Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Organizational business lessons from Leicester City’s amazing run

If you’re somehow interested in sports history, you heard yesterday that Leicester City won the EPL (English Premier League). At the beginning of the season, their odds to win the championship were 5000/1!! Leicester only narrowly survived relegation last year…

It happened because of numerous factors, both internal and external, that fell into place perfectly. We can all learn from this amazing journey, and apply some of the fundamentals to our business practices.

Owner’s vision. When Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, a Thai billionaire businessman, purchased the club in 2010 – at that time playing secondary roles in the tier-two division (equivalent of Baseball’s AAA) – he  had the humble vision to move the club up to the elite league (EPL), keep it there in the long-term, knowing that it would be hard to compete for the top spot behind the “Big Four” (Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal), or even behind other teams with much bigger budgets such as Liverpool and Tottenham. His goal was to offer a good show to the club’s fan base, and play the disruptors in the league. Vichai’s son, “Top”, who is the club’s CEO, said of this father a few days ago: "This is one thing that in his dreams he wanted to own the club, and he said I think two or three years before that he wants the team to be a success in the Premier League, and now we are."Having a humble and realistic vision for your organization does not mean you can’t accomplish great things. It simply means you’re grounded and focused on getting things right before dreaming too big.
COO’s role. At the beginning to the season, Leicester hired Claudio Ranieri as their head coach. Ranieri had coached some of the best teams in Europe, such as Chelsea, Juventus, Monaco, Atletico Madrid. Although he’d never won a major title with any of his teams until now, he had always been very good at nurturing young players, developing their skills and as a consequence increasing their market value. He just happened to “never be in the right place at the right time”. Having a big name coach doesn’t guarantee success, Chelsea being a great example, who sacked Jose Mourinho half-season, or Arsenal with Arsene Wenger, Manchester United with Luis Van Gaal, etc. Claudio Ranieri was the right COO in the right organization at the right time, fitting in the club’s culture and value, focusing on developing talent first. It is critical to have a COO to run day-to-day operations who shares the organization’s culture, values, who is focused on developing talents within the organization and building a solid foundation.
Have fun every day. Ranieri was able get his players buy-in in his philosophy, by quickly adapting to their needs and wishes, instead of pushing his own style down their throats (more of a Mourinho management style). During training camp before the season, Ranieri quickly realized that some of his principle would not resonate well with young players, so he decided to have a more casual approach. On his second day of practice, after of first very-intense day of practice, he rang a cow bell like crazy just before the session started. All players and staff came out of the building to see what was going on. Ranieri casually said that he would ring the bell during practice every time he saw a play that needed improvement. The players laughed at him at first, then quickly adhered to his casual management style. He even offered a cow bell to each his players for Christmas. He also decided to give his players two days of rest every week, very uncommon in professional sports, only to allow his players to relax, enjoy life. Players and coaching staff always shared some good laugh during the week at practice. Even the players would laugh during games when they missed a pass or a goal. They were still committed to winning, but they first and foremost wanted to enjoy playing football.Having fun at work doesn’t mean you take things lightly. You spend most of your life working, and if you can’t find any fun doing it, while focusing on growing the business, what’s left? Besides, having fun reinforces the bond between your employees and your management team.
You don’t need superstars, you need talented and committed people. The vast majority of Leicester’s roster was not in an elite league two seasons ago. Many players did not make it through their former club’s youth academy before coming to Leicester, and most of them played in sub-leagues. Think of this… Vardy, Mahrez and Kante were never recruited by big teams, but they were named this season’s best EPL players in various categories, ahead of the Hazard, Rooney, Willian, Aguero, and Ozil… None of the players were a house-name, even Ranieri did not now most of them when he took charge of the team. What Ranieri did was to adapt his tactical game plans to his players’ skills and abilities, to get the best out of them. In return, they adhered to his game plan.Good leaders make the best out of the talents given to them, adapting their management style and way of working to get buy-in, commitment from their teams. Committed employees are more productive than superstars who tend to play individually.
There are things you can’t control; you just have to take advantage of them.  Leicester’s ascension to the Grail should’ve never happened. After all, the odds for them winning the EPL were 5000/1! They needed the stars to be aligned and rely on the misfortune of the big teams to get to that point. Some may argue this is why they won the championship. I’d say “yes and no”.
“Yes” because indeed Chelsea, Man U and Man City struggled with injuries, bad coaching, players more towards the end of their careers. Before Boxing Day in December, many EPL fans and followers predicted that Arsenal would win the EPL, given its rivals’ struggles…
“No” because Arsenal is the perfect example of a healthy team, a long-tenure and well respected coach who can’t seize the other teams’ misfortune and win the championship.
There is no miracle in a 38-game season. This is not a one-time burst where a small team beats a big team in one game. We’re talking here of 38 games! It’s perseverance, commitment and resilience that allowed Leicester to win, values which teams like Arsenal lacked of when the opportunity was offered to them.
You’ve gotta take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to you. You can’t control everything, what you can control is how quick you are to adapt to evolving circumstances and seize what’s offered to you. If you don’t, someone else will.