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What This Soccer Season Teaches us About Long Term Business Success

6 min read

Here in the UK, it’s football transfer season once again – the time of year when our soccer teams can improve their squads by buying and selling players. This is a perfect opportunity to reflect on the performance of the top teams in the season so far. Two teams in particular have started 2017 in a very different position to a year ago: Namely, last season’s champions Leicester City, and current leaders Chelsea. In contrast to twelve months ago, Chelsea are currently  in pole position, while last year’s runaway winners Leicester are facing relegation to a lower league at the end of the season. Neither team has changed their squad significantly over the past year. So, why is it that the same people can perform at totally different levels, and furthermore what lessons can this offer for sales performance management?

You’re Only as Successful as Your Star Performers

Last year at Leicester, the vast majority of goals were scored or assisted by front men Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez. By contrast, this year both players have struggled to make an impact – with Mahrez completing only nine passes to Vardy in the club’s first twelve games. The formerly unstoppable pair have lost their spark and failed to perform, resulting in a drought of goals and ultimately a lack of wins. In addition to impacting the overall points secured by Leicester, both players have failed to inspire their teammates – showing the importance of keeping your best players at peak performance. Motivating and empowering your star performers must be a key priority for any manager.

Every Team Needs Priorities, not Distractions

Leicester’s success last season won them a much deserved spot in the European football cup, the Champions’ League. In this competition at least, Leicester has exceeded expectations, reaching the last 16 teams comfortably and showing their real quality. But while this is a prestigious and exciting opportunity, suggestions are that it has ultimately distracted from the English Premier League – leaving them at risk of a relegation in their home league, which would seriously harm the team’s future. Like all teams, Leicester must prioritise success in the most important areas – and focus on achieving these goals before pouring energy into ‘nice to have’ opportunities.

Use Your Incentives Wisely

A key part of Leicester’s success last season was a smart incentive scheme set up by manager Claudio Ranieri. Ranieri, who joined the club in July 2015, agreed a lucrative reward scheme for his players based on the team’s performance and where they finished in the league. This bonus pushed the team to outperform and exceed all expectations by becoming 2016 champions. However, since then the team has received a string of extra benefits, ranging from a matching BMW sports car for every player to a £11m yacht provided by sponsors for the club’s owner. Perhaps these rewards have proved a distraction which may have undermined their performance this season. Managers should use incentives wisely, timely and proportionately, to engage their teams on an ongoing and consistent basis, rather than disproportionately rewarding a single achievement. Ensure your incentives are a source of motivation, not distraction.

Leadership is Everything

Part of Chelsea’s problem last season was the spectacular meltdown of formerly brilliant manager, Jose Mourinho. This time last year, the headlines were dominated by tales of tension between Mourinho and his players, as well as the Board and even the club doctor. As a result, former champions Chelsea languished towards the bottom of the table. Soon afterwards, Mourinho left Chelsea for the second time. By contrast, new manager Antonio Conte is widely acknowledged with having returned a sense of joy and laughter to the squad, instilling once again a hunger for success and placing Chelsea at the top of the table. Conte’s achievements to date show the importance of building strong relationships in a team and setting the proper tone – and ultimately highlights the role of the manager in securing success. The highs and lows of Chelsea and Leicester City ultimately show that success is never guaranteed – it’s all about the team and how you use them. Every manager must engage their team members in the long term and set them up for success in the right areas. This will ensure that last year’s champions don’t become this year’s, or even next year’s, failures.