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Defying Bela Guttmann’s Three Year Rule,

Blair McPherson - former Director, Author and Blogger

It’s a phenomenon that’s well recognised in successful sports teams but it applies just as much to organisations and their leadership and that is the decline that sets in in the third year. It’s the need for constant rejuvenation, it’s a skill in its own right and an explanation for why even the best managers/ leaders move on.

The first year, as a leader, you make things clear and people more or less abide by the vision, by year two unless you reinforce them these messages become diluted with absence of focus and staff turnover, by the third year the vision is a faded memory.

By year three competitors, partners and colleagues know your moves ,can anticipate them. The failure to adapt and keep things fresh means losing the element of surprise and the ability to keep everyone on their toes.

The board, senior management and most employees will buy into a vision delivered with clarity, sincerity and enthusiasm. By year two doubt will start to creep in if pragmatism or conflicting priorities start to emerge. By year three unless this erosion of trust and honesty has been successfully addressed the vision will just be some fine sounding words.

It’s hard for any leader to come up with different ways to get the message across, to convey the same level of enthusiasm and energy that they had in year one and so their ability to inspire people who have heard it all before is much harder.

It doesn’t have to be like this even if it so often is. Hire people in tune with the vision and culture, ensure that new employees are sold the vision, make sure managers are reinforcing the vision and if the senior management team or board makes decisions that appear to contradict the vision and values of the organisation acknowledge this and discuss it openly and honestly. Finally if a member of the senior management team has lost faith in the vision then they have to go. Nothing bring about the year three rule more certainly than division at the top.

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