A question of learning the skill…not the drill…

Part I

This is the first of a series of blogs based on the above mantra. I hope you enjoy it.

A few years ago, I was involved in coaching rugby in Singapore. This was a by-product of my children getting actively involved in a local club (Tanglin Rugby Club for the avoidance of doubt…there were some local rivalries and I wouldn’t want you to get the wrong impression)! I was lucky enough to be involved in an age group from the early days of crowd control to the time when holding a tackle bag became a physical challenge as the men-children threw themselves at you with no holds barred. 

The key edict in those days was ‘learn the skill…not the drill’ and always interesting to see how what worked perfectly in a training environment went out of the window in the heat of battle. The pressure of a sharper defence, the unfamiliar surroundings of a different pitch, the sounds of overexcited parents on the side lines, the adrenaline of a competitive game, all led to uncharacteristic mistakes, poor communication, a reversion to a previous level of capability.

I’ve written in the past that one of the challenges of M&A is that the process will find weakness in your organisation:

…in your governance structure which cannot make decisions in a timeframe which works for M&A

…in your ‘real’ communications processes which, being largely informal, cannot bridge barriers across an unfamiliar organisation

…in some of your processes which are turn out not to be ‘fit for purpose’ for a new, larger, more diverse, more complex business

…in your leadership capability which is still largely relationship based and therefore struggles to impose itself in a new business

What’s really depressing is that for all the development of your internal capability, talent identification, playbook creation, it’s not until you’re in the deal that you can tell whether what you’ve built, actually works. 

So, the challenge for anyone involved in M&A is a similar one to that of a rugby coach: How can I replicate match conditions? How can I create a situation which is close to the real thing? 

And perhaps this is the biggest difference between a corporate situation and one on a sporting field…because ultimately getting better in a match situation is based purely on making lots and lots of mistakes, and gradually reducing these so that those involved have a mental ‘bank’ which they can draw upon to make the right decisions. Hard to do in a corporate environment which has much less tolerance for this, and in many cases, much less of a commitment to the individual than a coach might have…which, if you think about it, is madness. That’s a whole different subject to consider for another day.

For the vast majority of people, making decisions on a rugby pitch or in an deal is not an intuitive process. It is a process based on experience and muscle memory…and the confidence that that breeds.


David BoydBen de Haldevang