Businesses are forever bombarded by former professional sportsmen and women about the what we could learn from professional sport. I for one have always been sceptical, for many reasons. Now we have a current example of how the tables can be turned.
Newcastle United have recently grabbed the headlines for a host of reasons, from the fan protests, to potential managerial changes, and mistrust of the fans in the owner and his motives. Relations with the media are at best antagonistic. Performances are criticised for lacking passion and intensity. Confusion and mistrust reign. The team have survived for a few seasons in the Premier League with the accompanying riches that this brings, but star players are sold at the end of every season with seemingly little reinvestment in the team.
Pundits seem to conclude, that to sack the manager would be useless because no one in their right mind would take the job because of the resources available and the atmosphere at the club. In a business context, we can see that these are classic symptoms of poor engagement. No one seems to care enough or in football parlance, ‘play for the shirt’.
Performance by any standard is ok…but it seems the only measure of success for the owner is money and that can never sustain performance in the long run. Nor can it breed followers who are wiling to put everything on the line.
In Engagement terms we can see that the club lurches from crisis to crisis because it lacks a number of things. Firstly, there is no long term vision or mission that is clearly understood by al stakeholders (least of all the players). For them, the only motivation to play well is to be spotted by the competition and transferred at a future date. Trust is missing at all levels which means that any sort of mistake by managers or players brings criticism and abuse, resulting in the inability to plan for the future.
The fans have no confidence because they don’t trust owners, managers or players to go the extra mile. The fans are realistic in that they don’t expect their club to be at the top of the league, but they crave something to believe in. They want to know that the club is striving for improvement, has some philosophy, that isn’t just a vehicle for other businesses. The lack of communication from the club to the fans via direct channels or the media deepens the mistrust.
John Lewis, Google and Innocent have a worked hard to create a mission and a culture where everyone understand what the company is about and what is expected. This hasn’t happened by accident. These organisations have invested time and resource into developing the specifics of mission, purpose and culture. They are great communicators. They might be in very different industries with different histories, but the have dedication to get this right.
Newcastle United have a proud history and legacy in all senses and the fans and I suggest the staff want to be able to draw on this as something to galvanise behind. Management is looking for the empowerment and trust to do the right thing and work in an environment that breeds opportunities for development, learning and innovation. For Newcastle United substitute many other football clubs and businesses. All stakeholders are craving authenticity and want the reason to rally behind something with meaning and purpose.
Its not rocket science is it?