Planning can learn from the world of refereeing

This may seem like a bit of a curve ball topic, but it is actually going back to an article I wrote about 15 years ago. At the time I was an active football referee and a referee instructor and was able to align some of FIFA’s advice to the World Cup referees to the world of planning. Sitting this evening watching a match on TV brought it all back to me and I think the analogy still works.

I would like to refine the concept and say that the prep by the refereeing team before their weekly game is similar to some best practice that a real time team could consider. The refereeing team have to be prepared for whatever happens on the pitch, just like Real Time Analysts have to be prepared for their daily match.

It all starts with the prep. Any good referee will research the upcoming game. They will see what has been happening in recent games involving the two teams and identify key factors and situations which occurred. They then think about how they will deal with it if they reoccur during the game. Similarly real-time doesn’t begin when the first contact for the day arrives. Recent days, situations and how things reacted to interventions should be considered and reviewed, so that if something similar happens on the day, decisions can be made as to whether a similar or different intervention is needed.

Immediately prior to a game the referee will run through the upcoming 90 minutes and share responsibilities with the team. Who is responsible for looking at what, who intervenes and when, at what stage does an assistant or 4th official escalate an incident to the referee? Similarly a busy real time team will have many tasks and will allocate them across the day, but it needs to be clear who has responsibility for what, and when things need escalated to the team lead to make a final decision.

During the game itself the referee and team sometimes needs to adapt their approach. Incidents happen which weren’t expected and the team need to react accordingly. A softly softly approach to discipline sometimes isn’t working, and a new more severe approach needed. All done within the Laws of the Game – the governing laws by which the game is played and any supporting advice from FIFA. For real-time, there is the realisation that just because a tactic worked at one stage of the day, it may need to change at a later stage of the day. Alongside our quest to manage the day are the legal constraints within we work and HR’s guidance on how to interpret these laws.

Another element is communication. I have spoken about this skill for planners in a previous blog. From a refereeing team perspective it is crucial. They must talk to players and team officials – explaining their decisions and keeping everyone under control. They must talk amongst themselves – easier now with modern communication (back when I was refereeing this was constrained to half time and maybe a couple of snatched words when near each other). They explain what they are seeing and what they think needs to happen. Isn’t it the same for real-time teams. We need to speak to front-line staff and their managers – explaining what we need from them and ensuring they are complying with plans. To do this we all need to be on the same page, not contradicting each other and causing confusion. Good communication is essential.

I’ve avoided discipline until last. I don’t want to be encouraging real time analysts throwing yellow and ref cards around the contact centre. But isn’t that what really happens? We spot things (maybe around adherence) and if speaking to the person involved and/or their team manager informally doesn’t work, we have to escalate. This can lead to formal processes and even dismissal in severe circumstances.

What do you think? Can you see the synergy? I wonder how many referees find their way into a Real Time role – for me planning and refereeing was a perfect combination of career and hobby.

Also shows we can learn from other disciplines.

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