Chapter One – The 12th Man
The final flashbulb had popped long ago. The team, with their captain and trophy arms aloft had disappeared down the tunnel. J.P. Wilson sat in Block C, Row F, Seat 56 and surveyed the emptying arena. The achievements at the club this past year had been unparalleled and as far as she was concerned, completely expected. Most would have thought this impossible even just a few short months ago.
So what had changed to turn this well meaning, sincere, underachieving group of managers, players, coaches and supporters into such a formidable force? J.P. knew. J.P. was certain. The fundamental change had come about when under J.P.’s guidance, the club began to engage with, and listen to, the voice of the supporters. The voice of the 12th man. Like most clubs, Midtown Athletic had its own band of loyal supporters. Supporters who, against the odds turned up week in, week out. They paid their hard earned money into the club in order to watch distinctly average sporting performances in a crumbling, high maintenance stadium with positively Victorian standards of service.
For years, the supporters had put up with all of this. They would moan to themselves, moan to each other, and occasionally they would vent their frustration at the players and the management. They frequently came up with ideas about how to improve the situation. Ideas that could generate profit for the club, ideas to help keep costs under control, ideas about how to make this a better place to enjoy their sport. No one seemed to be listening, and nothing seemed to change…
Before turning her attention to the local team, J.P. had previously learned all about the power of the 12th man in her business life. She is a successful leader in a division of a large company. A few months ago it was struggling, holding back the other divisions. Its cost base was wrong, its margins were insufficient. The management information was not robust enough to enable sound, informed decision making. On top of all that, the annual employee engagement survey was rarely, if ever, acted upon.
J.P. and a small team of people from across the organisation managed, against the odds, to break some lifelong, previously sacrosanct beliefs and behaviours, to turn the ailing division into the jewel in the crown of the organisation. J.P. isn’t the boss, at heart she’s simply an active listener. Nothing unusual about that, you might think. You would be wrong.
J.P. invested most of her time listening, not to the chain of command and management around and above her, but to those in the engine room of the business. She listened carefully to their stories and suggestions, played them back to be sure she understood correctly and then helped the story teller to bring them to life, own them, be responsible for them. She measured the impact of the idea, developed ways to celebrate its success and deal with the consequences of inaction. Most importantly J.P. ensured that these ideas and plans were communicated effectively so that success was shared, failures were learned from and everyone could be encouraged to develop their own ways of making a better business.
Sounds great, too good to be true almost? Certainly there were times when things didn’t go completely to plan, however J.P. had built rigour into her listening and thinking. All ideas were welcome and were quickly and ruthlessly scoped. If they could immediately benefit customers, cut costs, improve margin or cashflow they were tested. If successful they were communicated and implemented. If they didn’t fit the immediate strategy but were felt to have some potential benefit they were prioritised, sequenced and reviewed at an agreed time.
Enough of the theory, what about some action? Future chapters will tell short tales which made a measurable impact on the business. They all fit the strategy and they all happened as a result of employee engagement, actively listened to, and actively acted upon.