I was absolutely entranced by the Saracens versus Northampton Rugby Union Premiership Final at Twickenham. Not just because of the quality of the game, which was harrowingly-stunning in its bruising tackling and excellence in its nervous energy; but mainly because of the way that Saracens have taken the Premiership by storm – known by some as the ‘cult of the Saracens’.
Their chief executive is Edward Griffiths, previously chief executive of the South African Rugby Union. Griffiths is viewed as their “charismatic, unorthodox high priest.” He doesn’t view the end result as the most important aspect of the game. “Too much of sport operates under the tyranny of the result,” Griffiths said to BBC Sport.
Our Core Principle
“The core principle at Saracens is that we gather talented people together, treat them unbelievably well and in return they try unbelievable hard. That is it. Everything else – winning or losing matches, winning or losing Cups – are just outcomes. They are not the primary aim.
“We exist to have a positive impact on as many people as possible.”
Their regular foreign trips are an obvious part of the process.
Since 2010 the players have sunned themselves in the Italian resort Rimini, hung out in Miami, hit the ski slopes in Switzerland and returned to Munich for a stay at Oktoberfest – all while their rivals are slogging it out on the training field.
One trip involved the players separating into groups to make their way from their Hertfordshire base to a rendezvous in Barcelona by whatever means they chose. On another, they climbed Cape Town’s Table Mountain together.
This year they went to New York, taking in an ice hockey match at Madison Square Gardens.
Treating staff ‘Unbelievably Well’
It works and Saracens pay much more than lip service to the concept of treating their staff “unbelievably well”.
Griffiths says “It is a carefully-planned process to develop a group of people who will do whatever is necessary for each other and ultimately love each other.”
What is interesting in a sport renowned for its muscles and power, the brains of the team are developed as well. Within the Saracens staff there are 29 undergraduate degrees, 11 Masters degrees, one doctorate, two doctors and a professor. Brad Barritt (above) is soon to complete a Masters in business administration.
Every month on a Tuesday lunchtime, a speaker – after an introduction by a nervous young academy player – talks to the club as a whole.
There are workshops to learn negotiating and networking skills, charity partnerships and social events for players’ partners and creches and personalised Christmas gifts for their children.
Player Paul Gustard said, “To a man, we have changed as people. Not only have we become a better rugby side, but we have become better people. Nobody really comes to Saracens and leaves two years later like they did in the old days. They come here, play their career, retire and move on with a job we’ve helped them get.”
What can we learn?
Managers in business can identify with much of what this premier rugby club stands for. Re-visit some of the quotes above:
“We gather talented people together, treat them unbelievably well and in return they try unbelievable hard.”
“”We exist to have a positive impact on as many people as possible.”
“Develop a group of people who will do whatever is necessary for each other”
“Nobody really comes to Saracens and leaves two years later like they did in the old days”
The results come naturally, and are driven on by the journey of discovery. Managers can learn much from what is a great sporting team: Gather people together; treat them unbelievably well; have a positive impact on people and develop people.
When you put the emphasis on how people want to be treated, you change the mindset of the whole company and you start to get the results you want without having to place the emphasis on cuts or making money.
I see this team as a great example of what is possible to achieve without losing your values for results-only direction
Head of Training and Development
Originally published: 2 June, 2014
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