Business Communications — 13 November 2012
The Zulu, the rugby coach and how to keep winning

I love to be organized – to have a careful plan, clarity on steps, and then work through those one by one. It’s a strength. And increasingly – a fatal flaw.

Being organized a fatal flaw? How can that be? Here’s why. Read carefully. Careers and business will fail if you stay like me.

Ever see the movie, “Zulu”? The hordes of natives are swarming over the barricades, a straggling group of red coated English soldiers are desperately firing at them, just keeping them at bay. Bullets are running short. Soldiers rush back to the ammunition hut. “More ammo!!!” they scream. “Fill in the form first,” says the munitions Captain.

Madness. If ever there was a time to change the agreed process, that was it. In the words of Robbie Deans, when he took over as coach of the Australian Wallabies rugby team, his philosophy was built around one thing and one thing alone:

Play what’s in front of you

Yes, have a plan about what you might do when you get the ball in a certain position. But always look up, check out the situation, and ‘play what’s in front of you’… respond according to the circumstance.

The lesson for business

We live in turbulent times. The pressures on clients is harder than ever. Their thinking is changing fast, instructions from offshore shifting the goalposts, strategies under fire, tension high.

When you meet with your senior clients — and usually this will be only every few weeks — don’t expect that the last conversation you had with them still holds true; that they are still focused on what they briefed you on or outlined four weeks ago. Much could have changed.

If you go flying into that meeting driving through your month old agenda, and their mind has shifted elsewhere, your offer will be seen as irrelevant and outdated. Even when a month ago you were hot to trot.

How to fix this issue

Start every meeting with questions: How are you? What is on your mind? What’s your priority right now? Has anything changed since we last met? What are your Big Rocks – your biggest issues – today?

Probe. Explore. Listen. Learn. And then, as the meeting begins, Play What Is In Front Of You. Try to shape your agenda to be relevant and helpful to addressing the problems and issues that are burning in their minds; the issues of NOW.

Not sure I explained that well. Hope so. Because I think about it before every client meeting: “What is really going on for this client, today?”  I ask myself. I go into the meeting, find out, and ensure I have added value for the client — value on their most burning issue — before I leave the room. Play what’s in front of you. It will keep you relevant. And keep the rampaging hordes at bay (even if it hasn’t worked against the All Blacks… rugby joke for those non-rugby types offshore).


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(4) Readers Comments

  1. Hi Chris,

    Thank you for sharing! I enjoyed reading the article and even shared it with my colleagues!

  2. Excellent post. You are quite right we must adapt to the client’s changing strategies. Mind you I also have to keep some of my clients more focussed than chasing every new idea they come across.

  3. What if your client is a steaming nutter and deviates widely at each meeting and your strategy is actually right?

  4. Pingback: 5 golden rules for a longer and more vibrant career, Advertising

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