Change is always present in sport, business and life. But unless as individuals we can understand what the change is, and how it will affect or impact me, then we will resist. Better the devil you know than the one you don’t.
As a new coach brought into the Australian team in 1999 to take them into the new millennium, there is always an expectation of change. Very few coaches, business or political leaders are appointed to maintain the status quo – to keep things exactly as they were. The new appointment is the change agent!
In order to give myself best chance of making the changes that were necessary, I used a 5 point strategic game plan.
1 – Deliver a vision
The Australian cricket team to that point had been very successful under captain, Mark Taylor and coach, Geoff Marsh. However, I had the opportunity to ‘look’ inside the way team operated through the eyes of players who were part of the Australian team, but who also played for the team I was coaching at the time, Queensland Bulls, I also spent time looking more closely at the results they were achieving. Both insights led me to the conclusion that there was plenty of room for improvement. However, to show people there was more to achieve as well as challenge each individual to be better, I needed to show them a vision of what could be, not what was the present. I chose the symbol of Everest and linked that to one of the iconic teams in Australian cricket history – the Invincibles. And so our journey to Everest began in November 1999 and concluded almost 8 years later in which time the team dominated world cricket, and in many aspects changed the game.
2 – Be totally aligned with the captain
Stephen Waugh was captain of the team having taken over the ODI team pre-World Cup and then led the side in the West Indies and briefly to Sri Lanka. Stephen was a man of few words, but those he spoke conveyed his sense of leaving a footprint, a legacy. At the same time, his mantra on sport and life was to take the road less travelled. So while we were pitched together by the Australian Cricket Board, I know Stephen was influential in me being appointed to the role. And while we did not always agree on everything, there is little doubt our philosophies and principles were always aligned.
3 – Don’t rush change
One of my more recent experiences before taking on the role with the Australian team was to coach Middlesex CCC for a season in 1998. It turned out to be an unsuccessful stint for a range of reasons, one of which was that I tried to push change too quickly into the playing group. While some responded very well, others, including the captain at the time, and a couple of senior members did not like what was happening. Consequently, I was not reappointed for a second season. So with this experience relatively fresh, I set myself 9 months which was our entire home series against Pakistan and India plus our tour of New Zealand to fully appreciate how the team worked – from captain, leaders, players, support staff and team culture. It was not until that I was totally clear on what changes needed to be made that I presented these recommendations to management.
4 – Lead by example
I was not a former baggy green holder. I had only played a handful of first class games 20 years beforehand. But what I had done was understand myself as a coach, my philosophy, my principles, my values, and I had now tested these professionally over 5 years with Queensland and the one season I mentioned with Middlesex. So what I was bringing to the team was a vision of wanting to change the game, to dominate world cricket and set new benchmarks; a coaching and leadership professionalism that had not been part of the team culture; and a value system of hard work, honesty, accountability and family. So while I could necessarily demonstrate skill levels that were of international standards, every action and behaviour I delivered was driven by the vision, the professionalism and my value system.
5 – Know the key influencers in the group
In terms of making change and then sustaining the change and its impacts, one or two people cannot make it happen. So as coach, I had learned very quickly that I needed to identify who the key influencers in a group are, and work very hard with them to understand where we were going as a unit; how it would impact them; what I saw their role to be into the future; and that I wanted to develop as close a relationship with them as possible, but leaving that decision always with the individual.
As history now shows, these strategies worked for me. Many of the results and records we achieved still stand.
So, how could these lessons be applied to your organisation?