Paying the penalty of inconsistency

By David Penney

The dust has now settled on the England football team’s latest ‘so near, so far’ moment at a major tournament.

After a steady rather than stirring journey through to the final, there was a certain inevitability that after failing to overcome the Italians in normal time, England’s quest for glory would succumb to the vagaries of the dreaded penalty shootout.

It was certainly a heroic effort to make it to a major final for the first time in more than half a century and in the end and there is certainly no shame in losing to a fantastic Italian side who had looked liked potential winners from the opening game of the tournament.

Afterall, when it comes down to a penalty shoot-out, the form guide often goes out the window and it all becomes something of a lottery – or so the prevailing narrative would have you believe.

In fact, while there are undoubtedly unique pressures that come with taking a penalty on which the hopes of a nation rest, the reality is that luck has very little to do with it.

Sir Clive Woodward, who managed the England rugby team to their World Cup win in 2003, said the issue was not necessarily temperament or technique but one of consistency – a word that comes up again and again when trying to understand the difference between good and great.

Sir Clive cites the example of the legendary Jonny Wilkinson who would practice his penalties aiming at just a single six-inch wide post and wouldn’t stop until he was hitting the post every time.

The mercurial George Best was undoubtedly one of the most gifted footballers of his or any era but he would apparently practice hitting the ball against the crossbar with each foot from the edge of the penalty area and then the half way line in every training session so that when it came to a matchday, his accuracy was a closed skill and seemingly instinctive.

As the great Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said, successful people aren’t the people who are motivated, but are those who have consistency in their motivation.

To be talented and motivated will take you so far but it is consistency that is key to really getting ahead of the competition, something that we certainly have seen in Gareth Southgate’s management style, which has been unwavering in its commitment to building a team based on key values such as respect and integrity. 

It is a lesson that is as important in business as in sport, and never more so as we continue to navigate the challenges of the pandemic.

Consistency is such an important concept when it comes to running a successful business and broadly speaking, a business of any scale will struggle to achieve its goals without a consistency in its strategy, its planning and in its execution. 

It is the desired panacea in all aspects of business, from creating a consistent brand that customers recognize and understand to ensuring a consistent approach to management that underpins rather than undermines all the hard work that goes into creating a winning culture.

Most importantly for a business like Penney Financial Partners, it is maintaining a consistency of service and ensuring the same client service every time – or better – regardless of whatever else may be happening in the business or the wider world.

This has been a huge challenge for many businesses through the uncertainty of the pandemic, particularly with many responding to the crisis by adopting new processes that are unfamiliar to both clients and colleagues alike. 

It was Thomas Edison who said that the value of an idea is in the using it but many a great idea has failed to live up to its promise through a lack of consistency in its application. 

However, the great thing about consistency – whether in sport or business – is that it is not a skill or a talent – it is something that we all have direct control over.

Leadership guru John Maxwell said that small disciplines repeated with consistency every day lead to great achievements gained slowly over time, an understated but powerful mantra that really gets to the heart of what it means to be a successful business – and one that the England football team’s penalty takers might do well to take note of.  

The Partner Practice is an Appointed Representative of and represents only St. James's Place Wealth Management plc (which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority) for the purpose of advising solely on the group's wealth management products and services, more details of which are set out on the group's website The 'St. James's Place Partnership' and the title 'Partner' are marketing terms used to describe St. James's Place representatives.

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