Professor Alex Hill

Summit Session: Are You Radically Traditional?

Professor Alex Hill
February 14, 2019

This video was produced by Leaders in Sport during their Leadership & Culture Performance Summit Session in November 2018.

Professor Alex Hill, Director of the Centre for High Performance, explores lessons in sustaining success for over 100 years with Royal College of Art Vice-Chancellor Paul Thompson and Jonnie Noakes, the Director of Teaching & Learning at Eton College.

Based on the findings from a seven-year study looking into the successes of the New Zealand All Blacks, British Cycling, NASA, the Royal Academy of Music, the Royal College of Art, the Royal Shakespeare Company and Eton College, for lessons in how to sustain excellence and continue to evolve, whilst keeping a stable core.

Key takeaways:

  • Fanning the flames of competition is a tried and tested method for driving results at Eton, but it has its downsides. Recent trials in teaching ‘growth mindset’ to 17 year-olds has resulted in more ‘pro-social’, empathetic behaviours.
  • Ultimately, quality of relationships is central to any system of pastoral care, and at Eton, those are developed through rigorous adherence to pupil-to-housemaster number ratios. At the RCA, creative relationships are sparked through engineered social situations and workplace design.
  • Character development is an intrinsic part of the traditional British public school education system, and Eton are determined to remain at the forefront. The school is currently running a two-year character research project, which includes understanding how to teach performance and moral skills – everything from ambition through to social connectedness and willingness to serve.

Thinking Points:

  • Most organisations change their leaders every five years, but these Centennials keep them in place for more than 10. Carefully manage transitions. Eton appoints its House Masters for 13 years, has a two-year handover between one master and the next, and the old master then stays on for five-plus years to continue offering advice and support.
  • Create disruptive accidents: move and bump, live like a family. Rather than trying to be efficient by putting similar people together, make your people walk around and work on different projects, to allow them to share problems, ideas and opportunities.
  • Disruptive nervousness: focus on getting better not bigger. Most organisations tell you how much they grew or how successful they were last year — growth to these Centennials makes them nervous. Rather than celebrating it, unpack it — to work out what’s been missed and what could be better.
  • Disruptive experts: 70% part-time, world’s best. While most companies strive to own talent and reduce staff turnover, the Centennials do the opposite. They employ up to 70% of staff part-time, deliberately, to stay fresh and create a continuous flow of new ideas.
  • Stable purpose: shape society, engage the next generation of talent. Centennial organisations are incredibly strategic, looking 20 to 30 years ahead, to understand how society is evolving, how they can shape it, and how they can get the talent to do this.

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Read our HBR article How Winning Organizations Last 100 Years