BLOG POST: Winning in business, the Leicester City way

We’ve all been witness to a great story being written about a team adapting and changing their game, disrupting an industry that for too long has been dominated by money, greed and ego.

Massive congratulations to Leicester City, who have conquered against all the odds (5,000 of them), to reach the pinnacle of domestic football with games to spare. It’s proper Roy of the Rovers stuff, and exactly what football should be about.This football season has seen the rise of a number of clubs disrupting the norm – but what is it that has made Leicester succeed above the others?

Pretty much every cliché available is relevant: They’ve changed the game, proved that you don’t need all the money, the star players, the Coach who’s ‘won it all’, the greed or the ego to achieve. There have always been parallels between the sporting and business world, and there are many books written on the infrastructure, the process, the planning and the development behind great teams such as such as the All Blacks, Sky Cycling and the English Rugby team (of 2003). I believe that Leicester’s success boils down to some simple philosophies that have been executed extremely well; approaches that can and do transfer into the world of business.

Today, there are a number of organisations that are able disrupt the status quo like Leicester; come up against the big boys and win, time and time again. Yet they are smaller, arguably don’t have the resources, the customer base or the reach. Aside from possibly better products/services, I see that these types of organisations tend to have common traits: accountability, agility, team spirit and a customer centric focus.

Uber is a perfect example, it didn’t have the market share, the reach or the resources when it started, yet it dominates now. Their customer experience is so much better than that of the black cab for example. The drivers are accountable for their actions as they are scored, as are the passengers, which is another interesting story altogether. Virgin too, time after time successfully launch into another market with a fresh approach, focused on customer experience.

Arguably, other football clubs have these same traits though: this football season has seen the rise of other clubs disrupting the norm, such as Southampton, Watford, Bournemouth and West Ham.

But what is it that has made Leicester succeed above the others? None of these have achieved the success Leicester has, yet Leicester didn’t spent any more money than the others; their players aren’t necessarily any more talented, or any more experienced. At one point, they were even favourites to get relegated, so why have they been so much better?

As far as I see it, it’s because they have worked to a very simple philosophy.

Hire Great People and Inspire Great Teamwork.

HIRING GREAT PEOPLE

By great people I don’t mean the biggest stars, those with the most talent, but those who fit the culture or are willing to buy into the culture and work for each other. Sir Clive Woodward summed this up with two types of people, ones he wanted in the team or the squad, Energisers; and Energy Sappers – those that had no place in an Elite England set up.

None of the Leicester City team brings an ego or a mind-set that serves only to further their own careers. This means they are all aligned in working towards common goals, and when the going gets tough every one of them displays leadership qualities, and thinks nothing of working for the greater good. When this is true, it breeds trust and becomes much easy to deliver against plans.

INSPIRING GREAT TEAMWORK

“The team starts to self-manage and respect each other, and doesn’t rely on upward management decisions to take action”

For me, there are two areas here: Firstly, empower everyone to be accountable. Bringing in an overbearing, top down structure alienates some and drives wedges between people, as it clearly has at Manchester United with Louis Van Gaal’s approach. To truly drive accountability, you need a feedback loop in place, the team needs to be bought into decisions that are made, and the team needs to be part of the decision making process (even if it is to ask, ‘why might this fail?’). Succeed with this, then that team starts to respect each other, self-manage, and doesn’t rely on upward management decisions to take action (or shirk the responsibilities), which merely results in an ‘us and them mentality’.

This was clear at Leicester; the whole team were totally bought into some common tactics: defend relentlessly, hit them fast and hurt them on the break. Whilst probably much simpler than most team’s tactics in the Premier League, it has been devastatingly effective because the team worked as one to deliver on it. When their tactics didn’t work, and were changed, the team adapted quickly, with the same devastating effect (see Leicester’s result against Swansea after losing Jamie Vardy to suspension).

The other part of this is quite simply, enable the team to have fun. This drives friendship, togetherness and that unbreakable team spirit that cements accountability in individuals. The Leicester players all talk about working hard, but I can really feel that they want to work hard, it isn’t empty words – they are genuine when they talk, humble even, and they want to do it, not for themselves, but for the team.

I’d actually say Leicester have taken this a step further, they act like a family. This was never clearer to see than when the team all went to Jamie Vardy’s house to celebrate winning the title as Tottenham capitulated to Chelsea. They love being together, and thus they love playing together; it’s clear to see, which makes it infectious. Their fans buy into it and the rest of the country has too, which for me, has helped build their momentum and kept them positive even in their hour of need, (something which Tottenham couldn’t achieve).

This results in driving a unique culture, which, by the way is something that the competition cannot copy, though they will try in the Premier League (and no doubt waste millions in the process trying to emulate this).

Building a great team is something we strive for at Sempre, and it’s been based on these foundations. I’m not saying our story is quite that of the giant killers, Leicester, but a similar philosophy has enabled us to get to where we are today, and build a fantastic platform for the future: one that will be shaped by our team, not by our management decisions.

It’s not the executive decisions we make, the money we pump in, or individuals overachieving that makes us, it’s working collectively to provide an exceptional experience for our colleagues and customers alike and optimise our abilities to be the best we possibly can.

These are the observations of a more than slightly jealous Southampton fan, but I would love to hear your views.

This article was written by Nick Patrick, Co-Founder and Director at Sempre Analytics, and was originally published on LinkedIn.

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