Thursday, 14 February 2013

Longevity in a job: What can we learn from Alex Ferguson & Arsene Wenger?

Longevity in a job is now less prevalent and one of the reasons is that it’s difficult to achieve continued success and have a fresh approach over a prolonged period of time with the same employer.

People who excel at their jobs will either thrive with their existing employer or develop their career at another company. However if you do stay with the same employer, how can you ensure sustained success?

Football can provide us with valuable analogies, so let’s take a look at two of the longest serving managers in the game: Arsene Wenger and Alex Ferguson. Despite both being very successful over a long period of time, one has maintained success to the present day and one is living on his past successes. What can we learn from them? 

Our guide to achieve sustained success:

Change and evolve
Don’t think you’ve cracked it and that what you do will always work - it won’t. Make sure you are open to new systems, technology and thinking. In football this might be training, diet, formations, fitness analysis and backroom team structure. In business, this might be information technology, sales methods, market focus, product development/range, promotional activity or packaging, literature and 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.

You need to find time to discover new ideas and concepts to avoid being locked in a photograph of better times. You also need to accept that others can help in the areas you’re weak or offer fresh thinking - eg for Arsenal’s defensive strategy and personnel. You could 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. It should not be a revolving door, but a sensible introduction of new team members or change of focus to 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 supporters or team lose faith and ignore your vision. The company/department will act as a disparate team, leading to stagnation or failure and your hard work counts for nothing.

Alex 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 and it is easier to grow when you are successful. Wenger is finding it hard playing catch-up to attract players to his squad or to encourage them to stay. Clubs are also losing the fear factor when visiting the Emirates.

Ferguson said: “We look at the training sessions as opportunities to learn and improve. The players may think ‘Here we go again’ but it helps to win. The message is simple: we cannot sit still.”

Keep your mind and thinking focused
Don’t find yourself looking over your shoulder, making your thinking unfocused and allowing your position to weaken; it might affect your ability to move in the future.

If something is not working then change it to ensure that it does. 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 is an example of this: if he had shown more flexibility the team would be much stronger. So, learn from your mistakes with an uncluttered mind that allows sound decision-making.

Above all, make sure you have plans with defined end-goals. However don’t forget that the way to achieve your goals can change.

Demand hard work and excellence from your team
It is vital to show strength and command respect from your team and colleagues. If members of your team develop and succeed it will mean you and your company will too. You will also maximise your team’s potential and your colleagues will respond accordingly and up their game. However, don't be afraid to delegate - I am sure Steve Bould at Arsenal would appreciate having the autonomy to exert his influence and being allowed to flourish in his role as first team coach.

If you show weakness or become complacent this can spread through your team and the extra 10% that keeps you at the top will disappear. If there is a problem, deal with it, don’t let it fester and do damage.

For a manager who is infamous for his “hairdryer” treatment to players, Ferguson knows that it is not all about losing his temper but knows that his authority can’t be undermined: “You can’t always come in shouting and screaming,” he said. “That doesn’t work. No one likes to get criticised.”

“But in the football dressing room, it’s necessary that you point out your players’ mistakes. I do it right after the game. I don’t wait until Monday, I do it, and it’s finished. I’m onto the next match. There is no point in criticising a player forever.

“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 a better contract. If a team does not show continuous improvement then the consequences could be disastrous. You rely on your team so make sure they perform for you and know that only the best will do. 

Ferguson covered this with the students: “There is no room for criticism on the training field. 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. You don’t need to use superlatives.”

Knowing when the full-time whistle is due
Much of the above begs the question: when is a good time to leave for your career? This is very difficult to get right and it does not 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, but it is also important to remember that after every failure is a success, even Ferguson has failures. Thank you Marc Overmars!

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. Whereas ‘Fergie time’ looks to continue until he decides to blow his own whistle. Whatever happens these extraordinary men should be an inspiration for us all to achieve our objectives in our professional lives.

As a passionate Arsenal fan it is difficult to admit that Arsene’s judgment is off and a good percentage is of his own making. Perhaps ‘Le Professeur’ is intelligent enough to stop the rot and learn from his mistakes - we will see if he can achieve his greatest success – effective management of himself.

Pinnacle Consulting can provide assistance and career guidance to those looking to develop their career with their existing employer or a new employer. Why not attend one of our PinBuild Career Development Clinics and let us help you map out a career path and stay on the ball in your particular field of expertise. You don’t want to have a relegation year ahead...

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