England will go into the Five Nations next month fortified by their own high-powered management consultant as proof that they mean business as never before.
Clive Woodward’s secret signing in his pursuit of professional excellence can be identified today as Humphrey Walters, a 56-year-old Devonian with a newly-acquired track record for practising what he preaches in treacherously heavy going.
Anxious to leave no stone unturned in his crusade to win the World Cup, England’s enlightened coach has extended his management team by hiring one of the country’s leading experts in teamwork, motivation and leadership.
Walters takes up his new appointment fresh from risking life and limb every day for 10 months, as a competitor in Chay Blyth’s Round-the-World yacht race, not inappropriate for someone named after an admiral of Sir Francis Drake’s fleet.
He said: ‘I wanted to put my money where my mouth is, to find out what leadership and teamwork are really about when they are critical to your daily survival. I needed the street-cred which comes with life-and-death situations.’
He has written a book about it, Global Challenge, full of experiences such as rescuing the skipper swept overboard during the ‘Shrieking Sixties’ off Cape Horn. Comparatively speaking, the Five Nations ought to be plain sailing.
Humphrey Walters, managing director of the MaST management training organisation, looks down at one of the BT Global Challenge yachts from the controls of his helicopter. Mr Walters is preparing to take part in a 30,000-mile round-the-world race on board one of the yachts. He said: “I am particularly interested in high performance. I want to put myself in a tough environment to remind myself of the dynamics of success and failure.
A 10-minute lesson in how to fly a helicopter brought senior managers a valuable reminder of the problems faced by their colleagues.
When the top executives of KP foods, the international food giant, got together for the noon break during a management development programme, they were unexpectedly faced with a challenge outside their normal experience.
On other days they had relaxed by playing doubles at tennis or badminton. This time, Humphrey Walters, managing director of Management and Skills Training (MaST), which was running the course, told them they would each be given a 10-minute lesson on how to fly a helicopter, then be taken up in it and asked to take over…
Walters notes: “Senior managers can be quite impatient with those who aren’t as quick on the uptake as they are. The idea of suddenly asking them to fly a helicopter is what gives them the experience of what it’s like to learn a new skill – one which may not come naturally. It reintroduced them to a feeling they may have forgotten – the uncertainty and the fears of failure that come with tackling a task you’ve never done before.
Sir Clive Woodward insists it will be vital for Andy Robinson, his successor as England coach, to think creatively and embrace influences from outside the sporting arena if he is to move the team forward.
"Sport can learn a lot from business. A coach could go and get a top business guru to come in and get some ideas on how to operate more effectively in managing people," Woodward told the Press Association.
"The England team has got to change now, it has to move forward very quickly and he has got to be responsible for that change.
"Don’t just look at other sports for change, look at businesses as well."
As England coach Woodward once travelled to Israel after being told about research being done into the characteristics of leadership, he employed Humphrey Walters, an organisational consultant, and carted the squad off for a session with the Royal Marines.
In his new book, ‘Winning!’, Woodward analyses the science behind England’s success, the obsessive attention to preparation and the influences from outside the rugby and sporting spheres.
"Hopefully you could read the book as a businessman and any sports coach will get something out of it," he said.
"Humphrey Walters was excellent with ideas that are so obvious but because you have been involved in rugby all your life you miss them.
"It is something you must not be scared the moment you don’t have that there is a danger you become very samey, and that is a danger in sports coaching."