Here in the UK there has been a huge debate over the last few days about England's World Cup team performance.. Throughout the qualifying stage the members of the squad - the elite from Britain's Premier Football league - have, along with their manager Fabio Capello, played some excellent football against some great and good teams.
With the results they achieved in qualifying they were able to go to the World Cup Final tournament in South Africa with their heads held high, the hope and expectations of the country on their shoulders, and a reasonable chance of progressing through to a good spot in the championship finals.
(A little background for those who don't follow football - or 'Soccer' as it is referred to in certain countries. All teams who qualify are placed in random groups of four. At the tournament each team plays the other three members of the group once in what is know as 'The Group Stages'. At the end of these three games the teams with the top two results progress through to the 'Knockout Stage'. In the Knockout Stage each team is matched against another team in a head-to-head match where the loser is eliminated. This continues until there are only two teams left. The play in the final and contest the cup.)
Looking at the teams England were matched against in the group stages - USA, Algeria, Slovenia - it was felt that this would be a simple group of matches and progress to the knockout stages would be assured.
But it didn't turn out like that.
You see the team that played so well in the qualifying matches didn't appear to be the same team that turned up in South Africa. They played atrociously, lacking drive and application, and managed to progress through to the knockout stage as a result of some bad play by other teams coupled with one reasonable performance in their final group match against Slovenia - hardly a team recognised on the world stage as a football superpower.
In the knockout stage they were matched against old rivals Germany (against whom we won the World Cup back in 1966 - the last time we reached the final), and were beaten 4 goals to 1 and dumped unceremoniously out of the tournament.
Of course the recriminations are now starting: Who's to blame? Why didn't the players play as well in the group stages as they did in the qualifying? Should the manager be sacked?
But I started thinking if there is a process analogy here. Is it possible that the process that was followed by the England team during the qualifying was not the same process followed during the tournament itself? Could it be that they did follow the same process but were actually meant to be following a different one? Let's examine this and see shall we?
In actual fact there were a number of differences between the qualifying and the tournament itself. Qualifying takes place over a much longer time span. The Group stages took place over a period of two weeks. But that shouldn't have been an issue - after all the Argentine team reportedly played 8 games in a two week period prior to coming to the tournament and they are hotly tipped to be finalists. So it couldn't have been the fact that the team were too tired?
The other difference was the team itself. Top players who had participated in the qualifying rounds such as David Beckham and Rio Ferdinand were injured and unable to participate in the Group games. But these were two players out of a total squad of about 23 players. Could they have made such a difference?
In the press today blame is being heaped on the manager Fabio Capello. He is being seen as being the architect of the England demise. But he was the same manager who took England to the World Cup finals. He was the man who presided over the qualifying games that we won so convincingly. In fact he was so well thought of by the England football executives that his contract was renegotiated just prior to the World Cup to give him a £6m fee.
So if the players aren't the problem, the manager isn't the problem and the schedule isn't the problem, what is?
It's the process.
England has very rarely played well in a tournament which involves 'group' and 'knockout' phases. Occasionally they will have flashes of brilliance and produce a performance which will get them through to the next round of a tournament. But generally they are not good at playing 'pressure' football where they have to win.
The qualifying games are seen to be individual games played against individual opponents. Each game is an entity in itself with minimal effect on the bigger picture. A win is a win and a loss is a loss. If we accumulate enough wins over a given period of time we will progress to the tournament itself.
The tournament itself is a pressure cooker. Each game is vitally important. A win is needed every time. A draw is allowed occasionally. A loss could mean going home - especially once the knockout stages are in progress. England can't get into that mentality. They play these games every week (sometimes twice per week) in the Premier League where overall success is judged on final results after playing a full season. Minor adjustments can be mad after each game, but a loss is just marked down as an entry in one column. It isn't the difference between life and death. In a tournament this mentality doesn't work. Each game is the difference between continuing and going home. Each game is as important in the final result as the final game itself. Argentina know that. Brazil know that. Germany know that. English players can't work that attitude into their mental preparation. It's the same reason why in the FA Cup (A league wide knockout tournament played alongside the regular season games every year in England) it is almost impossible to predict who will end up in the final. It relies on who is better prepared for each given game rather than who is the better team. (The winners of this years FA Cup final played so badly during the regular season they were finally relegated to a lower division)
In a given organisation you can define the method of working. On a typical car assembly line, for example, we have a constant stream of vehicles coming along. This never ending line has to have bits and pieces attached to it in a given length of time. Quality has to be maintained - but if something is missed it can still get through the process. Ford, Honda, GM, Volvo, Toyota, VW etc. all work on this basis. It dates back to Henry Ford and his insistence that moving the car along the people is more efficient and a better process than having everyone work on a stationary car. I remember going in a school visit to a Peugeot factory in France once and watching brand new, completed cars roll off the end of the production line one every 30 seconds or so.
Contrast that with manufacturers such as Lamborghini, Bentley, Morgan, and Aston Martin. They produce an end result which is identical to Ford, Honda, GM etc (a motor vehicle with an engine, four wheels and passenger space - albeit more expensive) but they use a different process. They work on a quality ethos rather than a speed ethos. 2.7 new Lamborghini's rolls off the end of the production line every week and take 50 hours to manufacture.
Now try and make a Lambo in the 3 hours it takes to make a Ford and you will not end up with the same thing. Take the Honda people off their production line and slip them into the Aston Martin production line ethos and they will struggle to produce a car with the same quality.
In short they are using different processes to produce the same thing.
But take a Honda guy and drop him into the GM line and he would fit right in. Likewise a VW guy working at Ford. (Obviously there are some training issues here, but that's secondary to the main issue of different processes)
Would you spend your money on a new Murcielago knowing that it had been made - along with several thousand others that week - on a GM-style production line? Likewise would you want to pay Lambourghini prices for a Honda that had taken 4 hours to make?
The answer is probably 'No'
But still we insist on taking an organisation that does things one way and putting them into an environment where they are expected to perform a different way and we get annoyed when they fail.
If England are to progress any further in tournaments they need to change they process they use. They need to work on being the Bentley of the football world rather than the Honda. Focus on quality results rather than just pushing things through the production line.
Now look around your organisation. Are you trying to be a Honda production line when you should be Bentley's? Or vice-versa?
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