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Leave the shirt in a better place: reinvention & growth, the All Blacks way

November 9, 2015

An anniversary passed recently, 16 September 1905, 110 years since the first New Zealand rugby team came to Britain, the Originals, as they are now known. The week in which the 2015 All Blacks beat Argentina in the first match of the recent World Cup marked the anniversary of their predecessors’ 55-4 defeat of Devon in the first game of their tour.

The Originals blazed through Britain, just like the 2015 All Blacks have. In 1905 they scored 976 points and conceded only 59. They bewildered their opponents. They were fitter, stronger, sharper and more scientific. No one had even conceived that it was possible to play the way the All Blacks did, let alone seen it done. They were not used to seeing the ball pass through so many hands, or the manner in which forwards mingled with backs.

Nineteen years later, the 1924 touring All Blacks won all 32 games, scoring 838 points and conceding just 166. They became known as the Invincibles. Current All Blacks coach Steve Hansen can justifiably claim to have carried on the tradition of both the Originals and the Invincibles in England with the recent World Cup victory.

Hansen has made his mark, and the British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand in 2017 is likely to be his swansong, having indicated he intends to step down at the end of his contract. In losing only three tests since their 2011 World Cup success, Hansen has taken the team to new heights. However, he will have rebuilding next year following the retirement of six outstanding players – Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Ma’a Nonu, Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu and Conrad Smith.

But Hansen is already looking forward to moulding a new group for the number one team in the world, who were clearly the best team at the World Cup by any measure – physical and mental fitness, coaching and the type of rugby they played. They set new standards by becoming the first team to win back-to-back World Cups. They have kept raising the benchmark, kept improving and taken the game to new levels.

It goes without saying that the All Blacks are going to miss those iconic players – Nonu and Smith have played over 60 games as the centre pairing together. It is almost 800 caps worth of experience in total they will be losing. However for the All Blacks, no one individual is irreplaceable. The same conversations happened after Andrew Mehrtens, Tana Umaga and Zinzan Brooke retired. Someone always comes along, because the culture is one of long-term thinking and planning, always reinventing, creating future All Blacks.

There is some ridiculous talent waiting to come through. Akira Iaone, a number eight, Ardie Savea, the brother of Julian, is an openside with a huge future. Sam Cane, who would be a starter for most other teams, has been groomed in McCaw’s shadow, likewise, Beauden Barrett and Malakai Fekitoa have learnt the ropes from Carter and Nonu. Dan Coles described Keven Mealamu as the player he ‘looks up to’.

By the time the Lions arrive in New Zealand in two years’ time, it will be the likes of Brodie Retallick, Aaron Smith and Nehe Milner-Skudder on the front foot. At the next World Cup in 2019, they will be senior men. These fresh faces are the next generation who will have regenerated the team. The focus is always on the future, the next group of potential world champions is already here, in place. The All Blacks are constantly reinventing.

Players come and go, and yet the All Blacks keep winning. Knowhow and leadership, let alone experience, will be missed badly, but New Zealand prepared for this eventuality almost as soon as the celebrations died down in 2011, and so will overhaul themselves in 2016.

The All Blacks embrace a values-based team ethos that evidences that above all the physical and mental toughness, a progressive, forward looking culture is a key driver of success. Leave the shirt in a better place is one of the values within the organisation culture inherent in the All Blacks’ mindset, which creates this constant reinvention of the successful team.

It’s your obligation and responsibility to add to the legacy – to leave the jersey in a better place. The legacy is more intimidating than any opposition. So the All Blacks invent, reinvent, grow. The same applies to great businesses, past achievements in no way guarantee future success. Enduring companies and individual entrepreneurs earn their longevity through near constant reinvention, stretching to create their next evolution.

The reinvention process is a combination of inner and outer awareness. We need to know what our timescale is for what we’re doing, we need to know how the competencies we’ve built can extend in new directions, and we need to attend to how our business fits into the new world. When we do all three, we can be confident, committed and flexible in the value that we create for customers.

Some reinvention is innovation driven, for example Apple move from desktop computer devices into handheld devices and the iPhone, but the majority is a forced result of changing market structures. For example, there are a lot of forces converging in the car industry right now, including powertrain electrification and trends toward active safety systems, semi-autonomous driving, and vehicle connectivity. Is it an understatement to call this an interesting time?

These technology innovations have turned the industry on its head, with disruption coming from every angle, from the potential ways we fuel our vehicles to the ownership model. We have a whole generation that just wants access to vehicles as opposed to ownership for example, through services such as Uber and Zipcar. Even the dealership model is changing, with Tesla selling directly to consumers.

In terms of connectivity, so much of the technology is being developed outside the auto industry. Whether it’s vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication, semi-autonomous and fully autonomous driving, or connecting to the cloud, these are all major disruptions coming fast and furiously.

The reality is that the major car manufacturers will not own, or develop, most of these technologies, so they have to reinvent themselves to be a thoughtful integrator of other peoples’ technologies and understand where they add value. The role of a traditional car manufacturer has changed dramatically to become a part of a mobility ecosystem. In this new world, they need to figure out what they have to own and what they don’t and to be a great integrator of technologies and services.

This ‘reinvention’ shows that it’s not easy to do, and that most reinvention that does occur is involuntary, the inevitable result of massive and painful industry disruption where the market place is reinvented, but with new players. The winds of disruption are howling across the industrial landscape of most Western economies and the ability of incumbent market leaders to defend their positions and build sustainable futures are increasingly fewer and further apart.

As one thinks about the future of Apple, they will continue to innovate from within and enhance their current product and market fit. They will likely enter the world of wearables, cars and maybe the health market in some way. Now add to this the idea of Apple using their cash to build through licensing and acquisitions and buying strategic products that could be sold through their online and physical stores and supported by their great customer experience and you have what I believe could be the next major version of Apple as Apple reinvents itself again.

So from an SME perspective, what are the elements in a reinvention strategy we can take from the All Blacks, Apple and the car industry? Here are my thoughts:

Rebound First and foremost, complaining about your competition or falling away of your traditional customer base won’t help. It only makes things worse and demoralises those around you, and yourself. Today’s laurels are tomorrow’s compost, look forward. What are you aiming for? What does success looks like in 12, 24 and 36 months time? There’s no point in feeling sorry for yourself, reframe your own future.

Restart Forget about how you’ve done business in the past. It was good enough then but it won’t give you the results you want in the future. In order to become the best business you can be, start with a clean sheet of paper. What type of customers would it serve? Why should customers buy from me, and not others?  People get stuck in their own rut doing business the same way.

Rebalance Do you remember the reason you went into business? The end result of your risk taking should be freedom and fulfilment, not continuous hard work and a feeling of déjà vu. Dedicate time to rebalance your focus. If it’s all the business of today, no one is steering towards business of tomorrow. Specify what you should be doing, working ‘on’ the business, and not simply ‘in’, and rebalance your priorities.

Revisit How can you win customers competing against a myriad of others based solely on the lowest price? In the new economy, the old strategy won’t work. Offering the same things every competitor does provides no advantage. Are your business strategy and business model viable in today’s marketplace? Will it build a winning company that works for you? Identify what markets and products will work in the next 12, 24 and 36 months.

Retool What should your business do to make use of technology, to increase efficiency and deliver growth? Use the menu of digital tools to build a greater awareness of your brand and your offerings. Where can you leverage our online business model to greater impact?

Refinance The best businesses are also the best financed. A strong financial foundation provides the platform to innovate, and invest for growth. Now is the time to take a hard look at your finances, your financial systems, and your cash requirements. Focus on managing your cash and use this information for strategy and pricing decisions.

Restructure Most companies use the same organisation chart for years without ever changing it. But over time, the old structure doesn’t work as business and customer demands change. Perhaps it is time to restructure and take a look at job roles, responsibilities, etc. What does the structure need to be to deliver the success desired?

Refocus What do you do differently to attract customers to buy your services? How do you gather new fans? Have you changed your target market to expand your customer base? It is time to refocus your customer strategy and look for new customers in new markets by offering something exciting that gets customers paying you for the value you create?.

Rebuild Take a fresh look at your overall company branding, image, logo and website. Do they create any excitement? Do they give out the right impression to your customers? Does it promote technical expertise and value? Rebuild your marketing, almost as a relaunch.

Revamp What business routines do you call over and over, year after year? Have you called any new plays lately? Your management style must be agile, what innovations have you introduced to refresh the business and shock customers (in the nicest possible way?) Think inside out, think like a customer.

Refresh How much time do you give your team to training to renew or develop new skills? Identify the training and development needs for each member of staff to get them performing at a higher level. Use personal coaching to stimulate and to get their heads up and seek to perform the best they can be.

Relive Are you living your dream with your business? Why not? Never forget your dream. Write down specifically what you want your business to do for you personally in the next 5 to 10 years. Next decide what you must do to turn your vision into reality. Make it personal, so your business enables you to work to live, not live to work.

Begin reinventing by asking the right questions, you must be inquisitive and open to the challenges ahead. The following questions can help:

  • What fundamental consumer needs have you been serving? What new experiences can address those needs?
  • How will you identify your core strengths? What is the best way to increase investments in those true differentiators?
  • In what ways can you identify new potential sources of value, and where in emerging ecosystems should you engage?
  • What can you do to assess current skill levels and capabilities objectively? How should you acquire new skills to fill gaps?
  • What sorts of reinvention torchbearers already exist in your organisation? What can you do to incorporate their influence into strategy and education?

The reinvention of our business life means marching off the edge of our existing maps. It’s a challenge to create new opportunities through reinvention, but don’t let yourself be put in the position where you fall into the complacency or ignorance trap, and forced into the reinvention game to survive – like the large supermarkets now responding to the low-cost providers.

Be agile, embrace the need for change and take a lesson from the All Blacks – go again when you’re on top of your game. Be next-in-line like the All Blacks reinvent, from the Originals, to the Invincibles to the World Champions of 2015, and you won’t go far wrong.

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 9, 2015 8:55 am

    Exceptionally refreshing article Ian, a well thought out and inspiring article. thank you.

    Paul Marioni

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