Is City’s triumph a microcosm of what British industry should be doing?

Posted by ap507 at May 03, 2016 09:45 AM |
Professor Stephen Wood discusses how management helped Leicester City seize victory in the Premier League

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Lessons can be learnt for the British economy's productivity problem from Leicester City's success. Not only has City bucked the trend of rich clubs dominating trophies, they are showing the value of good management from top to bottom. It is a microcosm of what we should be doing.

There seems to be a genuine uncertainty amongst policy makers about what is the productivity problem. But as John Cridland (ex CBI Director-General) rightly said in a recent ACAS lecture there is no real puzzle here: the answer lies in workplace relations and the lack of genuine involvement opportunities.  British industry is over concerned with finance and spotting and rewarding talent, dominated by directors and Chief executives who are distant from employees, customers and clients,  and puts IT systems over people and over-relies on impersonal call centres. Even in professional sports, elite clubs fall under this characterisation – some may say especially in football.

The lessons we can take from the City “miracle” include the value of: employee involvement which produces good work processes, team spirit, and a sense of unity and purpose, directors who consciously get close to their employees and customers, and concentrating on the improvement of all and not singling out the Stars.

Standard work psychology theories of performance would certainly not reduce the difference in City's results over the past year to changes at the top. The abilities and motivation of the players is just as important as good leadership but contemporary theories stress that the key element, too often forgotten, is employee involvement, the coordination between people and team working. Leicester players make the point again and again that the manager has involved everybody from the laundry people to the players and senior administrators, on a daily basis. Jamie Vardy, in particular, has regularly described how much work, technical assistance and attention to detail has gone into developing him and other players.

Two myths have emerged in the narrative surrounding City's success: that the club is small and the team is inexperienced.  We are a medium-sized club and the lesson here is that policy makers should focus much more on the development of medium-sized firms and not just the oligopolies and small business. And City has shown that experience does matter: three members of the squad have over 100 caps, the manager has been managing for 30 years, and the players had the experience of last year's pressure. Organizational tradition may also not be unimportant. Surely it is no coincidence that the four great post-war successful teams at Leicester were built by developing players from lower divisions or discarded by so-called bigger clubs? Bloomfield's team with Birch, himself a key factor in making the great atmosphere currently around the club, being one such team.

In short the club have constructed a very good football team and the success is no fairy tale. Fairy tales have their place, but so much more can be learnt from observing winning management.

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