I am a keen rugby fan and it is known there are many lessons to be learnt from sporting activities that can be applied to business. In winning the 2003 Rugby World Cup, Clive Woodward clearly espoused these qualities. Reading his account of the World Cup victory whilst on holiday, one aspect of his management style stuck with me, namely the adoption of “CRITICAL NON ESSENTIALS (“CNE’s”)”.

Those who are acquainted with me will know that I have come to use this term over the years and  I believe it is the perfect representation of  how you go from a good business to an outstanding business, ie. from a World class rugby team to the best rugby team in the World - it is a phrase relevant to all walks of life and business.

CNE’s are those aspects of your business that although not 'essential' to your core service or product differentiate you from the rest of the crowd. They give you the winning edge over your competitors. CNE’s do not alter what your business offers but they are the factors that give you the marginal 1% extra that converts your business from being excellent to exceptional. It is important to be reminded that what any person who contacts you remembers about your business is not necessarily associated directly with your core offering.

Apply this to your business. What is it that is recalled when you interact with your business contacts? Here are a few examples:

1. Are you regularly late for appointments?

2. When you address people by letter/email/face to face do you refer to them correctly?  For example, do not refer to them as “Tony” when their preferred name is “Anthony”.

3. Do you irritatingly refer to people you have never met nor spoken to by their Christian name particularly in the first contact with them? 

4. Are there spelling or grammatical errors in your correspondence with them?

5. Does your business’s phone ring more than 5 times before it is answered? 

6. Do you offer visitors to your business refreshments when they arrive?

None of these alter the core offerings of your business, but they are invariably the matters that people remember. Get your CNE’s wrong and you risk losing/not gaining clients and customers despite the excellent product or service you provide.

The England Rugby team didn’t win the World Cup because they had developed a skin tight jersey (to make tackling more difficult) nor because they played the whole game with their socks up! Neither did they win because they changed their training camp/ hotel location but these matters and others gave them that extra edge over the following pack. 

Examine your business and think – What are my Critical Non Essentials?


By Phil Butterworth, Partner

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