In the footballing world, money is seen as the surest and fastest route to success. When a club gets financial investment from an overseas billionaire, the teams’ fans rejoice. Now, they reason, they will become the dominant force in British football. Why? Because money buys talent. With money the best players in the world become available, and if you can assemble a winning team of the world’s eleven best players then you will in turn be the best team in the world, right?

A winning team in business

In the business world this equates to inflated wages being paid by Company A to steal proven talent from Company B. The reasoning being that with the most experienced employees who have the greatest track records, you should be the strongest organisation. On the face of this, it makes a lot of sense, but it doesn’t always work out. In fact, I believe there are are few things more important than hiring the most experienced people when building a winning team and, with a few lessons from football, you can learn how to make your organisation run a lot more effectively, without spending a lot more money.

Here are three things to consider before you splash the cash on a new “signing”.

1. Leadership (Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United)

Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United won the very first Premier League title back in 1993, and would go on to win 13 of the 21 Premier League titles on offer while he was still in management, while no other team would pick up more than three. (Chelsea, 3; Arsenal, 3; Manchester City, 1; Blackburn Rovers, 1).

Yet Ferguson did not spend the most money. In fact, from Chelsea’s take over by Roman Abramovic in 2003 to Fergie’s retirement, United spent an average of £63 million a year, compared to £91 million by Chelsea. Despite a difference in spending of £30 million yearly, United continued to dominate, winning the title five times while Chelsea only picked it up three before Fergie finally retired. 

The reason? Alex Ferguson’s leadership. A master of discipline and motivation, no one was under any allusion who was in control of Manchester United, and those who stepped out of line often felt his wrath. And yet, those who speak of him now, and those who worked under him, tend to talk of him with awe. Ferguson’s true talent was his ability to inspire his players to great things, and to get the best out of them, no matter what the situation. This was what drove Manchester United to 13 league titles in 21 years, not the money they spent.

What it means for you

You can bring in the most experienced people in the world, but without strong leadership, you will never get the best out of those working for you. Great leadership can lift the productivity of whole teams and have a far greater effect on your businesses success than the experience of its members. So focus on making sure you have the ability to lead the people around you first, and turn to exactly who those people should be second. 

2. Team Ethos (Pottechino’s Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs) and Ranieri’s Leicester City)

The combined transfer fees of £35 and £54 million spent by Leicester City and Spurs respectively this year does not come close to touching Manchester City’s staggering £152 million spend. Despite this, however, Leicester (1st) are a staggering 13 points clear of City (4th) with three games remaining, while Spurs (2nd) better them by five points and have the luxury of a game in hand at the time of writing. 

Why is this the case? Team managers Ranieri and Pochettino at Leicester and Spurs respectively both put team ethos before talent. Each manager knows exactly how they want their team to play and buy in the players that fit their system. It is for this reason that Leicester are doing so well, despite having a winning team full of players cast off (or passed over) by the bigger clubs. Jamie Vardy is one of the top scorers in the premier league not necessarily because he is a world class talent, but because he fits the system put in place by his manager perfectly. 

At Spurs Pochettino analysed his squad over one year, and then culled it. Replacing several expensive, internationally proven stars such as the frequent Brazilian international Paulinho for untried and tested players such as Deli Ali from Lower League club MK Dons. In the end not only did this purchasing philosophy take these teams to first and second in the league, but Leicester superstar Ryad Mahrez won Player of the Year for the Premier League and Deli Ali took Young Player of the Year. Why? This because they played to their systems strengths, not the other way around.

What it means for you

Just because a hire is experienced does not mean he will propel your company forward. Manchester City have fallen down by buying a group of super talents and trying to fit a system around them. Something which will almost certainly not work. Instead of following this model, decide what your company ethos and culture is, and then hire the people that fit it, even if they are less experienced. After all, a member of staff that supports your vision will be more likely to work harder, progress faster, and propel you further, than one who is not, no matter how experienced they are. 

3. Team Morale (Renieri’s Leicester)

If there is one thing Renieri has done that has propelled Leicester to the top of the table it is a simple one. Make them happy. Watch any Leicester game and you will see they are playing with the freedom brought on by happiness. Something that is in stark contrast to the early days of the season, where the happiness had clearly drained out of a Chelsea team that last year walked the title. 

How does Renieri keep his players happy? It seems to come mainly from freedom. Freedom from intense training, with at least two days off a week, and freedom from the strict controlled diets found so often in the Premier League, with Leicester players trusted to eat what they want, when they want. Why? Because Renieri trusts them, and that is the greatest motivating factor of all. That is why Leicester are top of the league, defying every single opinion of every single expert and betting shop in pre-season. Morale and freedom.

What it means for you

It is easy to control every aspect of your employees lives, and many companies do. No phones, no music, and strict rules on when you can show up and what you can do. But is this the best way to motivate your winning team? Trust your employees to have the phones out and the music on and they will reward you by working all the harder for it. Why? Because you want to work for the people who show faith in you, and the people who give you freedom within your roles. 

That’s what Ranieri has done at Leicester. Maybe that’s what you should be doing too.  

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