I must start this new post by apologising to all Leicester City fans! I really hope that writing about the undeniable success of your club this year will not jinx perhaps the greatest achievement of any sports team EVER…. anywhere in the world. However, I do not apologise for taking advantage of an achievement that is so remarkable – and so deserving – that it should become one of the prominent examples to any organisation, in any industry, as to what can be achieved with a lot of hard work.
I also write this post with a very heavy heart. I have written about a football club in the past – my own football club – Leyton Orient. It was only two years ago that the little club from East London was on course for its own bit of history – albeit on a far smaller scale than Leicester City. In 2014, with very little money, but a HUGE heart, Leyton Orient missed out on promotion to the Championship on penalty kicks. They almost achieved this through what I described as ‘Desire, Character and Togetherness’ – it was an amazing example of how through great leadership and incredible team spirit, amazing results were possible.
Fast forward two years and the contrast between my beloved Leyton Orient and Leicester City could not be more stark. In fact, the only thing both clubs share in common right now is that they both begin with the letter ‘L’!!
When it comes to football, the analogies it creates for business are plentiful. In the coming weeks, I intend to write about the dilemma facing many football clubs – do they have CUSTOMERS or FANS (or both). When it comes to the world of business, the most successful organisations are those who turn CUSTOMERS into FANS. Many football clubs are trying to do the very opposite of that – commercialise their business to try to turn FANS into CUSTOMERS. At the end of the day, one thing cannot be denied – and that is the definition of a FAN:
“a person who has a strong interest in or admiration for a particular person or thing”
A ‘fan’ is also an ‘advocate’ of the person or thing it has a strong interest in. Just having ‘fans’ or ‘advocates’ does not guarantee commercial success. What is guaranteed is that ‘fans’ stick with the thing they have an interest in – through thick or thin – through good and bad. I had the misfortune of being born into a household with an interest in Leyton Orient – my bad luck!! Despite how bad it gets, I will never stop being a ‘fan’ – I always have hope that one day…. one day…. we may be able to achieve something…. anything!!
Leicester City fans (like all football fans) have stuck with them through thick or thin. On the 10th January 2009, Leyton Orient last played Leicester in the football league – league one (I was there – Leicester won 3-0!!). It is only seven years ago that Leicester City were playing Leyton Orient – who would ever have imagined that they would, only seven years later, be heading towards the ultimate goal of winning the Premier League!! What is all the more remarkable is that in relative terms, they do not have anything like the financial resources of the ‘big boys’ – so just how have they managed to do it?
Two years ago, Orient’s success was underpinned by robust relationships – between commercial management and team management, as well as between the entire club and the fans. After decades of achieving very little, the fans were able to dream again. Our long standing team manager at the time, Russell Slade had the following philosophy:
“The four greatest values my team have got are our work ethic, desire, character and, above all, togetherness,” he said. “Those values will be massively important if we are to get into the Championship and we have turned that into a plaque and put it in the tunnel. I put up loads of values on the wall and asked the players what they thought were the most important. The players wrote them down themselves and they were the four things that came out on top of everything. It was not our goalscoring, our defensive ability or anything like that. The players could put anything and they saw those four as the most important. Those are the things that define our team.”
This statement still sends shivers down my spine – it completely summed up how a group of people were able to achieve success. The last sentence is perhaps the most important of all – ‘those are the things that define our TEAM’ – Leyton Orient at the time were exactly that – a cohesive unit – from office staff, to team management, to players, to paying customers, to fans – a team – and it was hugely rewarding and fun. I have never been so proud to tell people I am a Leyton Orient fan. There are many similarities with the Leicester story.
Leadership blog ‘Quartz’ writes:
While Leicester has talented soccer players, none are superstars. “The guys in Leicester City, on their own, probably aren’t going to achieve this kind of success individually as they would together,”.
Leicester currently has the league’s top scorer in Jamie Vardy, who has found renewed life under Ranieri, but the team he has created is not just about one player. “Everybody understands the movement before they are doing the movement,” Ranieri says.
The theme here is ‘teamwork’. Teamwork and togetherness is an incredible driver of organisational success. As the old saying goes, ‘success breeds success’! This is my view of how to piece everything together to achieve it:
- EVERYONE in the organisation understands what the purpose of the organisation is and what they are trying to achieve
- EVERYONE in the organisation understands the role they play in achieving the collective purpose
- EVERYONE in the organisation is acknowledged and appreciated for the work they do in achieving the purpose
- EVERYONE is rewarded for achieving goals and targets
- EVERYONE stays focused and targeted on collective goals – no one individual is bigger than the group
The key word is EVERYONE – so often I work with organisations who are not only failing to work together, they are sometimes actively working against each other – trying to achieve individual and personal goals. The thing about getting everyone to work together, is that togetherness not only drives success but that in turn breeds CONFIDENCE – in each other and in what can be achieved. It is this unbridled confidence that is so clear to see in Leicester City.
The teamwork ethic is also brilliantly summed up by the humility of the people who are ‘in charge’. Can you tell me the name of the Leicester City chairperson? I bet the majority of people reading this can not – it is not actually that important. Think of the chairpeople you do know the name of… Randy Lerner perhaps…. – and we all know what has happened to Aston Villa! Humility is so powerful when building a team. In Claudio Ranieri, the owners of Leicester City have perhaps one of the most humble leaders of all.
The Leicester City STORY of 2016 will live forever – it reminds me very much of when Wimbledon won the FA Cup. Will Leicester City’s SUCCESS last forever – perhaps not – if Orient’s demise is anything to go by, they must wallow in the glory for as long as they can. What Leicester City demonstrate though is what can be achieved – not through bucket loads of money, but through getting EVERYONE working together towards a common goal. If they can sustain that, then more success will inevitably (hopefully) come.
I believe the world of business can learn an enormous amount from them. It is a little bit of patience, collaboration and love that will win over everything – not money! Fingers crossed that the Leicester story ends on a better note than Orient’s did!!
Ian, great analysis
Many thanks Gautam – much appreciated!
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