World Champions: Process or Passion?


What is it that separates high performers and world champions from the rest of us? Think about the All Blacks and their recent stunning Rugby World Cup win - the team didn’t just cruise to victory, they were under immense pressure from the country, their coaches, their competitors and themselves. Becoming a world champion depends on how you perform under that kind of pressure.  

As most world champions will tell you - in business and in sport – success isn’t really about being brilliant (although that helps). Really, it comes down to systematically working through a set of refined processes in times of stress.

Turning passion into process

The All Blacks are the only team to ever win the Rugby World Cup back to back, and this victory follows a long period of unquestionable world dominance. Between their last World Cup win in 2011, and now, they have had a 93% win rate. That’s the highest rate of any professional sports team, in any code, in any country.

No doubt about it, they’re world champions. And that status isn’t an accident. One of their best known and most influential players, Dan Carter, was quoted after the winning match:

“I had been fighting those thoughts all week... every now and then there were thoughts about the outcome, whether we would win or lose.  I just kept pulling myself back to process and kept concentrating on the task at hand.”

That’s telling. The team has obviously learned to set aside the natural human reaction to pressure, and rely on a set of defined processes that work for them.

Emergency action

Similarly, that high performance X factor can be crucial in emergency situations.

Remember the Hudson River plane landing in 2009 where Captain Chelsey Sullenberger was praised for his heroism after turning a potential tragedy into a rescue mission – skillfully landing his crippled plane in the water and getting all 150 passengers to safety.

The outcome of that day could have been very different.  Sullenberger and his first officer, Jeffrey Skiles, reacted with unusual calmness and rationality. They were able to rely on their training in emergency procedures to avert a disaster. They followed the process.

Sullenberger was quoted as saying:

“Even emergencies become just another set of procedures when repeatedly trained.”

World champions in business

We can learn something from the All Blacks and the plane crash heroes. They’re both examples of the ability to execute a process, even under pressure – making all the difference between triumph and failure, or even disaster.

Business success is much more complex and variable, than a single plane landing or a rugby game, so drilling your team in every possible outcome isn’t practical.  But you can support your team with easy access to clear, easy-to-follow processes. You need staff to be able to find them – and use them – when they need them.

Processes are truly tested when teams are under pressure, when teams work through transformational change, or in situations where rapid decision making depends on precise execution. It doesn’t have to be a world cup or a life-threatening event.  When a person or team has to make rapid decisions under pressure – when a customer’s yelling down the end of the phone, or something’s gone wrong on the factory floor, effective process management disciplines can be the difference between success and failure, or even between life and death.


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