Does a Kick Up the Rear Last? What if the Strategy is Wrong?

I have just emerged from the gloom and despondency of Wales being well beaten by England in Sunday’s Rugby. Funny how my tweet acknowledging that fact was retweeted!

The previous post explored the effect of a kick up the rear in improving performance. The Harvard Business Review blog published some research on this a few days ago (here). They found that a bare majority actually preferred negative feedback. This means, of course, that a bare minority liked positive feedback. This creates difficulties for managers where there is no strong culture one way or the other. If the group is mixed in its views, there is a good chance of picking the wrong approach for an individual.

Always good to post ahead of the HBR of course, and the feedback theme justifies further exploration.

However, one issue that arises from Sunday’s game is whether the problem is not one of performance, but of strategy. Gwyn Jones, former Welsh captain, has some interesting views at Wales Online. For Wales supporters such as me, that will be the subject of lively debate down at the Druid & Laverbread, but here I want to explore the business implications.

Business is about both doing the right things, and doing things right (arguably the distinction between leadership and management). Undoubtedly, Wales’s strategy has been very successful over the last few years, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. Should it have been changed?

Much of the comment since Sunday has been about personnel and about execution. We will see if there are any team changes at 11 am today, when the Wales team for the Scotland match is announced. In fairness, there also have been comments all season about the lack of a “Plan B”, if the basic strategy is not working.

A clear, well understood strategy that translates into action makes an organisation effective, provided that it is a right strategy. The difficulty comes when the organisation needs realignment. If a turnaround is necessary (eg the team keeps losing), it is obvious that something needs to be done, so leaders change strategy and people buy into it. In a steady state no change may be necessary (the team keeps winning). What is difficult is changing when a realignment is needed.

Firstly, the leader needs to recognise that a realignment is necessary. This may be because the environment has changed (eg a change in rules). This takes deliberate action when the current strategy is successful, and the timing of any change is difficult. More difficult yet is to persuade others that change is necessary. After all, the organisation is winning, everybody is comfortable with what they are doing, and the new strategy may not work.

And of course, there is the time that it takes to introduce a new strategy. Wales, for example, cannot make major changes in the 6 days before their next match.

We will see how Saturday goes, and whether Wales play any differently on the summer tour to South Africa. The difficulty there is that playing the number 2 team in the world is not a great arena for experimentation.

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