Sunday, May 21, 2023

Robin Hood’s Strategic Inflection Point

There was a chill of fall in the air as Robin Hood sat on the ground, his back resting against a tree in Sherwood Forest. His mind initially turned to the day he first heard the
troubling news that England’s very popular King Richard the Lion Heart was leading the third Crusade to retake Jerusalem for the Church from the Muslims, who were led by a talented leader, Saladin. Within days of King Richard’s departure on the Crusades, his brother Prince John displayed a strong shift in how England was going to be ruled while the king was away.

It was not long until regulations were imposed on hunting on crown lands. Barons and lords who fell out of favour with Prince John soon found their lands given to the prince’s
friends. Taxes were increased, livestock seized, and increasingly, tax collectors’ draconian methods brought fear and oppression to the villagers. The Sheriff of Nottingham,
growing ever more agressive, quickly became Prince John’s poster child and role model for the other tax collectors.

Robin, heir to the title Baron of Locksley, was a highly skilled archer and swordsman who had fought in the earlier Crusades, before returning to England to find that the Sheriff of Nottingham had taken his ancestral lands in his absence and declared him an outlaw. Robin changed his name to Robin Hood and sought refuge in the welcoming arms of Sherwood Forest.

The Barons and the citizenry increasingly opposed John’s new methods – but what could they do? There was much evidence of Prince John’s viciousness against those who opposed his will. This was the catalyst that brought together Robin Hood and a number of other like-minded “outlaws,” who felt the oppression of Prince John’s Sheriff and shared Robin’s values. They came to join Robin’s Band of Merry Men. It was an idea whose time had come.
Robin was driven by the need to champion the common people in the villages, to fight against injustice, while remaining loyal to King Richard. Moving from his ancestral lands Robin, and his growing band of like-minded yeomen, camped in Sherwood Forest and live quite well off the land, robbing the rich who had the misfortune of an encounter with the band dressed in Lincoln green. Robin viewed this activity as a tax – similar in kind to the oppressive taxes that were being levied on the local villagers. Indeed, it was a good day if one of Prince John’s tax collectors passed through and was relieved of his burden.

Robin “robbed the rich and gave to the poor,” redistributing this wealth to the villagers, who
quickly became loyal supporters and more importantly protectors, of Robin’s activity.

In the early days his chief lieutenants, sharing the enmity towards Prince John and the Sheriff, found their values and their goals perfectly aligned with Robins’. Littlejohn – who stood a full foot higher than Robin quickly became the ‘sergeant major’ of the band, responsible for training and enforcing discipline. Robin treated him as his chief lieutenant
and second in command. As a seven-foot warrior, skilled with bow and quarterstaff, it was not often any Robin’s Merry Men challenged Littlejohn in a serious way. Robin’s first encounter with Little John was over a small tree bridge across a stream, where neither would yield to the other to be the first to cross. They exchanged a few blows with their staffs… and within moments Robin was in the water looking up. That was a bonding minute for both.

Will Scarlett – a good man, often hot-headed, and fond of wearing red silk attire. He was one of the few swordsmen in England to fight with a sword in both hands. He had been the humorous friend and companion of Robin from the beginning. Indeed, there was some evidence he was the illegitimate half-brother of Robin of Locksley. Scarlet was responsible for the financial affairs of the band.

Woodcut of Maid Marian, from a 17th-century broadside Maid Marion – the beautiful, self-confident love interest of Robin Hood. Strong-willed and self-reliant, she was able to move freely among the citizens of the shire. From time to time she even engaged the Sheriff of Nottingham in conversation, who was unaware of her relationship with Robin and the Band of Merry Men. She often provided Robin with insight and intelligence on external emerging
issues likely to impact their activities in the forest. Much, the Miller’s Son – old beyond his years, he lived by wit and guile. As a boy he moved freely among the crowds, collecting
information and passing on messages.

Friar Tuck – a jovial well fed soul who liked the daily ration of ale. Some even suggest he was Irish. The author Cahill argues it was during this period that the Irish monks were purported to have saved Western civilization. Tuck was a former cleric from St. Mary’s Abbey in York, who had been expelled from his order because of his lack of respect for
authority. Like his first meeting with Littlejohn, Robin again encountered a water
obstacle. The friar happened to be sitting by a tree eating a recently cooked small bird when Robin demanded, at the point of his dagger, to get across the stream without getting wet. Tuck reluctantly commenced carrying Robin across the water. About midstream the Friar dropped Robin into the water, and by the time Robin recovered the dagger was in Tuck’s hand. The Friar then insisted that Robin carry him back to the shoreline – a difficult task for Robin as the Friar weighed almost twice as much as he did. Again, a bonding exercise.

Friar Tuck became the confidant of all in the Merry Band and acted as their chaplain and mentor. His other function, that he quite enjoyed, was that of quartermaster, ensuring that the organization had sufficient provisions. Part of the job description of course was to taste
everything prior to serving it up! The growing state of tyranny in England was exacerbated when King Richard’s ship, returning from the holy lands, encountered bad weather and was wrecked. The king and his party now faced a dangerous land route on the return home. In England, Prince John was determined not to have his brother take back the reins of power, and posted lookouts at all ports and main roads to prevent the king’s return. Richard was aware of this and disguised himself and a small party as Knights Templers. Unfortunately, the Duke of Austria captured both Richard and his party shortly before Christmas 1192, near Vienna. A year later Richard, still a prisoner, was transferred by Henry VI of the Holy Roman Empire. Henry VI demanded 100,000 pounds of silver as ransom for Richard’s release.

Prince John had been left as administrator to govern England until Richard returned from the Crusades. The King could not return until the ransom was paid; Prince John, unpopular,
paranoid, and increasingly fearful of being removed from his Chief magistrate’s position wanted none of that, and covertly made increasing efforts to ensure the ransom was not raised. He strengthened the Sheriff of Nottingham’s resources, and prodded the Sheriff to become more robust in preserving the king’s game and collecting the ever-increasing taxes. All communities in England were experiencing severe tax fatigue.

The Barons secretly conspired to raise the funds to enable Richard’s return. The oppressive taxes made it difficult for them to raise the enormous sum of 100,000 pounds of silver. They needed allies. Indeed, it was these Barons who revolted towards the end of John’s reign by forcing King John, after the death of King Richard, to sign the Magna Carta in 1215. This document forms the grounding for the Constitution of England and most Anglo-Saxon countries. Robin and his small band of colleagues, so successful in their early days, increasingly had volunteers coming from distant villages to join up. Unfortunately many of the newcomers were not motivated by the same values as Robin and ‘the old guard;’ many simply wanted a better quality of life than they had in their villages.

The organization’s symptoms of entropy were readily identified. The band was getting so large that often Robin commented he knew very few of those coming and going. Friar Tuck
increasingly complained about the challenge of putting enough provisions aside for winter, to sustain the organization. And to make matters worse, Will Scarlett noted revenues were falling and all expenditures were up. This left little of the liberated taxes available for distribution to villagers. The Sheriff of Nottingham’s tyrannical activities had dramatically increased, making it difficult to maintain secrecy in Sherwood Forest, and large rewards were placed on the heads of Robin and his key lieutenants. Littlejohn and Robin discussed, with increasing frequency, the actions of the new guard. The additional men were now robbing almost every rich traveller who entered Sherwood Forest. It seemed the organizational structure was breaking down. As result, many travellers were now seeking alternative routes. It was not a healthy organization! Two days previously, Maid Marion had arranged for a visit by a small representative group from the Barons, who proposed to Robin that he join the conspiracy against Prince John. It was one thing to be in outlaw — it was another to be caught for treason. The barons promised their full support to obtain a pardon for Robin and the return his ancestral lands, if he joined their initiative
and assisted in raising the $100,000 pounds of silver, to gain freedom for King Richard.
Certainly getting King Richard back on the throne of England was a driving motivator for Robin.

But, Robin thought, what would happen to his loyal lieutenants, his old guard, and the new
guard? Did he owe them a duty? What were the advantages and disadvantages of this proposal? What business models were available – licensing, franchising? And that raised the question of succession planning. He needed a framework of the advantages and disadvantages of the options available. There seemed no end to the variables that needed to be considered at this strategic inflection point. Possibly, Robin said to himself, some business modelling may help in selecting the options.

During these discussions one of the barons had suggested that the Sheriff of Nottingham be assassinated. This would bring some relief to the barons, as well as to the villagers. Robin considered, and asked himself if there was merit in that argument. Surely that would end the growing strength of the Sheriff and bring relief… or would it? Robin felt Maid Marion’s hand on his shoulder, announcing it was dinner time. Robin got to his
feet and thought of these events, recognizing it was a strategic inflection point for the
organization. Increasingly, Robin questioned if they could they maintain robbing the rich to give to the poor. What were the problems and issues he would have to face? What strategies / action plans would he have to craft? Using the waterfall method, what actions and steps would have to be undertaken to execute these plans? And which ones should they pursue?

After dinner, Robin assembled his small team. He opened with the comment, “I’ve asked you, my trusted lieutenants, to help me reconfirm or replace our vision, and provide a way forward from this strategic inflection point.” He asked each of them for their recommendations and thoughts.

This case was written by Professor Terrance Power, Royal Roads University. It was prepared to provide material for class discussion and publication. The author does not intend to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of a managerial situation. The author may have disguised certain names and other identifying information to protect confidentiality.

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Terrance Power
Terrance Power is a Wharton Fellow and professor of strategic and international studies with the Faculty of Management at Royal Roads University in Victoria. This article was published in the Business Edge. Power can be reached at


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