that Southgate has suffered in the past.
LEARN, research and apply knowledge: one of the stars of the England show was Jordan Pickford, the goalkeeper from Sunderland who was, for some observers, too short to be credible. He’d also wobbled in the first game against Belgium. But when it came to penalties against the Colombians, he knew his stuff, with details of their penalty takers written around the rim of his water bottle. They learnt this from Maddy Hinch, Team GB’s women’s hockey goal keeper in the 2016 Olympics. She had a dossier on all the opposition penalty takers so that when it came to the final, she dominated the Australians in the shoot out, winning gold. When it came to the moment (and England were two touches of the ball from going out of the World Cup) Pickford saved the final penalty. Research, application and learning had paid off.
FOCUS on your strengths and best practice: Southgate chose where to compete for a competitive edge – with set pieces. Not sensational, not glamorous, but truly effective. England scored more goals than in any previous world cup and 75% of these were from corners and free-kicks. Southgate’s team had figured out how to make marking almost impossible. Lined up closely, front to back, no-one could get between them. Then, when the ball was played, they would explode in seemingly random directions, spreading panic amongst confused defenders.
Margins are small in sport, just as in working life, and it not possible to entirely dictate the outcomes you want. These factors all illustrate that real change is possible in a short space of time. It didn’t come home in 2018 but it might do next time.
Sound familiar? Our approach to continuous improvement of public services is underpinned by some core principles – three of which are Believe, Learn and Focus. The rest can be seen in our recent CEO briefing on why flow must come first for hospital CEOs.
(And I have a nice, blue waistcoat to enjoy.)
Thank you, Gareth
Mike Meredith is a Director at 2020 Delivery