Anyone that knows me well knows I’m not a sporty bloke, I regularly joke my wife knows more about any sport than I do.  I’ve always rather had my head in a book, but a couple of years ago I was very privileged to be able to listen to Clive Woodward talk about transforming the England rugby team and managing the London 2012 Olympics and I’m equally proud to say what he had to say brought me to tears. He really was awesome.

One of the things he talked about was “Lombardi time”.  Vince Lombardi coached the Green Bay Packers in the 60s.  Lombardi had apparently said “Winning isn’t a sometime thing, it’s an all the time thing.  You don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all of the time.”    

The point Lombardi was making is that consistent behaviour and consistent habits are crucial.  Woodward adopted the same approach to time keeping with the rugby team, he said “discipline with time keeping is non-negotiable”.  A tiny but, absolutely fundamental, component of transforming the England rugby team.

Jake Humphrey and Damian Hughes, in their High-Performance podcasts, talk about these consistent non-negotiable habits they call trademark behaviours; something that you commit to unequivocally.  When a situation gets tough and everything else disintegrates, these trademark behaviours remain in place.  Your commitment to these behaviours, through thick and thin, are the magic ingredient in the recipe that makes for high-performance.

It is this group of non-negotiable behaviours that are your values.

In some circles no jeans and dressing smartly are the driver for more significantly characteristics; self-respect and professionalism.  Apparently, Sir Alex Ferguson was an absolute stickler… he expected that from the moment anyone on the squad set foot in the training ground they look and behave like a Manchester United footballer.

But, it could be said that attention to these tiny non-negotiable habits are petty, even irrelevant.   Not so, various studies have shown that these trademark behaviours are a key ingredient in any high performing team.  Incredibly, Jake and Damian report that the ability to build these consistent behaviours is actually more important than any other objective that a company might set.  They even go as far as to suggest if a team “just” aimed to exhibit a consistent set of behaviours the team is significantly more likely to perform well.  Non-negotiables provide that elusive route to excellence.

But how do you establish your own non negotiables?

The trick is to work out what trademark behaviours will actually make a difference in the stressful moments that show up in your environment.  The question is; what’s the difference that makes the difference between success and failure? It’s a knotty question and not usually something that you can be done on the back of a fag packet.  It takes a bit of time and we recently worked with one company to create theirs and the process we went through included:

  • The brain dump
    • Identifying stressful moments and pinch points
    • Identifying and labelling key behaviours
  • The collation and aggregation
  • The winning words
  • The debate – part 1
  • The finessing
  • Debate – parts 2, 3, 4…
  • The long wait

People were given links to a couple of videos and sent a questionnaire regarding what they thought the values of the company ought to be.  They were also given a copy of, and taken through, the Statius “how to” on values. Each of the individuals then did a brain dump and that information was collected and aggregated on a spreadsheet.  This part was as much art as it was science, different words were assigned to different categories and some words jumped about a bit, so it is usually a bit of an iterative process.

Once all the categories were established the debate began where the question was, What really was the actionable non-negotiable that was core to the categorisation?

Another management thinker, Simon Sinek, suggests, and we agree, that values should be verbs not nouns.  Verbs are actionable nouns are not.  So,

  • Tell the truth, or perhaps do the right thing, not “honesty”.
  • Look at things from a different angle, not “innovation”.

After the finessing there were a number of different debates until we thought the whole thing had settled, but rather than rush out and publish the shiny new document we then opted for what might be called the “long wait”.  Essentially, we put a bit of time aside, actually six months, just to ensure we were happy with the results and to “test” different scenarios as they occurred throughout the waiting period.

In summary, we’d suggest most companies can boil their values down into a small number all values, ideally, no more than five, and some hints include:

  • Make them simple
  • Make them count
  • Make them clear

But, defining your non negotiables is not enough.  You need to live them and to live them you need to make them habits. You need to make them consistent.

Habits – making non negotiables consistent

People like BJ Fogg and Charles Duhigg suggest that understanding the power of habits is simple;  there is a 1) que 2) a routine and 3) a reward. (Hint. Understanding might be easy, execution is harder.  Sorry)

James Clear has developed a concept he calls habit stacking for which there is a formula!  (I love formulas!) and the formula is

  • When I do X
  • I will also do Y

At one of our regular quarterly coaching meetings a director of one company revealed he had countered his previously poor planning with the habit:

  • When I have my orange juice at breakfast
  • I will write my plan for the day

This simple habit transformed his life.

Applying this approach, habits develop their own momentum each tiny decision creates a chain reaction of good intentions.  It is using these tiny habits that’s help create a culture in which trademark behaviours occur naturally and without effort.

Jake and Damian also suggest that if we are consistent about building long term behaviours, we need nothing less to change a sense of who we are.   James Clear agrees, in Atomic Habits, he suggests if you don’t think of yourself as a high performer you’ll never behave like one.  A view endorsed by James March, a Stanford university professor, he suggests if we think ourselves a certain type of person we make decisions that align with that identity.  So, if you want to build trademark behaviours in the long term you may need to change who you are.   Once we ingrain a behaviour, we begin to see it as part of who we are.  That in turn allows us to persevere with it through thick and thin.

So, once we have defined our non-negotiables, we need to:

  • Commit to them
  • Rehearse them
  • Communicate them

But what if we stumble?

Never miss twice…

All of us have bad days and sometimes we stumble.  So, what do we do when we do stumble?  I saw James Clear present a few years after I saw Clive Woodward and he suggested “Never miss twice” … Missing a habit once isn’t the end of the world and doesn’t affect what you do in the long term.  The trick is to never miss twice!  And also if you do miss …come back swinging!


Talent might be the spark for high performance, but habit keeps the fire burning.  Habits are repeated actions that you do without thinking.  The value of habits lie in the fact that they happen automatically; you’re still in control but on autopilot.

It’s non-negotiables and habits that lead to consistency.  It’s non-negotiables, habits and consistency that turns one-time high performers into all-time high performers.  It was non-negotiables, habits and consistency that turned a group of skilled but undisciplined sports people into a World Cup winning team and it is non-negotiables, habits and consistency will help you excel for a lifetime, not just for a moment.  If you want to master high performance, non-negotiables, habits and consistency are everything.

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