Even those utterly uninterested in football may be aware that the biggest club in the world, Manchester United, is going through a major crisis. It cost their head coach his job. A new interim manager has been appointed.
This has lessons for your firm.
By Stuart Maister, Joint MD, Mutual Value
I originally drafted this article weeks ago and the crises have continued. These have come despite bringing back their iconic player, Cristiano Ronaldo, at enormous expense in terms of wages.
Indeed, United have a number of huge stars, world class players who should ensure success. However, many commentators make the point that what can happen when a team has such big stars is that other players play less well. Or the tactics are distorted to play to their strengths at the expense of effectiveness as a team. Maybe other players get less of a chance to shine because of the shadow cast.
That’s the critical point. Clubs win as a team. So do Firms.
Do you rely on star players?
In my experience, many businesses rely on star players to provide most of their profits (not necessarily revenues). These may be partners or account leaders, or the golden clients who effectively subsidise the others who are less profitable.
The question is: how sustainable is this? And perhaps even more importantly: how much more success is being sacrificed because of the reliance on a few heavy-hitting fee earners or major accounts?
Like football clubs, the best firms win as teams, and do so systematically, not through inspiration by a few people. A star player – or a star partner – won’t deliver sustained success if the rest of the team is not also excellent. Or there will be an unhealthy focus on a few clients or big wins, like a team which wins some big matches but not the league, which requires sustained victories. And the Firm is vulnerable if that star player transfers to another organisation.
The key here is consistency across the Firm in the way clients are targeted, nurtured and serviced, and how people show up to them. Goals are scored in the interaction with clients – meetings, conversations, presentations, pieces of work.
What star players do in a Firm
The very best performers will understand what’s required to build trust and do it consistently. They will seek open conversations and explore fully with their clients what will help, focusing on value creation not technical solutions. This will result in more opportunities with more scores on the board and more wins as a result.
The challenge for your Ronaldo is that when he or she turns up they need to know the team around them supports this through consistent behaviours.
The good news is that while some have excessive natural talent, everyone can learn the skills involved. Even the very best benefit from training and coaching to continually hone their talent. That’s true for footballers, athletes – and client leaders.
Some see the best in action and feel intimidated, believing they are ‘not like that’. In client meetings they may focus more narrowly on their specific area of expertise as a way of demonstrating their worth. Any movement away from their own specialism makes them feel vulnerable, and so they seek to solve problems through what they know, not widen conversations into areas where they do not have the answers.
Tackling this can bring huge dividends in terms of widening and deepening the engagement with clients.
Winning as a true team
The result is that the team is stronger and will win much more consistently. If the star player is unavailable, others step in without breaking stride because they know how to perform to a high level. Indeed, they will become stars in their own right, benefiting from a structured and conscious focus on demonstrating the best relationship behaviours as a Firm.
The trick for a club like Manchester United is to harness the strengths of their star players within a powerful team ethos and a clear and well understood method. If all the players can replicate the habits of the very best, then this will lead to better results. Football commentators talk of it ‘rubbing off’ on them.
Once upon a time, in a business context, this might have been true as well, but in our more dispersed and complex firms you cannot rely on this. In a digital world there is less learning by osmosis.Even in a club like Manchester United they need a system, a structure, an ethos and, most importantly, a collective culture that they consciously use to train their players. If you do this in your Firm then you can be more confident that you have built a team who demonstrate consistent behaviours designed to deliver sustained success – and so always play to win.
Does this resonate? If so, let’s have an open discussion about what this might mean for your business and what difference it would make for everyone to act as a trusted partner to your clients.
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