Lessons from Gilbert Enoka - Part I

At a recent Inspire Foundation awards night, the keynote speaker was All Blacks Manager and Mental Skills Specialist Gilbert Enoka.

Gilbert Enoka is off to a good start in his role as the All Blacks Manager — he’s only been in the job 16 years, been in the changing sheds for 204 of the 538 AB test matches ever played, and overseen a couple of World Cup victories. But that’s just "a good start" he reckons.

Gilbert’s list of achievements is beyond impressive, especially as his start in life was far from privileged. It was in fact full of great adversity. A significant part of his childhood spent in an orphanage, so this is a man who has managed to put aside any difficulties life has thrown at him and truly thrive.

Gilbert's talk centred around what it took to win back-to-back Rugby World Cups, and while the topic was clearly directed at the arena of elite level sport, there were many lessons that can easily be transferred to the business environment.

For a 15 minute presentation it was inspirational, practical and jam-packed with insightful gems of knowledge. There were 4 grounding principals and 8 lessons but there were a few points that really resonated.

Probably the one that stood out the most was the need to have a strong sense of purpose.

Gilbert talked about the ever-reducing number of rules in place for the All Blacks. Instead their focus and energy is spent ensuring all involved understand why they're there and what they need to do.

“high performers don’t need rules, they just need a strong sense of purpose”.

When Custom D first split from Digital Fusion around 18 months ago, we thought we knew where we were going and what our purpose was. But it became very apparent that our initial thinking was a little naive and lacking substance. It was a weird situation — we had a well established development team, a good client base, as well as systems and infrastructure.

But we were also a start-up, needing to bootstrap growth through cashflow which required a big focus on billable hours and budgets which tended to take our eye off quality and client happiness.

Whilst the revenue was important, it was never our intention to make that our ‘purpose’. The need for survival had muddied the waters and created a conflicted set of priorities. If we're honest, after the first 12 months our team was stressed about targets and deadlines and a little resentful of a 'workhorse' mentality that held little meaning for them personally.

We had to go back to the drawing board and reconsider our common goals and founding principles. Some deep thinking and soul searching has given us so much more clarity about who and what we are now. We’ve always maintained a fairly flat organisation structure, but we still have to show strong leadership. In order to do that we need to be consistently and continuously promoting our cause and goals.

As owners, we want to build a business that we can be proud of. For that to be possible, we need to be turning out exceptional quality projects for clients that are ecstatic with the result and the process.

Recently we’ve worked hard to develop a few techniques to reinforce our true purpose throughout our organisation. We've stripped away as much irrelevant red-tape as possible, rationalising the administrative duties required by the developers allowing them to focus on what really matters.

We loudly celebrate positive feedback from our clients and make regular check-ups to see how they're feeling about progress, communication and what's being delivered.

We've also instigated ‘the whiteboard’. Anyone can add suggestions to the whiteboard-work and it can either be about what we could do to improve projects we’ve worked on (but not had the budget for) or enhancements to our internal digital systems. Should one of the team find themselves with a few hours spare, they can pick something off the board. Whiteboard-work still follows a strong estimating and approval process, but it means that when someone says “Hey, I’m a bit light this afternoon” they know exactly what to go on with and never feel like they’re simply filling in time.

Subtle changes like these are simple to implement, but so powerful. The focus on purpose has resulted in stronger engagement by our team, a better sense of where the goal posts are and what success looks like for Custom D. (I’m pretty sure the ABs know where the goal posts are…)

Gilbert’s words encapsulated this idea so very very clearly:

“a charismatic purpose beats a charismatic leader every day!”

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