Incremental innovation: a step at a time

The late Massachusetts Institute of Tech mathematician, Edward Lorenz, described how a small action could lead to an improbably large event.

In short, the butterfly effect; part of the chaos theory.

The ramifications of COVID-19 has seen budgets dramatically cut, a greater focus on efficiency and a severe reduction in research and development spend by the vast majority of organisations – that’s enough chaos for all of us.

It has also been a time when the little things in life meant so much more – not only the humble hug but finding that extra 10 pounds in the piggy bank that you’d left as a gift for yourself to spend on a rainy day.

But how can we learn from these simple pleasures and implement them into management? In this short piece, we look at how small incremental innovation can lead to the highest bang for your buck.

We live in a world where almost everything is instantaneous, or at least it seems like it. But in the reality of entrepreneurship, the vast majority of successful organisations do not reach the stars overnight, but through an iterative cycle of innovation that develops strong foundations and a bright future.

The approach of incremental innovation works by spending small amounts for marginal improvements in the most valuable aspect of the organisation. Correct investment today designed to solve tomorrow’s problems.

For a fascinating example of incremental change, look no further than Pret A Manger’s plastic pledge, where lots of small scale initiatives – from recycling bins in shops to free water stations – are culminating into a significant reduction in the food chain’s environmental impact.

It can be seen in a sports context too, changes in the menu at Forest Green Rovers helped them establish the world’s first fully vegan football stadium.

Although it clearly has its benefits, incremental innovation does not only have to change the planet. Sports teams across the world are investing little and often into their academies, which have become, for some clubs in particular, their most prized asset.

Grassroots sport is another example – if governing bodies spent all their money on elite sport and did not value the participation levels, how will the next generation of athletes be discovered and supported?

The key message here is sustainability. 2020 taught everybody that the world can flip upside down in what felt like the blink of an eye, so planning and preparing for whatever could be ahead is non-negotiable.

Your future self will thank you.

Organisational culture: the winning formula

“The collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one human group from another,” is Dutch psychologist Geert Hofstede’s widely accepted definition of culture, simply describing something so complex.

However, our thesis on culture goes beyond traditional academic frameworks and incorporates a wider school of thought.

For example, alternative culture definitions include the perception of how we do things – Greek philosopher Aristotle said: “We are what we repeatedly do.”

This phrase can be effortlessly transferred into a working environment: organisations are fabricated on regular processes, practices and business choices. How an organisation conducts these endeavours can ultimately define their culture. 

If the culture is positive, productive and backed up by the work of employees, then along with values and strategic direction, organisational culture is the glue that holds companies together. Otherwise, it could spell trouble.

Our model

To effectively explore culture, we, at the other half have developed our own ‘need-to-know’ framework.

It is a simple model that helps map out the dynamics and direction of an organisations’ culture and to compare and ultimately align with its strategies and values.

1. Knowing where you have been:

When looking at your organisation’s culture, the past is the first port of call.

History will point to signature experiences and routines embedded in its DNA, whether good or bad. In fact, both are just as useful in understanding how you have arrived at today.

2. Knowing where you are:

Where you think you are, is often very different from where you actually are, so here at the other half, we conduct interviews with personnel within your organisation and use thematic analysis and coding to decipher the cultural dynamics of your organisation.

That current culture is particularly important to be aware of; it could even provide context to critical pieces of information and results, as we all are aware, culture eats strategy for breakfast.

3. Knowing where you want to go:

Comparing the culture you have against that which you want is a process just as important as any.

This allows you to see the flaws in your current setup, whether they are linked to your processes, personnel, or something quite unexpected.

Then, with this information, a simple starting point would be to compile a checklist of the common practices the business can use to foster an enthusiastic, committed, mission-aware team.

World beaters

Organisational culture is notoriously an important factor in the success of sports teams. As an example, we look to a team that the world has always been in awe of.

Rugby is an everyday part of New Zealand culture, feeding the All Blacks global success. The country’s indigenous Māori tribes inspired the team’s menacing pre-game Haka routine, while Kiwi-born Sky Sports presenter James Gemmell suggested that traditional, intense inter-school rivalries are deemed to have sparked a competitive edge and built All Blacks players of old.

Today, the culture remains, as rugby in New Zealand is everywhere you look. James Kerr wrote ‘Legacy’, looking at the 15 principles that made the All Blacks so good, from preparation and sacrifice to whānau and whakapapa culture.

On the field, England rugby has since matched the All Blacks record 18-game winning streak and defeated the 2011 and 2015 Rugby World Cup champions to reach the final last year. South Africa now top the world rankings after lifting the Webb Ellis Cup trophy for the third time, drawing level with New Zealand’s world cup tally.

These recent years suggest that, if I dare say it, the All Blacks are not as dominant as they once were. Yet, some will argue that this is down to on-field talent, which rises and falls dramatically in the international game.

However, with a culture such as theirs, the All Blacks will seldom be far from success. The world has also been watching and learning; after failing to qualify for the knockout stages of the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup, England took inspiration from the All Blacks culture shift to change their own and come back to win the tournament four years later (more on that in a future blog).

CSR: it’s nothing new, just good business

Corporate social responsibility has become a priority for leadership teams – many making huge strides forward in addressing concerns about both social and environmental issues.

By doing it well, organisations can showcase their brand in a positive light, reach new audiences, and consequently grow faster than competitors who are not.

However, at the other half, we believe that doing it well does not mean you are doing it right.

Competitive advantage can be achieved several ways, but the trust factor is invaluable. Genuine CSR can lead to confidence in powerful quantities, meanwhile, cheap marketing stunts, not so much. It has never been easier to tell the difference.

Authentic CSR is about engaging in activities that have a genuinely positive impact on society, generating those all-important relationships with communities.

But with larger organisations faltering in their ability to meet the needs of localised stakeholders, there is currently a significant opportunity for the establishing stronger relationships.

Therefore, through our frameworks and engagement programmes, we help sports organisations, whatever their size, develop mutual and robust partnerships between society and business.

We are able to approach this from a variety of ways to tailor to each specific circumstance, but it is always important to map out the social impact of the organisation, looking at how each part area of your enterprise can add value. By identifying these, we can match them with critical issues that the business can help to address, without disrupting regular activities.

To ensure long-term benefit, organisations must implement these CSR initiatives in the core of their strategies, always finding opportunities to enhance their reputation by contributing society’s development.

This is something Stoke City’s Community Trust have achieved with their annual ‘Big Sleep Out’, raising understanding of homelessness and growing from 67 initial participants to more than 250 in February at their fifth consecutive event.

For one night, club employees, fans, and famous faces join together to sleep rough in and around the bet365 Stadium, raising money for homeless people. This ensures awareness is gained not just through news and digital campaigns, but experience.

Former Stoke manager and Manchester United star Lou Macari founded the Macari Centre to provide safety and shelter for people in the Potteries without a roof over their head.

Importantly, the initiatives are working. Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s annual review showed the number of people on the streets had halved in the city since 2018.

But with homelessness also a nationwide issue, many other clubs have now followed the Potters footsteps in tackling it in their own areas, as well as other local and national problems – Everton Football Club’s charitable arm, for example, recently received planning permission to build The People’s Place as a facility for citizens struggling with mental health.

With their key significance in communities already, the impact sports teams and their charitable foundations can have in championing positive change cannot be underestimated.

Next steps:

Companies need to organise themselves in a way that makes them conducive to change; they must shift from a defensive structure to a proactive approach to social issues, moving from a focus on good CSR for PR, to good CSR for society.

Start small and build from there, at the other half we offer support for clubs and organisations who want to add value in society and engage in community CSR initiatives – and we welcome the opportunity to understand more about your objectives and to establish how we can work with you to achieve them.

The Juventus rebrand – “change before you have to”

At the other half, we are often reflecting. We value opportunities to look back, in order to help understand where to go next.

Back in early 2017, Chris and I assessed the likely outcomes of the Juventus rebrand, which celebrates its third anniversary this month. He said it was fresh, bold, and ahead of its time, but I only recall thinking the change did not respect the heritage of the club. 

After all, at this point, my arguments against the decision to alter such an iconic club crest were also reflected by the widespread criticism from media and fans alike.

Now, in July 2020, it is about time I acknowledge… Chris was right.

TheBianconeri – the black-and-whites – were founded in 1897. Based in Turin, they have established themselves as one of the most famous and successful teams in world football. Juve’s total title haul is fast approaching the 70-mark, including silverware across country, continent, and the world.

In some ways, it’s a history that’s so good it deserves its own ‘please do not touch’ sign, safely encompassing the thrills and spills of past generations.

But, in hindsight, the forward-thinking club president Andrea Agnelli was actually doing just that, protecting a glorious past and using it to inspire the future.

“Change before you have to,” he told the cognoscenti at the brand launch – the motto spearheading several key factors that elicited the success of the modern Juve identity.

A brand without values is like a house without a foundation 

Juventus has turned itself into an icon aiming to appeal to football fans across the globe, whilst aspiring for world-class commercial performance in a rapidly changing environment; all of which reflects the club’s philosophy to always strive for excellence.

The power of choice can be overbearing in rebranding decisions, but by focusing on such core values that had been part of the established brand for over a century, the club put a constraint on creativity that ultimately improved the brand’s success, as well as making a vehicle that carried those traditional values into a 21st-century environment.

There’s beauty in simplicity 

In an age of increasing complexity where sometimes you don’t know where to look, simplicity stands out. We are seeing brands foster simple logos that give a stronger, clearer brand identity; finding the more, in the less.

Through its design, the new logo is an example of the modern-day multi-purpose crest, far beyond the somewhat over-embellished football badges of old, and is the sum of different elements characterising Juventus.

The outline of an Italian scudetto; the black and white stripes from the Juve origins as ‘The Old Lady’; and the letter “J” that now means Juventus to everyone, together form a logo that represents a step forward.

Gaining stakeholder buy-in 

Juventus thought about the ‘who’ as well as the ‘what’, strategically planting attendees at its events. Influential players, for example, came to the launch celebrations showing a strong support for the rebrand.

Just by being there, the players could immediately soften some of the negativity around the rebrand from followers, showing how endorsement from well-known and respected ambassadors can, in many ways, legitimise the change.

Be disruptive and build for a new world

Disruption is all about taking risks, deviating from the conventional marketing rules.

Good disruptive marketing can shake things up by changing customer perceptions about, not just the company, but the industry as a whole. In this case, Juve came out looking like leaders in the football world.

This is also because the identity has thrived across the touchpoints of tomorrow, be they digital, spatial, physical, virtual, or augmented. This sets the brand up for the new age of social media and positions Juventus as more than a football club, but a lifestyle brand.

Evaluation

In our eyes, the rebranding of Juventus has been a monumental success, capitalising on an opportunity for change through catalysing the Bianconeri’s transformation from a club to a worldwide culture.

By looking back at the foundations of their history, the future of Juventus is a little less of a mystery.

USA women’s soccer – leading the sporting response

Amongst the last two decades of large-scale change, from digitalisation to destruction, the USA has evolved to consistently remain a trailblazer in women’s soccer across the globe, and as of today, the entirety of stateside sport.

At the other half, we have been impressed by the determination and resilience displayed from those who not only pioneered the women’s game but those who picked up from where others, unfortunately, failed, to create the current National Women’s Soccer League that has progressed over the last eight years.

Arguably, these change management traits can be seen now more than ever – the NWSL is set to become the first major sporting league in America to resume action following suspension from COVID-19, courtesy of an exciting new league format, a picturesque setting, and of course, strict safety regulations.

If all goes to plan this weekend, it would be a feat that has not come without its challenges. But to truly understand where women’s football across the pond is today, we must acknowledge how it has adapted over time..

Back when many were revelling in the turn of the Millennium, the US national team was still fresh from their 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup triumph and the country introduced the world’s first fully-professional women’s soccer league – the Women’s United Soccer Association.

Unfortunately, the WUSA in its original guise failed to generate enough revenue for long-term existence and was replaced by the W-League and Women’s Premier Soccer League as the recognised first-tier competitions; the former folded in 2015 while the latter currently exists at North America’s second level.

In 2007, a new league called Women’s Professional Soccer became the top league in the country, following the footsteps of WUSA. That was before legal and operational issues saw its collapse in 2012, only to be swiftly followed by the National Women’s Soccer League that stands strong today.

Since the first FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1991, the USA have always finished in the top three, most recently lifting the trophy back-to-back in 2015 and 2019; all 23 players of last summer’s winning squad coming from NWSL clubs.

Becoming the greatest ever nation in the women’s game, whilst establishing three different top-flight leagues in 12 years with teams, players and staff regularly coming and going, required change management at its best, adjusting to both internal and external factors.

Such qualities have since seen the NWSL take to new heights. In normal circumstances, the season would have started in April, with every team playing each other thrice; 24 matches culminating in a league table which leads to play-offs that eventually decide the campaign’s champions.

However, with the pandemic ongoing, this season has been transformed into the NWSL Challenge Cup in Utah, presented by P&G and Secret; the Rio Tinto Stadium playing a starring role in front of a majestic backdrop of trees and snow-capped mountains, with domestic fans able to watch every kick on CBS All Access, and games will be streamed internationally for the first time on Twitch.

Initial plans outlined a preliminary round of fixtures, followed by knockout matches from quarterfinals onwards; not so dissimilar to the popular World Cup format that US women’s soccer is accustomed too.

Yet, the league announced on Monday that six players and four staff members of Orlando Pride had tested positive for COVID-19, forcing the club to withdraw from the Challenge Cup, leaving the remaining eight teams to contest for the title in an updated 23-game tournament.

Every team will reside in an ‘NWSL Village’ created by Utah Royals FC owner Dell Loy Hansen. The league has also been very open about the procedures that will be implemented to ensure a safe, and hopefully sensational, return to sport.

Similar to Dana White’s exploits in staging UFC 249 amidst the epidemic, leaders in the NWSL have, through change management, tried to provide the best chance of headlines and viewership in US sport throughout the coming weeks.

The ability to exhibit resilience is a desirable attribute for teams within the change management process, commonly defined as the capacity to quickly recover from setbacks, adapt well to change, and keep going in the face of adversity.

Through all of the turbulence women’s soccer has faced over the last couple of decades, the commitment to its prosperity, from some, never left; the result reflected in the country’s dominance at international level, even when there were sometimes questions around how future female players would be developed.

Resilience and adaptability played an instrumental part then, and now in bringing live competition back to Americans, demonstrating the NWSL as leaders of the sports industry.

A closer look at UFC 249 – Who dares wins

At the other half, we have been eagerly anticipating the return of sport, even if it is going to be different from the way we left it, and for good reason.

 Only a month ago, the prospect of staging safe sporting events, for the most part, was a logistical nightmare. From fixtures to festivals, all dates were scrapped without any expectations of when they could return.

 However, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and its president Dana White managed to stage UFC 249 on 9th May, just three weeks after the event’s original date which was wiped due to COVID-19.

 With a lot of intelligence, and a little bit of luck, UFC brought mixed martial arts back to sports fans in the thick of unprecedented adversity; the behind-closed-doors showcase drew a staggering 700,000 pay-per-view purchases.

 A miraculous feat, down to the miracles of change management.

 UFC had already revolutionized the fight business and today stands as a premium global sports brand, promotional content company, and the largest pay-per-view event provider in the world.

 UFC 249 was scheduled for 18th April in New York, but one of the first, and arguably most poignant issues due to coronavirus arose when lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov refused to leave Russia due to his country’s lockdown and border closures in their fight against the pandemic, cancelling the event’s headline bout.

 Fortunately, Justin Gaethje agreed to replace him and fight Tony Ferguson for the interim title, just one amendment in a series of fight rewrites to give UFC 249 the best possible chance of being successful.

 Despite calls from ESPN and Disney to cancel the event, and it no longer being possible to stage it at Barclays Center, the UFC continued preparations, with White seeking to secure a private island that could host the bouts in a safe environment away from regulation.

 White soon announced in late April that UFC 249 and the following two cards set for 13th and 16th May would take place at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida.

 From closely following the steps of UFC 249, we have identified three key qualities of pioneering change that were displayed by White and the team.

 Bravery

Being brave means having the confidence and courage to take chances. Bold leadership embraces dynamic and competitive landscapes and takes calculated risks in striving for success. 

 The UFC had been pushing hard to bring back fight sports during the pandemic, seeing the vast opportunity of being the only high-level live sports on the air, capitalising on the pay-per-view opportunity and growing their fan base – an outlook that, albeit, attracted criticism from mainstream media outlets.

 Nevertheless, the UFC was fearless in challenging the status quo to pursue excellence and new opportunity. 

 Planning

Due to the high-stakes nature of what it was they were undertaking, the UFC were meticulous in how they planned their operation to maximise success and minimise risk.

 The event took place with no fans at the weigh in or the arena, strictly administering tests for athletes, trainers, staff, and the few select media who travelled to Florida to cover the fights.

 Every journalist had an individual table already set up, including a microphone to prohibit a singular one being passed around the room during interviews. They rode the shuttle to the arena socially distanced, and masks were required at all times. The production crew was also scaled-down, reduced from 130 members to approximately 80.

 More nuanced tactics were adopted to help the fighters prepare for the event, such as changes to room service – a 24-hour protocol with deliveries left at the attendee’s front door – and gyms, as fighters and team members had individual workout rooms at hotels, as well as a personal sauna for weight cutting.

 A strong sanitisation plan was adopted throughout, from headsets to workout mats, for athletes and trainers, all thoroughly cleaned.

 Adapting

 UFC 249 did not go off flawlessly.

 Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and two of his cornermen tested positive for coronavirus, his fight with Uriah Hall consequently scratched from the cards. This showed how the UFC was ready and prepared to adapt to inevitable problems along the way.

 Furthermore, the UFC had proposed the Tachi Palace Casino Resort in Lemoore, California as a new venue for the event, whilst keeping the 18th April date unscathed. By trying to host on tribal land, the UFC was not subject to California’s stay-at-home order, but state regulators still opposed the event plans. Florida officials, however, took a different stance.

 Importantly, the UFC was publicly open about the need to adapt, shaping the narrative of the press by positioning the event as a learning experience for the sport.

White and his PR team worked relentlessly to push out tailored content to shape the message around the event, communication being an integral tool through change management.

 Was the event a success?

 On reflection, it is fair to say that UFC 249 was a triumph for sport, with the sheer amount of pay-per-view purchase and no further reports of infection caused as a direct response to the event.

 Furthermore, many important lessons were learnt that can be applied across the sports industry. White and co. have been pioneers in conducting live sport in a new era.

Rafa Garcia

Global Partnerships Director at the other half

The power of informal networks in Change Management

Informal networks will become increasingly valuable as companies continue to flatten and rely on teams to identify, leverage, and revamp their organisation. 

Trust is a cornerstone of informal networks and is an integral part of the change process, helping to give a clearer picture of the cultural dynamics at work.

Informal networks flourish naturally, leading people to share ideas and work together to achieve their objectives. But to optimise this opportunity, using a trust map can help to select teams that will empower change through informal networks. Furthermore, a map may reveal holes in the network and areas you would expect to find relationship ties, but don’t. 

Having an updated trust map enables you to evaluate risk and be proactive with recruitment and retention. It also helps to identify members who play such crucial roles that their departure would, inevitably, disrupt the network.

During a recent project, we worked with a human resources director to develop their new performance and incentive structure, implementing informal network mapping to identify how information is informally decimated throughout the organisation. 

This meant we could assist the organisation in more proactive internal consultation and communications, thus improving stakeholder engagement within the process and creating buy-in to the new changes.

The ability to foster trustworthy informal networks within groups is important in all walks of life, including the dynamics of a dressing room. A sports team often consists of clusters of like-minded collectives, be it personality, positional or something else, but will almost never be without one or a small group of captains.

He or she who ‘wears the armband’ is part of the formal network, along with the coaches and managers. However, coaches must also understand the informal networks that are entwined within the group to build a successful team – the ultimate goal for any organisation.

Spending time to evaluate such relationships can help teams in numerous ways, such as when recruiting the correct personnel – a coach might not feel he needs another leader, but he might aspire to develop an understudy within the squad that benefits the group during training or to unearth a support player to the side’s superstar; or even to change the culture of the organisation from a losing to a winning mentality. Likewise, removing key talents or cultural assets from a specific or collective group could drastically impact the attitude within the camp.

By letting informal networks flourish naturally, coaching teams can also see growth or identify a decline in individuals from those networks – knowledge that can be used to optimise performance.

For example, how can the relationship between two opening batsmen in cricket be developed to bring the best out of both players? How could the insight from a specialist defensive coach actually benefit a team’s approach to attacking?

In any organisation, these relationships can rise and fall, but a trust map can help identify steps to maximise times of productivity.

By treating organisations as evolving phenomena, we can actively map the informal networks that cascade through our organisations (on or off the field – as well as where those two areas overlap), and after reflection, empower organisations to capitalise on change and support a positive working environment. 

How to make the most of informal networks:

  • Understand the motivations of key stakeholders
  • Do not impose authority in the networks
  • Give your organisation freedom to develop new networks

the other half has the experience and intuition to research, map and support your mastery of informal networks. This will maximise your opportunities to foster a more productive and enjoyable organisational culture, and with that, give you the very best chance to be successful.

An introduction: what is organisational change?

Most businesses spend their time synthesising a formal structure, implementing processes and procedures that target consistency in their output. But as a result, what were once slick operations can eventually become lingering habits, and organisations naturally become less agile to external demands.

The action of organisational change can be continuous or occur for specific periods of time; evolving structure, strategies, operational processes, technologies, or organisational culture to react to an ever-changing business environment. 

At the core of this change management is communication, and we support organisations – internally and externally – in crafting their messages to accurately articulate and engage their stakeholders. 

The Process of Change:

We take the view an organisation is both a given structure and an emerging pattern, exhibiting the delicate balance and unique juxtaposition of organisational change between the stable and the unstable.

This analogy can be reflected in sport: an athlete may have trained a certain way to become a champion, but as their body and those of their opponents evolve over time, different training may be required to maintain champion status and compete against younger, hungrier opponents. The training programme represents the stable factor, with the athletes and their opponents demonstrating the unstable; summarising how stability without flexibility can be detrimental.

Over time, many scholars have interpreted the process of change management in a variety of ways. We have adapted Dr John Kotter’s eight-step model to the context of the sports business landscape and developed our own 11-step model to provide a framework for our partners. 

  1. Establish a sense of urgency
  2. Form [internal] coalition
  3. Engage stakeholders
  4. Create a vision 
  5. Communicate the vision
  6. Empower others to act on the vision 
  7. Plan for and create short-term wins
  8. Consolidate improvements and produce more change
  9. Institutionalise new approaches
  10. Celebrate success
  11. Strive for more

Many organisations contemplate change but fail to see it through. Sports bodies and businesses value the other half in managing organisational transformation and guiding them onto a more practical and pliable pathway.

We pride ourselves on delivering relevance and honesty in all our dealings and would welcome the opportunity to assist you with your next steps.