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What the world's most successful sporting team can teach about succession planning
One reads widely on the importance of succession planning. So much so, some consulting organisations specialise in it. It is a critically important process for large corporate organisations, with General Electric often being the poster child of how to carry out this important process correctly. They have been called the CEO factory. Succession planning is likewise very important in family businesses but in a different sense to that for a publicly listed company. In a family business is often a foregone conclusion who will follow on from the founder or current CEO and yet at other times, it can be a bloody family spat to decide who will follow on.
I am a keen rugby union fan. And strangely enough, rugby provides a great example how to successfully plan for succession. For those who may not be as passionate about rugby as I am, the All Blacks from New Zealand are head and shoulders above anyone else in the world at the moment and have been for many, many years now. By any measure the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team are the world’s most successful sports team. Famed for starting any game with their highly dramatic and culturally symbolic Haka – a traditional, Maori warrior challenge to the playing opposition, they have amassed a track record that is truly unequalled by any other sporting team. In more than a century of playing, the All Blacks have won more than three quarters of their 538 plus matches to date. In the recent professional era of rugby, they have a win rate of over 86%.
During the 2011 Rugby World Cup held in their homeland, the All Blacks were under enormous pressure to win. While being number one for most of the time, they had only ever won the world cup once: the very first one. They were eliminated on every other occasion. The pressure from their countrymen and women was enormous.
In the final, they faced France, who had eliminated them twice before. But France is a historically erratic performer at this level. One day they were hopeless, and the next they were world-beaters. The All Blacks didn’t know which team was going to turn up on the day of the final. As it turned out, the world-beating team ran on the field.
In the rounds leading up to the final, New Zealand lost Daniel Carter to injury. At that time, he was considered to be the best fly-half in the world. In another game prior to the final, his replacement, Colin Slade, was also injured. They had lost their top two fly-halves, and the final had not even arrived yet. This left a relatively inexperienced Aaron Cruden to take the weight, what is considered by many, the most critical position in the team. The team management called up Stephen Donald as a reserve. Donald had stopped training after missing selection in the original squad, had enjoyed the end-of-season festivities with his Super Rugby teammates, and was out whitebait fishing when he got the call that the team needed help.
Aaron Cruden got injured in the final. It was now up to the fourth-choice fly-half, Stephen Donald, to steer the back line in what was a very close match. He did so with aplomb and kicked the winning goal.
The key learning here is, the New Zealand rugby system had managed to train and develop four world-class fly-halves. Any of them would have been the front-line player for any other country.
The All Blacks’ win on this occasion was about bench strength or depth of capability. They had people in line who were suitably trained, with the required skill to step in and do the job when called upon. The All Blacks’ captain, Richie McCaw, said his side's preparation for the unexpected saw them prevail under duress. “This is important,” he said, “because if you hope for the best but when adversity comes or something happens you can't deal with it."
This is drawing the longbow, perhaps, but just as of the All Black bench helped them win the world cup, the same goes for your ERP implementation project. A critical ingredient to your success is the strength of your bench. When you make the decision to replace your business system, you are designing your company’s future operating model. You want your very best people on this task. All too often I see companies appoint people who are not skilled for this task under the guise that the key people are too valuable to be released from their day-to-day jobs. More often than not, the people who are appointed to an implementation project are those that can be released because they aren’t so bad that they deserve to be moved on, but they are clearly not the most valuable people in the business.
An ERP implementation is like winning the world cup. You want the most skilled people performing this work, not someone from your reserve grade. The depth of capability displayed by the All Blacks only comes about when you plan for it. In my view, not enough companies consider their succession planning early enough for their ERP project to leverage this strength. My experience is that the ERP project actually highlights the inadequacy or lack of succession planning from the past and then goes on to develop the company’s bench strength as a result of the project’s progress.
If you are considering replacing your existing business system, then you need to start succession planning now, if you haven’t already. Make sure you have a sound number two and three in each workstream of your business, thereby allowing you to release your number one for this critical task.
If you would like to have a confidential chat about what it takes to make your ERP replacement a success, contact me. +61 438 787 759 [email protected]
© Copyright David Ogilvie 2018
That's a great insight about the strength of the ERP implementation team. I've seen tasks assigned to busy CFOs instead of people with strong operational knowledge.