Endless improvement

The relentless pursuit of growth

Image: Ales Krivec

You’ve probably not heard of Eddie Jones. And you probably know very little about English rugby. But, regardless, the turnaround Eddie Jones, the recently appointed coach, has brought to the English side is astonishing. And most importantly, carries lessons we can all take on board.

To give you a very quick catch up, England were hosting the Rugby World Cup last autumn. They weren’t favourites, but there was high expectation of making it to the final, or the semi-final at the very least. Instead, they crashed out at the group stages. The coach was sacked and Jones was appointed as a replacement just before Christmas.

Since Jones became coach, the England team have not lost a single game. They are on a nine match unbeaten streak since he took over control. What’s amazing about this turnaround is that much of it has been achieved with many of the same players from the previous regime.

So what’s changed?

Previously, you couldn’t help but feel England’s best players were underachieving. They were good but weren’t pressing on to become great. Jones though has implemented far higher expectations for both individual and team performance. Fitness levels have been radically upped. But beyond that, each player has been set very specific goals for what’s expected of them in terms of improvement and the development of their game. And, if they fail to meet those expectations, he is ruthless to pulling a play off the pitch and replacing them.

The result? Nearly every player on the team suddenly looks like a vastly better player than they did just eight months ago. Both individually and as a team, this group of players has massively improved. To the extent that they have just beaten the World Cup finalists, Australia, 3–0 in a three match series on away soil in Australia. For context, prior to these three matches, England have only every won three times away in Australia in their history.

What impresses me most with all this though is not simply that Jones has created a culture where constant improvement is now a culture norm. It’s that he models this himself. He holds himself to the same expectation of improvement as he does all his players.

After a long season, it might have been tempting for Jones to take a break. But no, he’s flying straight back from the tour in Australia to spend time embedded with the Orica-GreenEDGE cycling team during the Tour de France. He wants to keep learning from the elite performance of others in different sports so that his own coaching keeps improving and developing.

Jones has made it very clear that if the team is going to become consistent and achieve its stated goal of becoming the number one team in the world, he has to keep getting better as a coach. And all his coaching staff have to keep getting better too.

This strikes me as leadership at its best. Leaders model the way. The don’t demand anything of others that they too are not prepared to do themselves.

The example is worth heeding for all of us though, leader or not. Do we still have the same drive to keep learning, growing, and improving? The relentless pursuit of improvement is what is moving the England rugby team from good to great.

That relentless pursuit of improvement is what it will take for us as individuals to do the same.

The gift of going first

Too much political debate will kill you