Dealing with crisis

When I do any talks at different businesses, I talk a lot about crisis management. I have experienced many variations of crises in my career, of all shapes and sizes and have managed them in different ways.  In the middle of our current common crisis - this global pandemic - they seem insignificant. But we do all still have our own responsibilities and challenges that we have to deal with now as we navigate through this tough time, no matter how big or small.

In my talks I often ask the question to the audience, ‘what could be an example of a crisis at your company?’.  At one of my most recent sessions before the lockdown began, the company that I was speaking to had experienced a prolonged power cut that morning. This company was primarily a call centre, and heavily reliant on computers and telephones, so this was particularly problematic and the discussion was very apt. We almost had to cancel the session but luckily, they were able to recover very quickly and we were able to go ahead.  It was clear that they had prepared for this to happen and it didn't affect them too much - a good example to prove my point that you have to prepare for the worst to be able to deal with problems when they happen.

For me, as a coach, one of the big crises we planned for is losing players. This is one of the biggest risks for us as a team sport and given the nature of Rugby League, one that can have a big impact through injury. Unfortunately, I have experienced crises like this throughout my career – one in particular was a loss of 70% of my top team players through injury, for the majority of the 2016 season.

We planned (as much as we could) for this. To help us prepare for losing players, we used to practice it in training. In the middle of a drill, I would remove players from the field one by one, without telling the team.  This adds more and more pressure, forcing the team to adapt with less players.  So that in a high-pressure game situation, it is not as much of a shock. 

Because we had planned for this, it wasn’t as damaging as it could have been in that 2016 season (we finished the season as Grand Final winners).  

There are problems that you can and can't plan for though, like the situation that we are in now. The chance of a global pandemic happening is very low so you wouldn't spend a lot of time planning for this. Ordinarily, it wouldn't be worthwhile spending the time to plan for something that is unlikely to happen.

Establish foundations

It's been over 12 months since I resigned from my dream job at the Wigan Warriors. As a Wigan lad, born and bred, it was an absolute pleasure to have served as coach and to have led them to many prestigious trophies. It has taken quite a lot of adjustment, to transition from such a high pressured and intense job. But what I have found incredibly enjoyable, are my speaking engagements - speaking to different businesses from all industries and sizes. 

When you are a head coach of a sports club like Wigan Warriors, it is easy to get wrapped up inside a bubble. I made a conscious effort to create relationships with other clubs and businesses, as there is a lot to learn from each other. But there isn't much time available to spend with people outside of that bubble - every minute of every day is spent on making sure you win every game. 

Now that I have had more time and freedom to speak to different organisations and business leaders through my speaking engagements, I have been surprised at how many organisations don’t seem to get the basics right.


"You have to establish the right foundations to build stable success - culture and standards. "

You need to create a strong culture that everyone buys into. This culture will trickle through to your customers (whether that be a customer buying a product or a sports fan watching a game) so it needs to be reflective of what you want to achieve and what your customers want to see.

In addition, you need to set standards that are non-negotiable. There are certain things that you will need to do in order to meet your goals - don't let them slip. If you let them slip in day to day activities, they are bound to slip at the most important times.

You also need to communicate them clearly to everyone within the organisation so that they know what is expected of them. A lot of business leaders know what they want and expect but if you asked every employee, you would probably get different answers. Everyone needs to be on the same page.

Do not compromise on the culture, standards and communication - continually hold those standards sacred. Getting these solid foundations in place will give you the best chance at succeeding.

Handling the pressure

With the Super League and NRL seasons coming to an end and the RL World Cup gaining momentum, I am really missing the excitement of competing in these big games. 

For me, the big games are what I lived for. The feeling of having led the team to this stage in the competition, then figuring out a way to beat the opponent in this final game of the season is the best and most rewarding challenge. 

It can be easy to let these occasions get the better of you. The finals games are incredibly hyped up and emotions can run very high – everything that has been done over the course of the year has built up to this moment. It is the leader of the group whose job it is to ensure that the emotions are kept in check and lead by example. 

"The most important thing is to stick to the process."

There is a reason why teams get to finals - there must be a successful process that has worked throughout the season. It is important to stick to that. The play offs, semi-finals and finals are no different to any other game. You are going to win them by going through the same process that you have done to win all of the other games – working out a chink in the oppositions armour that you can take advantage of and executing the plan perfectly. 

It is exactly the same in business. When attempting to win the biggest deal/order/contract you have ever won, stick to the same process that has enabled you to win all of the other deals. Plan every detail and stick to it. There are always curveballs that are thrown your way in both sport and business, so it is also important to prepare for every eventuality.

Put all of your thoughts and energy into how you are going to win, and the rest will follow.

But finally, when the job is done and you have got the win - celebrate! Celebrate hard! Because it is one of the best feelings in the world.

There’s always a way

How many times in your life, do you feel you have been pushed to breaking point? 

And how many times have you gotten through those breaking points?

But how many times have you given up?

The way I look at things is that there is ALWAYS a way through. You must always find a way and nothing is impossible. 

When I was striving to become a Rugby League Coach, it was tough. When I was starting out, I was working a full-time job as a key account manager at a construction company – Tarmac. Alongside this, I was working my way up the coaching ranks at Wigan Warriors. I started off as a scout, searching for the best young talent in the North West, then worked my way through the academy set up. I earned very little money and was working very long hours to ensure that I was successful. 

I started my day at 6am travelling around Manchester visiting sites, at lunch I would analyse and clip videos from training, ready for me to show to the players at night to help them improve. I’d then carry on my afternoon closing business and go straight to training after that. I’d run the training session, stay around afterwards to plan games and help individual players. Then I’d go home to my family at 9 or 10pm. 

Having a full-time job as well as coaching at night and at weekends was incredibly hard work – I was working 70 hour weeks and was getting very little renumeration for the coaching. But I knew I needed to do it to be successful so that I could progress. 

At junior and academy level, you don’t get many resources – that’s just the way it is. But I wanted to win so badly that I had to find a way around those limitations! That’s where my girls came in. I recruited my wife and daughters to analyse games. I would watch the game, shouting out the information to capture, whilst they wrote it down. Stopping and starting the recording, so that I could re-watch different plays, defensive efforts (or lack of); to make clips of the game to show players. This could go on for hours, through all of the stopping and restarting. That’s a lot of time out of a weekend for teenage girls! But they did it because they wanted to help their Dad and they knew why I needed to do it (and they had little choice in the matter!).

It paid off because we won 7 Grand Finals and 6 League Leaders in 7 years in the academy. 

Others might have given in and made excuses. “I don’t have an analyst, so I can’t get those stats”, “I don’t have time to do it”, “it doesn’t matter”.

"There is always a way!"

The question really is – how much do you want it? If you want to achieve something that much, you will find a way and you will have to get creative with the way that you solve problems.

How many times have you used obstacles as excuses? 

I would challenge you to think differently about obstacles. Try and enjoy the challenge of navigating around them.