The Beautiful Game has important lessons to offer team-based, talent-dependent industries, believes Professor Chris Brady, former dean of the BPP Business School
, who is now helping his son to run Southend United
“People say that business is more complex than football. But rather than saying that ‘business is complex and football is simple’, it’s useful to turn it on its head and say ‘we’re really complex so what can we do to simplify things?’”, he said in his keynote speech at the Human Resources Forum
in London this week.
Moreover, in future terms, football could provide an indication of what new ways of working might look like. For example, players are able to pick where they want to go and can move into more or less any position on the pitch.
But the same will also be true of the worker of the future – as people become increasingly flexible in their working arrangements, they will likewise progressively pick and choose which employers to work for based on which appear the most attractive.
To ensure that players understand the commercial realities facing themselves, their manager and the club they play for, meanwhile, Brady indicated that the focus should be on communicating 10 key points:
1. Brand: What is the essence of our business and what does it mean to be part of our organisation? What won’t we compromise on and what is the company story – so how did we get here, what do we believe in and what do we consider to be acceptable or not?
2. Organisational goals: What are we trying to achieve and why? Chief executives should also ask themselves what is their job? Is it, for example, about boosting shareholder value or creating and protecting the brand?
3. Strategy: How should we pursue and implement it? While defining strategy should take about 10 minutes, implementing it will take much longer – between 18 months and two years, in fact, believes Brady.
He offered an anecdote to make the point: “Seven or eight years ago, the head of BAE Systems asked his directors ‘how do we grow? The US spends the most in the world on defence so how do we grow? We go there – do we all agree? Right, now do it”.
4. Don’t just do things because they have always been done that way: Turn established ideas on their head and think of things in alternative ways. For example, rather than ask ‘why would I want to create an open plan office?’, think about ‘why wouldn’t I want it to be open plan?’
5. Individual roles within a team: Everyone should have a clear idea of their role and where they fit into the organisation.
6. Generalist skills: Colleagues should have some idea of other people’s roles so that, if someone is off sick or requires support, everyone know what to do and can help at least at a basic level even if they are not expert.
7. Team goals: What constitutes good team performance? Ensuring the team continues to perform may mean disadvantaging one member for the greater good, for example, in a football context, substituting one player for another.
8. Individual performance: What constitutes good individual performance and are people held accountable for it? Considerations here include praising and rewarding good performance and challenging poor performance. It also involves looking at whether the people in your organisation are promoted on merit and seeing whether staff would agree with your conclusions.
9. Resources: Personnel have to be provided with the resources necessary to enable them to do the job demanded of them.
“Footballers will give any excuse for not doing a good job such as the pitch was terrible. So the back office has to be no-excuse environment,” Brady said. “It’s the job of the back office to take all the excuses away so you can say ‘you’re a crap salesman and we know you’re no good because all of the necessary tools were in place.”
10. Clarity and equity: Be absolutely clear and fair. People will put up with any kind of decisions, feedback or appraisal as long as they are fair and it is understood why certain decisions were taken.