What can companies learn from Football Clubs?

A lot to improve performance. Yet not much to fill books, as at the end,
it boils down the two things:

1) Unite everybody around the same and a simple objective,
2) Find the best talent for the required position.

1. Unite everybody around the same and a simple objective:
What is the objective of each team? Winning and becoming champion of a Cup. So much that the word “goal” is embedded with football. The ultimate objective is to score more goals than your competition and to win.
Are there any other purposes or objectives of football clubs? Well of course there are. Playing quality football so that the game looks beautiful for the fans and to have a balanced budget so that the Club can keep its ability to invest in the best talent.
Yet those always come after winning. In fact if the club wins most of the time that would also means that it plays better than most of the rivals and as the fans and sponsors stay involved to the winning team, it becomes easier to have a surplus budget.
So if the football clubs win, all else falls their way.
Hey, you will say, it is a game. Of course the purpose is to win. Simple and straight forward. Yet for a company the outcome is much more sophisticated. Profit, production quality, innovation, customer service, customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, regulation, compliance and on and on.
You really think football is so simple? What about a fierce competition that lasts for 10 months each year while playing in three Cups (National League, National Cup, and European Leagues) most of the time? Or traveling all the time while dealing with millions of fans who believe that they know football better than the players and the coaches while trying to control the press which is around the players 24 hours?
And what about transferring this winning objective to all 11 players in the pitch when you have two or three scorers at most, or to 22 or so players in the line up? If the purpose is winning then how do you motivate the goal keeper? Each time he fails, he endangers the whole game.
We can multiply these difficulties. Yet my purpose is not to convince you to believe that football as a game has many challenges. On the contrary, I am trying to prove that beyond those challenges, if it comes down to uniting everybody around winning, and scoring more goals than your rivals, we should learn from it as large businesses operating in competitive environments.
Most companies, especially multinationals don’t have a clear purpose. Or their purpose and quarterly targets don’t match. Most companies try to find a purpose in the form of a mission statement which gets lost after the initial year or at the second or third line in the hierarchy.
Apart from big holding companies with multiple business lines like say GE, it is in fact simpler than you think. After all, most sell a specific product or service to customers. Unfortunately the real goal of any CEO has become maximizing profits. This does not bond well with customers as you can easily imagine. Defining the purpose is easy if you are a founder of a company like HP, Apple, Dell, Sony, or Wells Fargo, Amex, Western Union, and so on. But if you are a CEO in the office many years after the founder is gone, and especially if you are a public company, then as I said before unfortunately you think of maximizing profits and not much else. And all the other things you do and say are shaped by the quarterly profits targets.
Of course on the one hand, there is nothing wrong with that. You need to make a profit to share with all stakeholders and to invest in the future. As I indicated above it is even true of Football Clubs. The trouble with profit maximization is that you cannot motivate thousands of employees and public with this goal. Therefore the profit needs to come as a result…. of your activities. Building the best computer, car, toaster, light bulb. Getting the most possible number of customers. Exciting them, yourself and employees around your products.
Peter Drucker many years ago indicated that a company should be about creating a customer and then keeping her happy. To create a customer a company needs to build/offer a product or a service that it is proud to build and sell and used happily by the consumers.
Therefore the most important “goal” of any company’s top management should be to define and pass that unique objective to everybody in the organization over and over again. And it should me measurable. You can’t say that we are going to be best at something without indicating how to measure it. Such as:

  • We’re going to be best at customer satisfaction measured by XYZ Company in three years.
  • We are going to be number 1 selling car in these three countries.
  • We are going to offer a new product every six months which will be number 1 or 2 or 3 in its category.

You need a vision to start with. For instance, you can say we are going to be the most used music app provider. Then you need to put a time frame. Let’s say in 5 years. Then work on it to bring it down to every quarter from today onward. Or you can try to be the best travel agent. How do you measure it? Every year minimum one third of our customers will be repeat customers and we will employ NPS (Net Promoter Score) which needs to improve every year.
There are many numerical metrics companies actually work on. We need to make them into clear goals.
And then share the results with your employees like you would share with investors. Even with more fun and sincerity of course.
If a company cannot excite its employees first, there is no way it can create customers. (Unless it is a monopoly but it is a different discussion)
So a clear goal, related with the product/service you build and sell to your customers that is trackable every quarter and communicated with the whole company at least every quarter. Then the profits will follow and hopefully that is shared too :)
Sounds easy, yet many companies fail to do so. Ask an individual working in a large organization and most likely you won’t get a response beyond the job definition.
Managers and leaders need to turn their colleagues into team players. Players perform, employees maintain.
And every team must have a simple measurable goal that excites and motivates them so they can excite customers.
But how do you choose those employees of yours. If turning them into players is so vital, can the standard HR practices be enough?
Here comes the second learning from football clubs:
2. Find the best talent for the required position:
Isaha2n April 2013 when Real Madrid, the most Spaniard team, started playing against Galatasaray in Istanbul, there was only one, I repeat 1 Spanish player on the field. Galatasaray had 7 non Turkish players. Even Mourinho, Real’s coach is not Spanish. Their best scorer Ronaldo is not Spanish. The most famous player at Galatasaray was Drogba obviously not Turkish.
Or take a look at other European Champions League semifinalists and UEFA Cup finalists. Basel the Swiss team is managed by a Turkish coach Mr.Murat Yakin and has 12 non Swiss out of 26 players. Barcelona has 8 non Spaniards of its 23 players. Their best and most famous player Messi is not Spanish. Bayern has 13 non Germans out of 27, Benfica 17 out of 24, Chelsea 19 out of 25, Fenerbahce 8 out of 29 and Borussia Dortmund has 9 non Germans in its 27 players. One of those non Germans, a Polish player dropped 4 goals into Real’s net in one single match in their semifinal encounter.
Who would dare to say that these are not Spanish, Swiss, German, Turkish and Portuguese teams?
These clubs have millions of fans even internationally and all are more than 100 years old. They have very clear identities as their roots deeply melded with their cities. And precisely due to these they excel on heritage, culture, colors and flags and anthems, With no threat to their identity, they can set on search mission to seek the best players for a given position in the team and on the field….regardless of country, ethnicity, religion or even language.
If a football club searches for a very good defender, they search globally for that specific position. Most also invest in youth leagues to raise talent from early ages. Yet their search is never limited to neither their youth clubs, nor their own country or language. Getting the best possible player is the goal. And if you want to be the best club ever, you try to attract the best talent and the not the average.Once you have the talent, you work to make them a team around the same goal: Winning.
And winning is a good word. Winning is a good feeling. Achieving a goal is great. As businesses, we need to make our goals measurable and provide the feedback as quickly as possible. (Every game ends and the score is announced)
Most large business organizations have lost this touch. And this is exactly why the best talent is finding its way in start-ups and big companies end up staying with the average employees. And it is a pity as those large multinationals’ share of world GDP is increasing all the time.
It is time that the executive suits spend more time on how to make their companies exciting places to work rather than dealing with business models to maximize profits. Should the public meaning the customers, move away from larger organizations with no exciting products and services, in the medium term there may not be much profit to maximize.