An exhaustive review has been completed and the verdict is in. The demise of Australian cricket was not caused by the inability of the Australian batsmen to cope with reverse swing or Mitchell Johnson’s failure to consistently land the ball on a good length. No, Australian cricket is in the doldrums due to ineffective leadership, unclear accountability, a poor culture, a lack of feedback, and poor talent and succession management practices.
Most of us know the context. After dominating men’s world cricket for the better part of two decades the Australian team’s performances have rapidly declined (we are currently ranked fifth in the ICC Test Rankings), culminating last season in a devastating home Ashes series defeat at the hands of the old enemy. Under the weight of public and media outrage, Cricket Australia commissioned an extensive review into the Australian team’s performance.
The review was chaired by corporate heavyweight Don Argus, former Chairman of BHP Billiton, and the panel’s recommendations undoubtedly heavily reflect the success factors which saw BHP Billiton become a leading player in the world’s resources sector.
Some of the critical issues which the panel found to have hindered the Australian team’s performance and their recommendations for improvement are outlined below, many of which provide salient lessons for the corporate world.
Success ultimately led to poor performance
Australia’s dominance for such a long period of time masked a range of structural, cultural and organisational problems which needed to be addressed, and in hindsight Cricket Australia took too long to act. After all, who would have dared change a structure and system which had delivered such unprecedented and sustained success?
Cricket Australia’s organisational structure is inhibiting the side’s performance and culture and it needs to be fixed. The panel acknowledge that making changes to such an entrenched structure and culture is not going to be easy, stating that “… change is constant and difficult to lead. Cricket is not exempt from that phenomenon”.
Lack of clear accountability and authority
The panel found that “No one person is currently accountable, or has full authority for, the performance of the Australian team” and stated that a single point of accountability for the performance of the Australian team is required, in a step described as “critical”.
The panel also recommended that the captain becomes a team selector “to ensure appropriate accountability and authority”. Reading between the lines Cricket Australia is saying that if the captain has the authority to play a major role in team selection decisions he can then rightly also be held accountable for the performance of the team.
Furthermore, the panel identified a lack of accountability in relation to players’ performance, stating that “Players must be held accountable when they are not performing”. Accountability, including consequences, is a foundation for high performance.
Poor team culture and leadership
The panel found that there is a “… lack of a strong culture in the current Australian team”. To remedy this they recommended actions including:
- A 360 degree feedback process for players and staff followed by “adult conversations” with players about how they are perceived
- The Captain and Vice-Captain should receive mentoring by an external professional
- Senior players must role model the desired behaviours
- Team leaders must set a clear direction for the side
The report makes it clear that the Head Coach and captain are responsible for “… developing the team’s vision and strategy and must create a High Performance culture in … the side”. With Michael Clarke having recently been awarded the captaincy which was relinquished by Ricky Ponting, he has a great opportunity to reshape the direction, culture and performance of the side.
Inadequate performance management, feedback and development
The panel declared that there must be “appropriate performance metrics, targets and review processes” for the team, including:
- Clearly communicated performance benchmarks
- In-depth performance reviews, at least six monthly
- Appropriate rewards, recognition and consequences.
It went on to say that “Players … must be given appropriate feedback along the way, including encouragement, acknowledgement of their strengths and full and frank assessments of what they need to do to improve” and have development plans in place.
The panel clearly believes that performance management will drive better individual and team performance for Australian cricket.
Inadequate talent management and succession planning
A lack of talent management and succession planning contributed to the decline in Australian cricket and the panel recommended a much greater focus on these processes to help improve the team’s long-term performance.
Australian cricket once had an imposing production line which generated outstanding talent such as Glen McGrath, Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden, however when those players retired there was simply not the talent available to replace them.
As a response to this predicament “The panel has … recommended that the National Selector become a full-time role, and function as the “HR Manager” of Australian Cricket, managing our top talent more actively than we are at present – in particular by communicating more proactively with those with the potential to play for Australia, whether they are currently in or out of the team”. The National Selector as HR Manager – a very progressive step forward for Australian cricket!
The panel also stated that “Players … need to know what is required to get to the next level”, with the inference that there is currently a lack of clarity about the capabilities and proven performance levels required for a player to progress from their state side into the national team.
So, Cricket Australia is embarking on a major organisational restructure, culture change, and rebuilding of its team and talent pipeline with the aim of becoming the number one team in all formats of the game. It has a clear strategy in place and will have to hold its nerve in sticking to the plan in order to produce long-term and sustainable results, while potentially having to deal with some pain and criticism in the short to medium term.
The lessons learned and shared publicly by Cricket Australia reinforce the value of the basics which drive high performance in organisations – accountability, leadership, culture, clear performance expectations and feedback to name a few. How would your organisation fare if it was reviewed closely by Argus and co?