I wonder if this happens to everyone who writes a blog, after a while you end up writing the type of blog you vowed you’d never write. I’ve always been a bit snobby about those ‘leadership lessons of Steve Jobs/Winston Churchill/Mahatma Ghandi…’ blogs, but here am I with my own thinly disguised ‘leadership lessons of Eddie Jones’ effort.

I’ve been putting this off for months, but I read a quote from him at the weekend that put the nail in the coffin. Jones was talking to reporters about the type of players he wants in his squad. It’s a message that he’s repeated consistently since he took over as Head Coach of the England rugby team.

“They are kids who desperately want to play for England and get better.”

Eddie Jones, Head Coach of the England rugby team

At The Pioneers we specialise in group behaviour and culture change. And for the past 6 months, Eddie Jones has been telling everyone the ingredients of the secret sauce that makes it work.

How to change group behaviour

Let me explain… there’s one simple idea at the heart of our business: if you apply a standard to a large group of people you expect to get a normal distribution of ability – a bell curve. Some people are terrible, some outstanding (the ones we call the pioneers), but most people are about ‘average’.

Our view is that one of the driving motivations for how people behave at work is to ‘fit in’. They want to be accepted by their team and they want to feel like they belong.

Because of this, most people tend to copy ‘average’ – they adopt the behaviours and attitudes of the majority of the people around them. It’s very unusual for someone to set out to be the worst performer in the team. If you find yourself in this position, it’s socially uncomfortable because the group finds ways to express their displeasure about how you’re letting the side down. But it’s often equally challenging to be the out-performer or pioneer. All too often, the pack tries to pull the pioneer back in by sending them subtle messages like; ‘just calm down a bit’ or ‘that’s not how we do it around here’. And if that doesn’t work, the group marks the pioneer out as ’teacher’s pet’ and tries to ostracise them.

All this means that in stable populations, social norms (what you need to do to fit in) remain quite stable. This is a huge problem if you’re a leader who wants to improve performance. Indeed, this is why leaders find it so hard to change the culture in their organisation.

But now Eddie Jones is telling everyone how to do it: you have to change the risk profile of the group, so it becomes more risky to stick at average and less risky to try and be outstanding.

The two steps to doing this are encapsulated in the quote from Jones above…

  1. Make people really want to be part of the group. The more they want to be part of the team, the more likely they are to change and harmonise their attitudes and behaviour in order to fit in.
  2. Make sure that the single strongest social norm within the team is that everyone has to try to get better. Once you get this in place you create a collective growth mindset where people start pushing and supporting each other to get better.

That’s how you change group behaviour.