5000/1 were the odds of Leicester City to win the Premier League title in 2016. Yet, they did. I always like to think we can learn from everyone and everything and as Ben Azzai taught in the timeless wisdom of Ethics of our Fathers “there is no man without his time and no thing without its place”. So what can we learn from Leicester City?
Of course, most managers, teams and fans alike would dream of a team filled with the likes of the Lionel Messis, Gi’gi Buffons and Harry Kanes of this world. Though what can a business do where, like Leicester City, their talent and spending power is qualitatively less than their competitors? They lack the natural resources so how can a business pull off a Leicester City? How did Leicester City become the Premier League’s ultimate enigma?
Back to Basics
The trend in business, as with football, is to constantly be innovating and disrupting.
The first thing Leicester City’s manager Claudio Ranieri did was go back to basics. He went back to the classic English 4-4-2 formation while the rest of the league were busy experimenting with continental strategies of 3-5-2, 4-5-1, 2-3-2-3, 4-2-3-1 and many others, trying to be one step ahead of the innovations of their neighbours.
The two strikers played to their strengths – one, Okazaki, sat just behind Jamie Vardy. Okazaki’s key role was simply to get the ball into Vardy to finish. As soon as Okazaki had played balls into Vardy he was straight away looking for any follow-ups.
In business terms, this is about doing the simple things right. Within each function of the business, get them performing to their strengths. A defender doesn’t need to be blasting down the wings, he needs to be cast-iron in preventing the opposition’s attacks.
When it comes to a marketing strategy, a recruitment strategy or a sales strategy – get back to basics. Effectively delegate and trust in the delegation. Marketing – let the marketers do it. Recruitment – let the recruiters do it. Sales – train the best and let them do it.
Defence is Key
Leicester City built on their defence. Ranieri knew that if the team conceded goals then no matter how many goals Okazaki would create for Vardy, they would not dominate the league.
Early on in the season Ranieri replaced some of his more creative full-backs with two more regular and defensively-minded full backs. This security and safety net meant his creative players further up the field like Riyad Mahrez (who subsequently was bought by Manchester City for £60 million, making him the most expensive African player and record transfer fee received for the club) were able to perform their own roles more effectively without worrying if they were leaving the team open at the back were they to lose possession.
Leicester City also had two solid and very experienced central defenders in Robert Huth (ex Chelsea) and Wes Morgan (who captained the team).
In business terms, this would translate as not spending money unnecessarily. An overly-inflated wage budget/high salaries or too many employees can rapidly deplete the pot. Rents/mortgages/overheads take up a large swathe of the pot, so question if it’s necessary to have such a prestigious office location for your business to do its bread and butter.
Having a strong defence is akin to having a strong insurance policy too. A huge goal-leak would have been disastrous for Leicester’s season. So too in business, make sure there is a Wes Morgan there at the back, a solid, trusted insurance to get you out of trouble if you find yourself in it!
Clear, SMART Goals
Ranieri targeted his team with finishing the season with 40 points. They went on to finish the season with over double that amount. The goal Ranieri set his team was specific, measurable, definitely achievable (when 36 points is reached it’s highly likely the team will avoid relegation). So his target was definitely not overly high, it was just to avoid relegation! It must have been an incredible feeling for the players every week demonstrating to their manager how they were exceeding all his and their fans’ expectations!? The goals were also realistic and timely.
Businesses should apply highly achievable goals.
Workhorse in the Middle
N’golo Kante was one of the stars of that season. He was bought by Chelsea afterwards for £32 million, which can be seen as a steal in today’s football economy.
Kante was tireless. He worked his *** off every single game and was the first line of defence such that Huth and Morgan were required far less. Things were dealt with at the first level without escalating to a higher level of response.
In business, dealing with things promptly before they escalate is key; don’t let things become an issue when taking proactive action from the outset can absolve that need. Don’t bury your head in the sand.
Teamwork / Workrate
Leicester played with tremendous teamwork. They all worked hard for each other. When they lost the ball, all relevant players straight away sought to regain possession, backing each other up. It would not be a stretch to infer that the entire backroom staff and board were all similarly motivated off the pitch in the same way as Leicester’s players were on the pitch.
In business, the lesson is clear – everyone needs to work hard for each other around a common mission. The whole business needs to be imbued with that sense of common destiny and responsibility for one another.
Don’t Telegraph, be Unpredictable
The team’s best wing player was Mahrez yet, counterintuitively, the ball was often sprayed out to the opposite wing. While the opposition were worried about dealing with the relatively lesser threat the other winger posed, they were caught off-guard when Mahrez would be miles ahead in his football brain than the opposition’s defenders and he would pop up with incredible first touch and finish.
The lesson in business? Don’t telegraph your every move. Don’t be so painstakingly predictable. Let your competitors become lulled into a false sense of security, underestimating who you are and what you do and then – BANG – you’re in there- winning the game.
So, what’s the bottom line? Even if you’re rank outsiders for your market, and you don’t think you have the abilities within your business or team when you compare yourself with your competitors, do a Leicester City, do a Ranieri. Make it happen anyway.