The business end of sports management
Julian Walker, Group Corporate Affairs Director
The start of a major sporting event often provides a focal point to draw parallels between it and business. The start of the 2016 UEFA European Championship, commonly referred to as UEFA Euro 2016, or simply Euro 2016, is no exception for me.
Following on from last year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup with all its thrills and excitement, the spotlight is again not just on the players, but increasingly on the managers – to see if they have created and nurtured a fit-for-purpose collection of players.
Outside corporate M&A, fundraising or various media awards, business management rarely comes under such scrutiny, but I believe there are a number of similar traits which successful CEOs and football managers share – and here are my top eleven (in alphabetical order):
- Build a good management team: the spotlight is on the CEO and team manager, but good ones have strong assistants, whose skills and judgement about people and talent can help make the difference between a good team on paper and one on the pitch.
- Build on solid foundations: know what game plan you are playing and what you are trying to achieve. Planning your training schedules, set pieces and getting the right people all create a winning foundation for growth.
- Don’t do too much too soon: the pressure is always on new managers to make a dramatic impact from the first whistle and, indeed some do. New managers and CEOs should first fully assess the strengths and weaknesses of the players and start by playing a style which suits them, before introducing new plays and individuals to augment your skills and approach.
- Don’t give up: all teams have a bad run – it is the nature of the game. The manager’s job is to ensure that the team continues. Despite the current fixation with changing managers at the drop of a hat, the best results and sustained performance are gained from knowing where you are going and ensuring that your team is with you on that journey. Those players that are not with you and their colleagues should be let go.
- Encourage your star players: in business and in sport, recognise and cultivate the star players of today and tomorrow, so your ranks are swelled and you are building for long-term success with a raft of good, committed players ready to break through into the first team.
- Focus on each player’s role in your plan: in business people often get promoted because they do a good job, but that doesn’t mean they can necessarily do the new job. So make sure your team is balanced for what you want to achieve – a team of brilliantly talented attackers may well let you down in defence.
- Keep scouting: everyone can’t afford a Lionel Messi, so knowing your competitors’ strengths and talent is a worthwhile investment. Just as you would in your own squad, identify young talent and see where it can be best employed in your future plans – and go for it.
- Play to your strengths: to point six above, make sure that your skills base matches the needs of your tactical plan. If not, change is needed.
- Remember the fans: At the end of the day, sport and business (especially a publicly quoted company) is about ensuring the fans (or shareholders) are with you. Everyone wants immediate returns, but talent must be nurtured and results specifically targeted and won, so keep your fans onside with your aims and ambitions – and long term success is better than a one hit wonder.
- Squad harmony: just as a manager can lose the dressing room and have a group of excellent players who, being unhappy or not getting on, do not deliver on the pitch, it is the same in the boardroom – so ensure that on-the-field performances are not disrupted by off-the-field unhappiness.
- There are no short cuts to hard work: because a performance didn’t go to plan, you shouldn’t blame the complete team and make wholesale changes. You need to work on what went wrong, learn quickly from mistakes and ensure they are not made again.
And, as a final thought, you have to give your best. Fans can and do ask for more, but in the words of the legendary Sir Matt Busby, widely regarded as one of the best football managers of all time: “Winning isn’t everything. There should be no conceit in victory and no despair in defeat.”
Meet the blogger
Julian has spent almost 30 years in corporate reputation management, in both senior in-house and consultancy positions. He has advised companies on all aspects of targeted business communications, from privatisations to cross-border mergers & acquisitions, ground-breaking debt and equity offerings to financial calendar and advertising/brand marketing. His broader business experience includes establishing and running successful companies, financial restructuring of not-for-profit organisations, and corporate/charity fund-raising.Julian is chairman of a youth-focused philanthropic investment fund and is author of The Cape Crusaders – about his experiences driving a Dennis fire engine from the northern-most tip of Europe to the southern-most point in Africa.