Buying into vision is key to success
Leinster rugby continually sets targets, says head of rugby operations Guy Easterby
Leinster’s Ben Te’o, Jack McGrath and Johnny Sexton with Eoghan Masterson of Connacht at the Guinness PRO12 in the RDS on Jan 1st, 2016. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
As head of rugby operations for Leinster Rugby, Guy Easterby is responsible for ensuring the club’s operations run smoothly off the field. That covers everything from discipline and succession-planning to background staff and team logistics – all the integral components of an elite sports organisation.
“I think the key to high performance is that it’s a habit, not an act,” says Easterby, a 44-year-old former Irish international who has been in the role six years. “You can’t just decide to be a high performer at any given time. It’s a level you have to reach on a day-to-day basis and that requires an attitude that must be ingrained as an organisation evolves. You have to make sure your recruitment is done with that in mind: ‘Is this person going to be able to continually deliver within our culture?’”
Easterby credits Michael Cheika for instilling a higher standard of practice at the club during his term as Leinster coach from 2005 to 2010. It wasn’t so much experience that the Australian brought to the organisation, Easterby explains, but rather a business background that gave Cheika a clear sense of how he could achieve his objectives.
There is also the need for an organisation to buy into a managerial vision at every level. Given the degree of analysis applied to the team, both internally and externally, Easterby admits shortcomings will stick out quickly.
“Our business is about winning,” he says. “Once delivering excellence on a daily basis is at the core of what you’re doing, then it becomes very obvious when someone isn’t producing that. People pick up on it. Yes, we have a development arc to what we do but we also have a weekly barometer in having to perform on the pitch, so it’s a little bit different to business where you might have quarterly targets or reviews. With us, it’s constant. You’re aware of it all the time.”
Over the past few years, Easterby has studied strategic HR management as well as various other facets of business in his spare time. One of the most valuable lessons he’s picked up along the way is that everyone has their own motivational make-up.
Leinster has had its challenges this season, with four new coaches coming in and 20 players away as part of Ireland’s World Cup squad. But that transition period has also led to breakthrough moments from Leinster academy players such as Garry Ringrose, Peter Dooley and Josh van der Flier. Managing the succession of that kind of talent involves recognising the right moment to provide them with opportunities, while making sure they’re not overawed by the task at hand.
“There’s a balancing act in not rushing someone through because while you can see they’re talented, you also have to remember these are young guys. You want them to be able to think for themselves a little bit, because that’s how they learn. But you also have to make sure you pick the right people around them.
“During those in-game moments when the pressure is on, they need to have someone to lead. That’s what accelerates the learning curve.”
Easterby believes that, ultimately, the key to getting a group of ambitious, high-performing individuals to achieve success together lies not in their individual goals but in how committed they are to the organisation as a whole.
“We’re lucky in that most of our people are actually from Leinster,” he says. “Therefore they have that natural desire to play for their home team. They’re representing their families, their province, and that’s an incredibly powerful tool in terms of trying to make sure people perform the best they can.”