He won 38 trophies during his 26 years at Manchester United and cultivated multiple leaders, but what can small business owners learn from Alex Ferguson? Jeremy Duggan from AppDynamics answers just that question.
In modern football, Alex Ferguson was unique in that he led Manchester United to huge success at home and abroad. He did this in an ever-changing landscape, against multiple competitors, and often with fewer resources at his disposal than rivals. I know, this is the richest club in England, but it didn’t always spend like that under Alex Ferguson.
It’s all about the people
Understanding the ways in which Ferguson achieved that amazing consistency provides lessons for businesses. It relates fundamentally to recruiting and retaining top talent, then coaching the tactics to win consistently. At Manchester United, a culture was created by the people who embodied what the club stood for. That, in turn, led to an attraction that pulled others along with them, brought word-of-mouth respect and acted as a magnet for similarly driven, overachieving individuals and as a repellent for the complacent.
Follow the leader
Players like Steve Bruce, Roy Keane and Peter Schmeichel embodied Alex Ferguson’s team, urging others on and refusing to take defeat lying down. Ferguson’s “Class of 92” had the raw ingredients for greatness, with the likes of David Beckham and Ryan Giggs demonstrating special qualities at a young age. What do these players tell us about establishing successful teams in business? You want to create a culture where people will drive their peers to compete harder and where under-performers are quickly identified. You need to hire strong individuals that will act as the standard bearers of your enterprises, behaving as captains and bosses, whatever their job title is.
The three Rs
At AppDynamics, a fast-growing software businesses today, we talk about the “3 Rs”: recruiting and retaining will lead you to revenue.
There is no job more important than recruiting and the next biggest task is keeping your best people happy and motivated. In the technology sector, the worldwide battle for talent makes this even more accentuated. At smaller, rapidly growing companies, you have none of the leverage that you do at bigger competitors. In the early days, you have few customers, references, marketing dollars, partners, and little overall market awareness. The people you hire need to not only accept this challenge but relish it and be good enough to overcome challenges through their personal skills and commitment, courage and capabilities. Failing to recruit A-players will kill your hyper-growth.
Recruiting the best requires senior involvement in the hiring process, a bold culture that employees can rally around and abundant opportunities for people to improve and be amply compensated for their work. Lions want to run with other lions. They want to win. They want to be pushed. Lions are driven by clear opportunities for career improvement and progression — not Silicon Valley perks.
Defining what makes A-players varies widely across organisations. So how do you recruit someone who has the special qualities that make up the top two per cent of people who can really move the needle for you?
The starting point is to ensure everyone on your team understands how to qualify the two things that you cannot impart in people – intelligence and character and look for those characteristics in everyone they meet. Neither of these qualities can be taught so if candidates don’t have them to the level you need; you can’t develop them. So you need to focus on how can you fact-check both of these crucial areas.
Avoid making a multi-million dollar mistake
Hiring the wrong people will cost you money, time and energy. So look for key performance indicators:
- Education: A good degree from a great university is a start. But, it is not everything
- Decisions: Has the candidate hopped from job to job or spent too long at one company?
- Achievements: What have they done in their lives that mark them out from the crowd?
- Earnings: View their salary as their work scorecard
- Consistency: Look for performance over time and not just occasional hits
- Preparation: Have they done their homework about the business for the interview? If they haven’t then they’re not bothered about working for you
- Questioning: Not only can they answer questions but do they ask great questions back?
All of these areas provide factual evidence that a person is right for you. Special individuals achieve special things before they meet you. Beware of the “superstar” who didn’t accomplish much outside of work. However, if you make them the superstar and they get too big for their boots, be ruthless like Alex Ferguson. No player is bigger than the club.
Build that culture for hiring and the major challenges of hyper-growth become manageable. An organic culture develops as the right people seek to work with like-minded individuals to drive success. And, remember, in the words of Fergie: “The work of a team should always embrace a great player but the great player must always work.”
If you enjoyed this article on Alex Ferguson then find out how Leicester City outfoxed its rivals through five Claudio Ranieri leadership lessons.
Jeremy Duggan is general manager, EMEA at AppDynamics.
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