Business lessons from football
Posted Saturday, February 16 2013 at 02:00
Sir alex ferguson model. By managing game by game, season by season and I would imagine player by player, Ferguson avoids the trap set by radar-less grand schemes and unguided ambitions.
At the end of last year I was privileged enough to access a very good Harvard Business case prepared by Professor Anita Elberse and Tom Dye called Sir Alex Ferguson: Managing Manchester United.
It is a map of Ferguson’s achievements from when he joins a success starved Manchester United in 1986 through various years and challenges right up to the big business that we see today.
Due to fears about copyright infringement, I need to check myself here, but essentially the case is the examination of the methods of one of football’s most successful managers at football’s most successful business. Naturally, there are a lot of lessons to carry into the world of corporate business but allow me to share the two that captivated me the most.
One of the lessons is his clarity of detail and the second which I shall return to later on, is Ferguson’s sense of discipline.
First of all, it is easy to think of men as successful as Ferguson as clever types, locked away in dark rooms devising ways of solving life’s complex puzzles. But in fact, what this case reveals to us is the simplicity of his ways.
By managing game by game, season by season and I would imagine player by player, Ferguson avoids the trap set by radar-less grand schemes and unguided ambitions. This attention to detail keeps him bubbling with renewed energy. His genius has been to master the art of breaking down visions into simple fragments that he then pursues relentlessly, bit by bit all the while keeping sight of the end, and I guess we can all learn from that.
The business plans, budgets and balance score cards we draw are nothing without being broken down into specific, daily, weekly and monthly activities that we then must all pursue with a discipline that appreciates the linkage between these activities and our plans. Which brings me to the second lesson I talked of earlier – that of discipline.
Ferguson is still old school in the sense that he looks beyond the entertainment value of sport to matters like its ability to instil an appreciation of control and discipline due to its repetitive and consistent application of rules and regulations.
It is easy to call this bureaucratic but what it does is help us focus and needless to say that is critical in the achievement of set goals. So and regardless of the disclaimer on the cases’ first page that says it wasn’t intended to be an illustration of effective or ineffective management, I still found Sir Alex Ferguson: Managing Manchester United carried a lot of lessons for the world of corporate business management.
It might be about football but sport these days is big business and the challenges and lessons of running a big football club today can’t be any different from those faced in the corporate world. Above all, I see few better ways to learn than from the methods of one of the games’ leading managers.