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What can business owners learn from Sir Alex Ferguson? The top 8 tips:

12th September 2013

Running a football team and managing a business are very similar. Today we’re exploring the habits of Sir Alex Ferguson, arguably the worlds greatest ever football manager, to understand the ingredients of his success, and how we can learn to apply this thinking in the context of business ownership.

Start with the foundations

Negotiating transfer fees and wages is extremely difficult in an increasingly complex and competitive global business landscape. If you want the best in business – top talent costs a premium. Sir Alex Ferguson made his name as a manager by giving young people a chance. By empowering talented young players, he constantly built for the future. This develops a longer lifespan in your team and helps to foster greater loyalty amongst staff and players alike. Sir Alex Ferguson worked with some of the greatest players in the game and gave many their first taste of success at the highest level.

Rebuild and optimise

Throughout the course of his 27 year career as manager, Sir Alex Ferguson rebuilt many new Manchester Utd teams. Sir Alex confessed it was always hard letting go of old players that had served him well. But ultimately decisions had to be made based upon performance. If a team members’ performance noticeably declined; he would ask questions and was prepared to take decisive action. Constant rebuilding and optimisation is required to generate best results in the long-term. Be focused, try doing new things and if they don’t work adapt fast.

Maintain high standards

Sir Alex once said of managing performance, “I constantly told my squad that working hard all your life is a talent. But I expected even more from the star players. I expected them to work even harder.” This is an insightful quote, designed to emphasise the relationship between delivery and expectation. Ferguson demanded high standards of all players, but especially the better established team members like David Beckham and Ruud Van Nistelrooy. No one team member or player is bigger than the squad or the company. By managing big ego’s and difficult personalities, Ferguson could constantly maintain the respect of other, less difficult team members for the authority of the organisation.

Stay in control

“There are occasions when you have to ask yourself whether certain players are affecting the dressing-room atmosphere, the performance of the team, and your control of the players and the staff. If they are, you have to cut the cord.” Sir Alex took an often brutal approach when dealing with difficult team members. If someone in the team is creating an adverse and negative situation, it’s down to the owner or manager to deal with the player involved in a controlled and decisive manner.

Know when to motivate

Sir Alex was a master in delivering positive praise to players at optimal times in order to generate peak performance. The simple act of saying ‘well done’ at a crucial juncture in a game, was often the best way to motivate team members to maximise delivery. This applies to footballers, human beings and members of staff. Being continuously praised for positive behaviour is rewarding and key in motivating optimal delivery and performance. Timing is everything.

Be a winner

Ferguson was a master of timing. Famous for clawing victory from the jaws of defeat in the final minute of matches, Sir Alex’s track record speaks for itself. “I am a gambler—a risk taker—and you can see that in how we played in the late stages of matches”, this type of approach epitomises Ferguson’s relentless approach towards risk and success. Even when things are bad, it’s understanding when to focus and keep delivering. Concentration and focus is critical in creating a winning team environment.

Trust your instincts

Sir Alex Ferguson relied upon his great powers of observation. He trusted his gut feeling instinctively, enabling him to make difficult and often radical decisions to enable success. “I came to see observation as a critical part of my management skills. The ability to see things is key — or, more specifically, the ability to see things you don’t expect to see.” This suggests being prepared for what’s around the corner, preparing for the unexpected, is key. When you feel something is right, trust your instincts.

Always adapt for success

Sir Alex Ferguson lasted 27 years as Manchester United’s manager and leader. He led the club to European Cups, Premier League Titles, League Cups and the World Club Cup to name but a few. No other manager in the history of world football has made such a lasting and profound mark upon the game. “Most people with my kind of track record don’t look to change. But I always felt I couldn’t afford not to change.” Adaptation was a critical component of Ferguson’s success. Building new squads with the brightest young talent. Nurturing some of the world’s greatest and hardest working footballers. His team members will attest to his enduring brilliance. As business owners, we can all learn a great deal from the achievements and career of Sir Alex Ferguson.

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