Learning From Leicester City: Business Lessons From The Premier League Champions

How did Leicester City win the league? Shrewd recruitment, teamwork, trust and a winning culture. That sounds like a recipe for good business as well.

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By Stephen Maclaren • Jun 14, 2016

The Leicester City team.

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Whether you're a football fan or not, it is one of the world's greatest sporting success stories: 5000-1 shot underdogs Leicester City won the 2015-16 season of the Premier League. In a league traditionally dominated by the big spenders, Leicester overturned gargantuan odds to lift the coveted trophy- all with the fourth lowest wage bill in the league. So if you have less money, less clout, and no one gives you a chance- how do you manage to win it all? And what are the lessons here for those of us in HR and business in general? Here's a review.

1. In business or in football, trust your team

Leicester's incredible success story could never have happened had management not placed the utmost trust in those responsible for the day-to-day running of the club, be they managers, coaches, scouts or players. Having floundered in the lower divisions for several years, the club's first goal was stability. To achieve this, they turned to Nigel Pearson who steadied the ship, first cementing the club's place in the Championship (the division below the Premier League), before winning promotion to the Premier League in 2014.

Pearson spent four years at the club (the average is just over one year) before it was time for a change. The owners then placed their trust in veteran Claudio Ranieri, much to the scorn of the sporting press at the time. Ranieri paid this trust forward and set about learning what made the players tick. Rather than enforcing his style upon them, Ranieri instead studied their qualities, put them in positions to which they were best suited, and let them express themselves on the pitch.

There is much here that can be transferred to the business world. A study by Watson Wyatt in 2002 showed a remarkable difference in what it termed "high-trust organizations": the return to shareholders was nearly three times higher when compared to "low-trust organizations." As with Leicester City, resisting the temptation to micromanage is key. Keep in mind that you employed your current team for a reason– because they know what they are doing. If you have entrusted a manager with a job, allow them to get on with it.

Many managers, both in football and in business, want to call every shot. At Leicester, Ranieri delegated tasks to those best qualified to carry them out. What's more, Ranieri simply understood that many people are often not utilized to the best of their abilities. With this in mind, he gave each player the opportunity to showcase his talents– it's the fastest way to find the hidden superstar in your team.

Related: Invigorate Your Team In 10 Steps

2. Re-examine your recruitment

Ranieri's trust in his staff also extended to Leicester's recruitment policy. When he needed reinforcements, he once again delegated this task to the staff best placed to do the job. His chief scout Steve Walsh's opinion was so respected by Ranieri that his suggestion to sign the unknown Riyad Mahrez (for $580,000) was instantly acted upon.

Ranieri made the right call: Mahrez was crowned Premier League Player of the Season in 2016 and is now worth in the region of $50 million. But Mahrez wasn't the only bargain signing. Leicester's entire playing squad was assembled for around $82 million dollars, a small figure compared to the three clubs behind them (Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City) who regularly spend that amount on just one or two players.

So how exactly did Leicester pull together a title winning team for just a fraction of the price of champions before them? Smart recruitment. Leicester knew that if they were to stand any chance of success they needed individuals with a tenacious work ethic, even if they were not the most technically gifted footballers. And those players needed to share the club's vision, always ready to do exactly what was required of them. They really looked not just at the players as they stood today, but at what they could one day become.

This approach should ring bells for those in business. According to the 2007 Annual Survey Report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), the most frequent approach used to overcome difficulties in recruitment is to hire people who show growth potential, even if at the point of hire they don't have all that is required for the position. It's all about looking past the headlines of a CV and digging a little deeper.

3. Building a winning culture

The Leicester City story may look like overnight success to the casual fan, but as personnel would come and go, their culture remained intact. And this proved vital for employee (or player) engagement. It's worth noting that in a 2014 Gallup survey, less than one third of American employees reported being engaged in their job. That's a scary figure for those trying to build a solid, winning culture.

When recruiting, it is imperative that any new hire is invested in the ultimate mission of your business– regardless of where they have worked previously and what they have achieved. If they cannot see your vision, then your time together is unlikely to be particularly fruitful.

So, how did Leicester City win the league? Shrewd recruitment, teamwork, trust and a winning culture.

Sounds like a recipe for good business.

Related: Harnessing Corporate Culture To Make Employees Loyal To Your Brand, Not Your Money

Stephen Maclaren

Head of Regional Sales Employee Benefits, Al Futtaim Willis

Stephen Maclaren is the Head of Regional Sales Employee Benefits at Al Futtaim Willis. Stephen has more than 25 years of experience in the insurance industry, of which the past 11 have been spent in Dubai. He and his teams support some of the largest companies and organizations operating in the Gulf region and broker extensively in the areas of employee benefits and operational risks.

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