For Australia, yesterday’s crushing first innings defeat in the Ashes at Trent Bridge was a subject for national soul searching, typified by the response of The Sydney Morning Herald: England humiliate Australia on a first day that will live in infamy. (North American readers can just jump from here to the bullet list below.) All out for 60 before lunch? It’s unheard of – almost. You have to go back to the 1950s and ’40s for equivalent batting collapses.
So what lessons can L&D learn from this? Here are three I would suggest, two here and one at the bottom of this post:
- Training is not always the answer. The Australians have spent their lives since boyhood training at cricket and dreaming of beating England, in England. A few more hours in the nets would be pointless. They have the skill. For various reasons they did not apply it yesterday morning.
- Knowledge without application is useless. Do the Australians know the fielding positions on a cricket field? Of course they do. In fact, they found the slips quite easily yesterday morning. More knowledge is not the answer.
I have talked widely about the training ghetto. In the training ghetto, the L&D team is usually responsible for just three types of training: compliance training, on boarding training, and fix-my-team training.
The last of these is when the manager appears in the training department doorway and says, effectively, “my team is broken, please fix it.” Usually they ask for something like time management training across the team. Of course the manager is abdicating responsibility for his or her role as manager. Training is never the answer here. The answer is to be a better manager.
John Purcell of Bath University was fond of this equation defining performance:
P = f (A, M, O)
P = Performance
A = Ability, can they do it?
M = Motivation, do they want to do it?
O = Opportunity, are they able to do it?
Of all of these, the part that L&D is traditionally responsible – Ability – is arguably the least important. After all, only 11% of contracts are terminated because of a lack of employee ability. We know Australia have the ability.
So where did they fall down yesterday? It was not Opportunity, because after lunch England came into bat and did very nicely, ending the day on 274 for 4.
It must, therefore, have been Motivation.
I am not saying that the individual players did not want to win. But there was among them something fans of any sport will recognise – a sort of dazed shellshock. When your team is like that it cannot rely on individual motivation. Only leadership on the field and in the dressing room can rescue matters, which brings me to the final L&D lesson:
- Exceptional performance demands leadership. We are fond of saying – rightly – that L&D is all about performance. But while L&D is necessary for performance, it is not sufficient. Exceptional performance demands leadership, leadership that inspires external motivation to push you to greatness, especially when times are tough.
We cannot in L&D expect to solve all performance problems and – crucially – we should set the expectation with others that we cannot. Sometimes, we must say that a performance problem can only be solved by better management and better leadership.
PS – I fully expect Australia to have rediscovered their internal leadership and to come out fighting today.
PPS – If you’re from North America and have been left a little puzzled by this post, please read Not everyone reads American on the use of sporting metaphor in writing.