Tackling Change with Sir Clive Woodward

During Proactis’ ReThink 2021 event, Sir Clive Woodward, OBE, gave a rousing and insightful presentation around Tackling Change – a subject Sir Clive knows very well from his days as England’s 2003 Rugby World Cup Winning Head Coach and Director of Sport Team GB: London 2012, Vancouver 2010, and Beijing 2008.

Sir Clive began the presentation by explaining that in business the only constant is change and success is determined by how quickly teams and individuals can change and adapt. He then went on to describe two key characteristics that allow teams and individuals to Tackle Change:

1. Teachability
Teachability in Clive’s language is your ability to learn, your ability to take on knowledge, and in coaching terms, it's a passion for your job, learning and willingness to improve. If you're working for a company which invests in you and your learning, that's amazing, but what Clive wants to know is what do you do on top of this?

In his coaching language, Clive says you're either a sponge or a rock – you're looking for people that have a sponge to absorb knowledge between their ears and not a rock. When you join new companies, you're normally a sponge – you love going to conferences, webinars etc. to learn. But often, some of the most talented people can just drift into being a rock and become a bit of a know it all. If you have one rock in your team, the chances of Tackling Change become extremely limited.

Clive went on to describe a phrase he learned from his business career, “whoever wins at IT tends to win” he said. When he became England coach one of the first things he did was give all the players laptops. It got a lot of headlines at the time because these were big tough guys, and only about 5% of them knew how to use a computer. Most of them couldn’t even spell ‘laptop.’

But there was a serious point to this, of course, which was to identify the players willing to learn from those who weren’t. Or, in Sir Clive’s vernacular, to separate the “sponges” from the “rocks.” He explained how he used technology, particularly a piece of software called Pro-Zone, to help players analyse their own performance.

“We didn’t win the World Cup because of IT, but we used it to leverage the potential of players like Jason Leonard, Martin Johnson and Lawrence Dallaglio” he explained. “Everyone always says that team had great leadership, but these players became great leaders because of the knowledge and understanding they had of their own performance.”

2. Pressure
In the second half of his talk, Clive explained that he doesn’t believe that anyone is born to play, or to perform under pressure. He thinks this is something you can teach people – which he does using a concept called ‘T-CUP’ which stands for Thinking Correctly Under Pressure. The keyword here is ’correctly.

So, how do you coach T-CUP. With the rugby team in any meeting, he would always have three things on the wall. A clock, a scoreboard, and a white board.

At any point during the meeting, he would stop the meeting and set up a scenario on the board. E.g., the clock says 5 minutes to go, the score is England 12 - Australia 16, a scrum on our own 22. Then he would bring one of the players out. Say Matt Dawson. Dawson – better known now for Strictly come Dancing or a Question of Sport, but once upon a time, he was a pretty good rugby player. And ask him what he would do. If the player can’t answer immediately, they are not what Clive calls a ‘warrior’ – someone who can play or perform under pressure. Because quite simply, in the real world you often do not have time to think.

Performing well under pressure doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but it is something that can be taught or learnt. As a leader, you can establish a set of behaviours and a way of thinking that enables your people to get comfortable with almost every pressured scenario they might encounter, and then replicate that thinking in new situations. 

If you can start to document and discuss every single possible scenario you or your team might encounter, you start to create a whole library of pressure situations and crucially, work out how you respond if they actually happen in the real word. The key takeaway from this is quite straightforward. If you come across anything that you've not experienced before, or that you've not thought through before, the chances of thinking correctly under pressure are really, really small. However, if you come across a situation that you've experienced before, or equally importantly, you've actually thought through in a non-pressurised situation, you are more likely to handle it.

There is a much higher chance that you will Think Correctly Under Pressure and make the right decisions. And Clive has seen so many sports teams and businesspeople in pressure situations literally choke and freeze because they've not thought through what they would do if this was to actually happen. Clive rounded off this section with the statement that “Winners perform at their best when the pressure is at its greatest,” but it's not just instinct, or power, it's something you've got to really work on in terms of your job or your sport.

In summary, Clive states that he is always willing to ReThink - Learn, Unlearn, and Relearn, which he calls Tackling Change, using these two key processes, Teachability and Pressure. But it's not something you start in one day and finish in one day. You've got to try and get the culture within the team or the business happening on an ongoing basis. Teachability is all about what you can learn today and how you can adapt; Pressure is all about trying to predict what's going to happen in the future. And this allows you in your own way to Tackle Change and take your business to a whole new level.