What can we learn from Alex Ferguson & Arsene Wenger?
Longevity in a job is now less prevalent and one reason is that it’s difficult to achieve continued success and remain fresh with the same employer.
Those who excel at their jobs will either thrive with their existing employer or develop their career at another company. If you do stay with the same employer, how can you ensure sustained success?
Let’s take a look at what we can learn from two of the longest serving managers football: Wenger and Ferguson. Despite both being successful over a long period of time, one has maintained his success and one is living on his past successes.
Change and evolve
Don’t think what you do will always work – it won’t. Be open to new systems and thinking. In football this might be training, diet, formations, fitness analysis or backroom team structure. In business, this might be information technology, new sales methods, market focus, product development, promotional methods or support services. How many times have you heard someone ask the question: “Why do we do that?” and the answer is “We’ve always done it”. Make sure you know what you’re trying to achieve.
Find time to discover new ideas and concepts to avoid being locked in a photograph of better times. You need to accept that others can help in the areas you’re weak or offer fresh thinking – eg Arsenal’s defensive strategy and personnel. Also, compare the coaching staff set-up to highlight this point: the strategy of Ferguson to change his coach every few years keeps things fresh and people motivated, as well as bringing in new ideas. A sensible introduction of new team members or change of focus can add value to your business.
Ferguson spoke recently to academics from the Harvard Business School, where he accepted he has had to change and adapt himself to ensure maximum response.
“Players these days have lived more sheltered lives, so they are much more fragile now than 25 years ago. I was very aggressive all those years ago. I am passionate and want to win all the time. But today I’m more mellowed – age does that to you. And I can better handle those more fragile players now.”
Don’t rest on your laurels
Success ends the second you have succeeded. However, success and longevity in a job will buy you some credit when things start to slide – if anyone other than Wenger had not won anything in 8 years they would not be in the job – but ultimately it will end in failure if you do not continue to look forward.
Once the spiral starts, your team will lose faith and ignore your vision. The company/department will act as a disparate team, leading to stagnation.
Ferguson has always had the attitude that, once success has been achieved, enjoy it that day and the next day focus on the next success. You need to ensure others do not catch up with you – it is easier to grow when you are successful. Wenger is finding it hard playing catch-up, encouraging players to stay and attracting new talent, resulting in the loss of “fear factor” that away clubs used to experience at the Emirates.
Keep your mind and thinking focused
It is vital that your thinking is not clouded or stubborn just to make a point, when everyone else can see what’s wrong. Perhaps Wenger’s transfer policy demonstrates this: if he had shown more flexibility the team would be much stronger. So, learn from your mistakes: an uncluttered mind allows sound decision-making. But, above all, make sure you have plans with defined end-goals, remembering that the way to achieve those goals can change.
Demand hard work and excellence from your team
It is vital to show strength and command respect from your team. If your team develops and succeeds it will mean the company will too and you will maximise your team’s potential.
If you show weakness or become complacent, this can spread through your whole team and the extra 10% that keeps you at the top will go. If there is a problem, deal with it, don’t let it fester and do damage.
Ferguson gave the students an insight into his approach: “You can’t ever lose control – not when you are dealing with 30 top professionals who are millionaires. If they misbehave, we fine them, but we keep it indoors. And if anyone steps out of my control, that’s them dead.” (Note: it is not a good idea to kill your employees!);
A team needs support and encouragement, so make sure you do this when they deserve it – it will make them inspired to achieve more. In business this could mean greater sales, resulting in more commission or promotion and in football this could mean more silverware or an improved contract. If a team does not show continuous improvement then the consequences could be disastrous.
Ferguson understands the importance of encouragement: “For a player – and for any human being – there is nothing better than hearing ‘well done’. Those are the two best words ever invented in sports.”
Knowing when the full-time whistle is due
So when is a good time to leave for your career? It’s very difficult to get right and it doesn’t often work out how you want it to.
You might be asked to leave; you might leave when your earning potential is not at its peak; you may have missed opportunities that you should have taken; you might want to achieve more at your current company and stay; or you might want to leave when you could achieve more but go elsewhere for a different kind of challenge. It’s different for everyone.
However, very few manage to reach retirement still achieving sustained success at the same company. “Arsene knows” fans used to say, but it looks like he no longer does and his time is coming to an end, but ‘Fergie time’ seems to go on. Whatever happens, these extraordinary men should inspire us to achieve our objectives in our professional lives.
As an Arsenal fan it’s hard to admit that Arsene’s judgement is off. Perhaps ‘Le Professeur’ is intelligent enough to learn from his mistakes and achieve his greatest success – effective management of himself.
Steve Rogan is managing director of Pinnacle Consulting, specialist recruitment consultants for the building products industry.