Soccer players in action on sunset stadium background panorama

Goal focused: top Premier League managers inspire and reward teams

There is no shortage of successful business people proffering top tips on how to run a small business, or how to get the most out of your workforce.

But when it comes to seeking inspiration for your business, it sometimes pays to look a little further afield. And by “afield”, we literally mean a football pitch.

The football pitch can offer many valuable insights, particularly when it comes to people management.

After all, football managers are not dissimilar to any manager of teams of people (with the exception that few managers have their work appraised so passionately by hundreds of thousands of fans each week). Each football manager bears significant pressure and responsibility for getting the most out of their team. And each approaches it in their own unique way. Some favour the “carrot” approach, such as Gareth Southgate, who led England’s team to unexpected success at the last World Cup with his particular style of gentle, thoughtful management. Others prefer the “stick” – Alex Ferguson springs to mind, who famously kicked a football boot at David Beckham’s head when unhappy with a performance.

Two of today’s most revered football managers – Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp and Man City’s Pep Guardiola – are great examples of what a successful football manager can teach us about how to get the most out of a workforce. Both Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola are regularly praised for their demonstrations of authority and control, and for their ability to regularly deliver a team which performs with impressive commitment.

But with so many managers seemingly incapable of creating this productive dynamic (sorry José), what is it that makes Jurgen and Pep so successful?

One key thing uniting both managers is that they have helped produce players seemingly willing to go above and beyond, who will continue giving 100 per cent right up until the final whistle. And this is critical when running a small business. When thinking about your own workforce, you will undoubtedly know how important a factor staff engagement and commitment is, and the impact it has on overall productivity and output. Any business with employees as dedicated as the Liverpool and Man City squads would be a very special place indeed.

So how do they do it?

Create loyalty

Both Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola seem to have been able to create a workforce that demonstrates a genuine sense of loyalty to the team for which they play – and it is this loyalty that is the key factor. No employee is going to go that extra mile for a business or managers that they resent – just as a football player is not going to give it their all in training and on the pitch for a manager they don’t respect.

Name your own ‘man of the match’

One of the most powerful ways to gain the respect of a member of staff is to recognise and reward their individual efforts and achievements – just as football teams designate a “man of the match” after every game. Highlighting an individual’s accomplishments may seem like a small thing but demonstrating acknowledgement and gratitude for your employees’ work helps them to understand that they matter, and that their efforts are contributing the success of the whole company. Rewarding staff fosters loyalty and is incredibly motivating, as it encourages people to work hard in order to achieve the resulting accolade.

All too often businesses fail to invest in effective reward and recognition activity, leaving employees feeling demotivated and irrelevant to the overall business. And if they feel that they don’t matter, why should they bother putting any effort in? Just a few demotivated team members can have a major impact on the organisation as a whole: going back to football, you only need to witness a team with one or two players having an off day to understand the impact that this has on the outcome of the match. When compared with a team that is working together, all demonstrating the same commitment to the outcome, the difference is stark.

Celebrate the team

In our experience, it is important to reward staff in two ways. Firstly, by focusing on individual achievements, offering personalised rewards for the specific accomplishments of one person; and secondly, creating a sense amongst your staff that they are part of something bigger. A successful reward scheme will ensure that others share in individual achievements, that whole teams are recognised together and that everyone in the company is offered the opportunity to celebrate all successes, big and small. Ultimately, any reward activity should be making people feel that they are an important part of something special.

Lead by example

Klopp and Guardiola lead by example. Both managers demonstrate real passion on the sidelines – there is never any doubt that they are truly invested in the performance and outcome, and this can really inspire players – or indeed workers – to give it their all. And of course, it also works the other way: why should a member of staff feel motivated when their manager demonstrates a lacklustre attitude?

In a small business, there is nowhere to hide. Your attitude will be felt by everyone in the organisation, and therefore it is even more critical that you are setting the right tone. It might not be appropriate to bounce around the office, screaming and shouting encouragement in true football manager-style, showing that the leader of the business really cares about how staff perform can be a real game-changer.

In a small business, you are in a great position to really engage with all staff on a personal level. To get to know them, and reward them personally for their individual efforts, and collectively for the teamwork that has to go into any successful business.

So next time you are looking for inspiration on how to motivate your team, maybe look outside of the boardroom, and take some lessons from the football pitch.

Jacqueline Benjamin is co-founder of employee engagement, reward & recognition and customer loyalty programme provider Xexec

Further reading

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