Posts Tagged ‘strategy’

Change Lessons from Harlequins – Tony Copsey (ex MD)

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

This is the second in a series of interviews where I interview a number of the people who played a part in Harlequins remarkable turnaround from the team that was relegated in 2006 to the team which won the premiership this year.  This was a 10 year journey and it can teach us come interesting lessons.

Tony was a professional player for Llanelli, Saracens and Wales.  He came to Quins a few months after Mark Evans to help him in the transformation, with Tony focusing on the off-pitch aspects of the change.  Whilst one might imagine that a rugby club is all about winning on the pitch, the interesting thing is that in order to do this they require resources to invest in players and facilities, both for the team and the spectators.  Unless you have an owner with deep pockets, there is therefore a very strong link between their ability to generate income and the on field results.

Tony’s job was to ensure that the Stoop (their ground) was a place that people wanted to come to, where they enjoyed their match day experience regardless of the result on the day, because this bought the Director of Rugby time to get the right players in place.  Over their tenure Evans & Copsey drove the gate up from 3,000 to nearer 12,000 a game.  He also pointed out that he had to try to make the facility make money during the week when there was no game from things like conferences and events.

Effectively, there was a team behind the team on the pitch who sold the tickets, did the marketing, wooed the sponsors and did the PR, in addition to feeding and watering the public on match day.  Tony explained that a lot of work went into ensuring no one was more than 40 yds. from a beer or a sausage (metaphorically speaking) and that they didn’t have to wait too long to get served.

They did a lot of work on what the brand Harlequins stood for and what their values were and how this translated into the day-to-day behaviours of the staff.  He also explained the importance of senior players in helping to model the ‘right’ way to behave and help discipline the youngsters about what it means to wear a Quins shirt.  There is a lot of talk about their exciting brand of rugby, and the press is full of people singing the praises of Chris Robshaw, their captain, who now also captains England.  He is a walking embodiment of these values and is fine example of what Tony was describing.

An interesting observation was that emotion is a powerful force in buying decisions where sport is concerned so if you want to attract sponsors, you have to create a club that people care about, and are excited by. 

Tony was also constantly reviewing the back office team’s roles and tuning them to the needs of the club as their situation changed.  Getting the right processes in place and the right people was key.  He aimed to try and make his staff the kind of people that got headhunted.

I hope to be able to continue this analysis over the coming weeks

Previous interviews:

  1. Mark Evans

Change Lessons from Harlequins – Mark Evans ex-CEO

Monday, June 11th, 2012

As a Change professional, and a keen rugby fan I have been fascinated by the journey Harlequins Rugby club have been on for the last 10 years  or so.  Of course, now Harlequins are the premiership champions and have provided 9 players to the latest England squad currently touring South Africa, both the press and commentators have been talking about their  phoenix-like rise from relegation to the championship in 2005 and the ‘Bloodgate’ debacle in 2009.)  It is a great story but I knew it couldn’t have been that simple and wanted to understand a bit about the hard work and journey behind this ‘overnight’ transformation… that took 10 years hard graft!  So I went to talk to Mark Evans, who was the man with his hand on the tiller.

In the days of amateur rugby, the Quins were a pretty successful club, who drew their players, from all over the country, but who largely worked in the city, and had a reputation for being rather ‘posh’.  However, once the professional era came, their systems simply didn’t support success in the new era.  A club that drew a crowd of a little over two thousand, simply couldn’t afford the players they needed to win.

Mark arrived with a very clear view of what needed doing:-

  1. Start to change the ethos and perception (2000)
  2. Begin to build a youth development programme which eventually became the Academy which a decade on  produced 12 players of the Premiership Final  squad of 23 (2001)
  3. Begin an outreach programme to local clubs across the region rather than schools to drive crowds to make club bankable. (2001)
  4. Build a new stand (there were three built in total, between 2003 and 2010) so capacity went up in stages.
  5. Increase the playing budget (from 2006)
  6. Secure a new training ground (2010)

Interestingly, throughout his 11 year tenure, he did no more than tweak this strategy.  He was able to depend on the support and understanding of the club owners to weather the storms on this long journey.  He realised that there was a possibility that, en route to success, the club might get relegated but saw this as a bump in the road.  When you recognise that this kind of thing might happen, you don’t need to panic when it does.

Over the years that I’ve been going to watch them, which happens to pretty much coincided with Mark’s time at the top, I’ve seen two (of the the three) new stands built.  The ground has a capacity of around 15,000 and regularly gets gates of over 12,500, and on this championship run, has often been sold out.  There is a policy which involves local schools.  They can also now fill Twickenham (82,000) for their Xmas holiday game and, together with Saracens, this year they claimed a record for the biggest club game in the world of 83,761 at Wembley (I was there too!)  So support, and therefore revenue was ticked off Mark’s list.

They now have a state of the art training ground at the Surrey Sports Park in Guildford and an academy that is producing a crop of fabulous young players.

From my perspective this is an unusual story because it was driven from a single plan by one man, supported by the key stakeholders.  He was fortunate in that he arrived at the right time, and the need for change was clear for all to see.

He also has a very pragmatic view about how success should be measured.  There are the very clear measures I laid out above, but he also recognises that whilst fans measure success in cups won, in  knock-out competitions, you can’t expect to win cups every year.  What you can do, is to expect to be challenging for them in the knockout stages, as Leicester have done, competing in 8 consecutive premiership finals! 

I asked him why he left when he did and he had a similarly clear answer to that.  He recognises that people have different strengths and the kind of person that is really good at transformation, is not necessarily the right man for the next stage of the journey, which is a much more ‘steady as she goes’ kind of phase. 

Mark made it clear that this was not something he did on his own but the result of a lot of hear work from a lot of people, including Tony Copsey, Dean Richards, Richard Varney, Jon Salinger, Jenny Winstanley, Laura Oakes, Julian Gent, John Kingston, Tony Russ, Tony Diprose, Collin Osborne, Anne McCarthy, Conor O Shea and the ever present FD John Dingle (and I’m sure many others including the squad of players!)

I’m hoping to bring you other perspectives on this journey from others involved in it over the coming weeks


  1. Telegraph story: Also rans to contenders
  2. Wikipedia: the Quins

Dare to be different

Saturday, May 12th, 2012

Someone raised the question the other day “How do you stand out from all the other coaches?“. A very good question but one which applies just as well to many, if not all businesses. I think in this area especially, the answer is ‘dare to be different’. If you are a ‘me too’ coach offering basically a generic service you’ll deliver a certain service and value but you will always be vulnerable to being undercut or replaced. If, however, you follow your own light and are able to harness your own unique talents and insights, you won’t fit everyone, but you will always be authentic and no one can ever be quite the same, so you will have an inherent advantage. Sometimes the best way to stand out in a crowd is just to be you.

I don’t tell my clients what to do, or very often, how to do it, but tend to just offer another way of looking at things, or a different perspective, that allows them to have more and different options. This is often all it takes to ‘unstick’ someone and allow them to once more flow down their path. If at the end of the conversation I hear “Thank you, that was very useful!” I know I’ve done my job.

Zen and the Art of lawn mowing

Saturday, May 12th, 2012

If you have a large garden, especially one with an irregular shape you’ll be familiar with the dilemma of “how do you mow it?”. If you have a ride-on, you can’t do simple stripes, as the thing has to be manoeuvred. The challenge is to come up with a pattern that cuts all of the grass once, with as little possible being cut more than once, and minimising any ned for reversing. It sounds simple, but really isn’t; come up with the right pattern and you move in a smooth flow, that is both satisfying and efficient, saving time and effort. There is a zen-like quality to being one with the flow.

In the midst of my meditative mowing, it occurred to me that there is a similarity between the use of good strategy for mowing and for business. Finding the way to get the most done for the least input, by seeing the relationship between shapes and then flowing smoothly from one to the next. When you are doing things well you are not working so much as dancing. All very fanciful you may say, but I suggest that if everything you do is taking vast effort, and only achieved by dint of hard work, then you are perhaps missing this sense of how these things relate to each other and you to them.

Could Life be easier? Sometimes, just sometimes, mow is less…

“What’s the Difference between Management and Change Management?”

Friday, January 28th, 2011

I had this question posed today and it hit a nerve as I’d been talking about this the other evening. It’s a good question and I wish it were asked more often. The short version of my answer was

“The right answer should be very little, as I have always maintained that Change is the key job of management but I think that their focus and their results would be improved if managers realised that one key to success is constantly asking two questions|:-

  1. What needs changing?
  2. What is beginning to change that shouldn’t?”

Managers should be focusing on the strategic level and noticing what isn’t working; listening to customers and suppliers to find out how things could be improved. They need to be scanning competitors to see who is doing something new and also who is doing something wrong. All of these are signals to change things around. If they can find nothing in these categories then they should be wondering how they could do the same things better or cheaper or faster.

“Only the wisest and stupidest of men never change.” — Confucius

The other side of the coin, which I feel gets far too little attention under the ‘change banner’, is where you are doing everything right and things start to change without you wishing them too. It takes effort to keep things the same and you have to pay attention to training and processes to make sure that they don’t decay as management shift their attention to the next fire.

“Management” (from Old French ménagement “the art of conducting, directing”, from Latin manu agere “to lead by the hand”) characterises the process of leading and directing all or part of an organization, often a business, through the deployment and manipulation of resources (human, financial, material, intellectual or intangible). …

You can see from this definition managers should be constantly asking ”Where do I get the best ‘bang for my buck’?and this means both in terms of their personal time and energy and from the corporate resources they control. One of my favourite clients freely admits he is so good at putting out fires that he just loves rushing round in his fire engine, indeed few have a brighter, shinier, or faster fire engines! However, we all have jobs we like to do, jobs that make us feel worthwhile. These are often the safe harbours we pull into to avoid looking into the void of “I don’t know..” However, I’d suggest that really the good manager should feel that way at least once a day and probably hourly if he is focusing on the right things. If you already know all the answers you aren’t asking hard enough questions!

“Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have—and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.” James Belasco and Ralph Stayer

It is trite to say it (but that has never stopped me before!), but Change management needs to start with you! If you are doing the same things every day then you are stuck in a comfy rut. I know there are hundreds or emails, tens of meetings and crises galore but if you aren’t managing the business.. who is?

© I-Change 2011

“Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.”   Niccolo Machiavelli

Is it a small world?

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

In these times of global crises, financial, ideological and climatic, it is oh-so easy to let one’s world become smaller. We naturally retreat to those things that we know, to the places that we feel safe and to the company of those we are familiar with. This is an understandable Flight/Fight reaction, but it is actually a strategy that is unlikely to keep us safe. In times like these, seeking to stand still or even to hide is dangerous; now is the time to try something new. If what you have always done is no longer a sure recipe for success, where is the risk in trying something new?

In troubled times, like in the latter stretches of a marathon, the field starts to string out and you can put real distance between yourself and your competitors. People’s needs are the fundamentally the same, but they have seen apparently safe ways of doing business fail. Focus on what they truly need, provide them with something that really helps them and work with them to communicate effectively. This is not a time for sell and run, this is a time for getting in the boat and bailing with them. That builds trust and a sense of fellowship that is hard to break when good times return.

“”A good friend will come bail you out of jail, but a true friend will be sitting next to you saying…’Damn, that was fun!'””


Feeling Stuck? ACTION!

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008

We are in the early stages of one of those periodic major renovation phases house owners are painfully familiar with. Our garden, which had always been a little ‘au naturel’, had become more of a jungle, the house is showing the signs of 3 healthy, active children growing up in it not to mention 3 cats! It is a daunting challenge knowing where to start and how to invest our hard-earned pennies. For quite a long time we were slightly frozen in this state of ‘not knowingness’.

Eventually my wife got a little more decisive and got in a garden contractor. I was thinking ‘tidying up’, she was thinking ‘war on weeds’! After we had had a small army of men and earth movers here for over a week it has been utterly transformed. I suspect the pharaohs used people like these to build the pyramids!

Why am I sharing this with you? Well the interesting thing is how, once you begin a project, things that you couldn’t know before you start suddenly come clear. I often help businesses with their strategy and I employ a similar approach. Get moving, and adapt as you learn more. If you spend too long planning you tend to get more and more stuck, and as Helmuth von Moltke famously observed “No plan survives contact with the enemy“, so what is the point having a perfect plan? Get moving, learn from what you do and adapt as you move forwards.

Those organisations that are able to learn and adapt fastest have a competitive advantage and the market to themselves for a while. This strategy will work just as well for you if you are feeling a bit stuck. Today, if you feel like this, DO SOMETHING, it really doesn’t matter what, just get moving and you will notice that you see things differently and feel differently. So Good Luck… and …ACTION!

“Just Do It.” Nike