Tuesday, May 10, 2016


Last week unheralded Leicester FC won the premiership for the first time in their 132 year history. 

Everybody is calling their run to the pinnacle of English soccer a fairytale, and be glad you lived to see it. At the beginning of the season the betting companies had given the team a 5000 – 1 chance of winning, the same odds they gave the possibility that Elvis was alive or that rocker turned philanthropist Bono can be the Pope.

The team had shown little inkling of greatness, even though they had escaped relegation the previous season by winning six of their last eight  games. Their £48m (sh235b) wage bill is less than half of league runner ups Tottenham and only a fourth of highest spending Chelsea’s payroll.

What made the feat even more improbable is that the team has sustained quality for a whole season and 36 games. So a fluke it was not.

"The feat puts to shame all the people, businesses and governments who faced with little financial resources, inadequate manpower or other assets are content to wallow in mediocrity having convinced themselves that it is useless to even try and compete with the big boys...

So if it wasn’t a miracle, how did Leicester do it and how can the rest of us mere mortals benefit from their wonder run?

Already the book deals are being signed to explain this, but maybe we need not look further than,  “Execution: The Discipline of getting things done” written by Larry Bossidy & Ram Charan.
Bossidy cut his management teeth at the feet of Jack Welch at GE, before moving on to manage aerospace engineering firm, Allied Signal.

In the book Bossidy points out that it’s the interaction between human resource, operations and strategy that determines whether companies can get things done.

In his experience it is a rare company that can have these three elements complimenting each other to unleash the full potential of a company. Often times two of the three maybe in sync – and not always the same two or that if the three are in unison, it is not often enough to produce consistent results over a prolonged time.

Let’s try and decipher the Leicester magic.

1.       Human Resource

"What seems like a motley crew of underachievers, veterans in the sunset of their careers and big team rejects were brought together deliberately, systematically and then melded into a single unit. The whole was greater than the sum of the individual parts...

It started with the recruitment, which was based on solid statistics and analysis of the players strengths and weaknesses and how these fit into the way the team wanted to play.

They also had a backroom staff of administrators and medical staff committed to the team’s success and willing to explore the cutting edge of management and sports science to extract maximum value from their charges.

We talk about sweating assets in terms of plant and machinery, Leicester showed us how to sweat human assets. Employing the smallest team in the league, with little change from game to game and still keep most injury free.

2.       Operations
You can have the most talented staff but the operations, how these interact with themselves and their tools in pursuit of a common goal is where everything comes together or apart.

"Coach Claudio Ranieri, a bargain acquisition too, worked at creating a family atmosphere in the team, discouraging big egos, promoting the mission over the individual and emphasising the process over results...

He was aided by a management that was confident to give him his brief and let him run with it. He was no amateur and in hindsight may be credited with laying the foundation for Jose Mourihno’s winning teams at Chelsea.

The technical team threw the training book out the window, emphasising explosive workouts and ice boxes to speed up player recovery between matches – explaining their low injury downtimes.

3.       Strategy
It starts with the strategy – what is your vision? How are you going to achieve it using what you have?

Clearly Leicester while they might have aspired to greater things, knew their place. With a relatively small wallet they went shopping for good value selling at a discount, both on and off the field. On the pitch they eschewed possession for efficient, counter attacking and trained with that in mind. Is it possible they lost early in other competitions to focus on the league, because they had the smallest team and couldn’t afford to rotate them?

Of course this does not even begin to scratch the surface about what went on behind closed doors at the club.

"But if there is any moral to this story it is that a team, business or country, can over turn the tables by having a good understanding of their place in the greater scheme of things, question and be unafraid to buck conventional wisdom and to practice unrelenting discipline in executing their strategy....

Of course  a thorough examination of their human resource practices would be instructional – their identification of what they need, the systematic way they went about acquiring it and what will be a true test for them going into the next season,  their ability to retain that talent.

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