There have a been a host of comparisons between sports teams and their coaches and how business leaders compare. And how we should learn from the best in the business to transform our organizations. That comparison will always have value in my view, but we must look beyond a team, beyond a coach and look at the organization holistically.
Fenway Sports Group (owners of the Boston Red Sox) acquired Liverpool FC and their Anfield stadium in 2010. Jurgen Klopp was appointed manager in October 2015, his first taste of English Premiership Football.
He led the Reds to the UEFA Europa League final in 2015/16 and the UEFA Champions League final in 2017/18, although both matches ended in defeat. Klopp was back in the Champions League final the following season, however, and this time guided his side to a 2-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur. It was also an impressive domestic campaign for Klopp's Reds, who finished a point behind champions Manchester City despite losing only one Premier League match in the entire 2018/19 season. But as any Liverpool fan will share, the English Premiership title is the pinnacle, a reward not earned for 30 years, and with confidence but also anxiety as I write this I can say, we look good, we are better than any other team, we are undefeated and it is our title to win and we owe this to a remarkable team, manager and business leaders of Liverpool FC and Fenway Sports Group.
But why, why does not all the glory go to the team or the manager? This is where we compare these clubs holistically as organizations, with boards, management, departments and employees.
Manchester United are one of the richest clubs in world sport, and one of the most successful in the history of football. With a record 20 Premier League titles and three Champions League wins, the Red Devils remain one of the world’s most popular and most marketable clubs in world football despite on-field struggles at Old Trafford in recent years.
But the club’s ownership is a highly controversial topic, with United’s current owners the Glazers unpopular with many fans (customers). And since Malcolm Glazer's takeover of the Premier League giants in 2005, Old Trafford has seen success, disappointment, increased debts and huge revenues. But their manager and ex star player Ole Gunner Solskiær is stuck in the middle between board and team, surrounded by uncertainty.
The key difference between these organizations is the transparency from the board to the manager, to the team and to the fans (their customers). Klopp has autonomy to manage his team his way in his style. He knows and firmly understands the strategy of the organization and is trusted to manage his team to win. His team (the players) respect his decisions, and thrive off of his passion. Klopp tells his team to celebrate goals and wins passionately as a team. Jurgen creates a family, he believes in 30% tactic and 70% team building. And he told the fans "we have to change, from doubter to believer". This business hums in harmony from the board to the manager to the players and to its customers in the stadium and beyond. We all know where we are going and how we will get there.
Solskiær on the other hand was brought in as a temporary caretaker manager and had to earn the trust of the board to keep his job. He is on an island on his own, uncertain of his future in charge. His players respect his prior success on the field at the club, but he has yet to earn their full respect as a leader. The board do not appear to have a clear strategy and their fans feel the Glazers are running a business only for profit and not driving innovation and change that will bring long term success (and more profit). Manchester United's organization does not hum like it did under Alex Ferguson and an organization in harmony. I have no doubt they will turn it around, but my point and conclusion for running a successful organization is this.
- Celebrate with your team
- Love your team and your customers
- Suffer and share defeats as a team and move on together
- Bring in the best individuals if they compliment what you already have
- Don't be doubters, be believers
- Create complete transparency from board to customer
- Don't be complacent - play to the final whistle
And finally a story that any sales leader can learn from.
Robert Firminio whom Klopp affectionally calls Bobby, sought out a heart-to-heart chat following a drought of just one goal in 16 appearances. Klopp, informed Firmino that he offered far more than just goals, he creates room and opportunity for others to score. Firmino has been repaid with a prolific run of form with four in three matches and a big hug from Klopp.
"You'll Never Walk Alone" A mantra any organization can adopt regardless of your team.