Thursday 2 June 2016

Who needs talented employees anyway?

Source: Mirror Online
One current HR trend is to compete to acquire and retain talented employees. Agreed?

So, how come Leicester City Football Club won the 2016 Premier Title? They have, and I hope they forgive me, an average bunch of guys who were fighting to avoid relegation from the Premier League last year. People had good betting odds that they could win the Premiership. 

There are a few very rich people in Leicester today! Leicester have few players regarded as world talent, so how did it happen?
Where does this leave the view that we must buy talented employees, if we are to be competitive? What did Leicester’s Manager, Claudio Ranieri, do to take this team to the top of the league?

Let’s spend a moment putting things into perspective. Look at the relative cash values spent on each squad. Leicester are worth a fraction of other great teams; at £72m they are easily the least expensive club by a long way.

Squad Cost £M
Leicester City






Man. City
Man United
Source: Skysport Review 2016

We cannot always hire the most expensive talent. If you do, then you must be able to justify how this talent has added to the bottom line of profit. 
My guess is that you cannot do this (except in a few obvious sales-driven roles). My other guess is that most of the real value-driving work of meeting client deliveries, getting prototypes to market, solving client problems and making improvements to products or processes is achieved by the more ordinary people in the engine-rooms, getting on with their jobs to the best of their abilities.

So, I am now questioning why we spend so much time and effort on recruiting talent, when good management and leadership of the ‘ordinary’ people who are already in the business would produce a much better result? 

Claudio Ranieri who took an ‘ordinary’ bunch of guys higher than anyone, thought possible. Some of you will say: “oh this is a once-in-a-lifetime event”. In December 2015, you were saying ‘they-will-never-keep-it-up’, well they did, and in what style!

The real question is, if you cannot afford to buy talent, what can you do to lead and manage the resources you already have, to achieve more than anyone thinks they can?

Let’s explore some of the features of Claudio Ranieri’s approach, according to the Leicester supporters I met when on a home visit.

Talent is not always where you expect to find it.
  • You have to look in unexpected places, trust your instinct, and have faith in who you find. Take James Vardy, the leading goal-scorer, he was released by another premier side as a junior, and played in local town soccer until Leicester signed him in 2012 for £1M! (source: Daily Telegraph, December 2015). He played with them for the past four years and is still not a household name when compared to other leading strikers.
Resilience is worth more than ability.
  • One thing Leicester sport is good at encouraging is determination, no compromise, grit and resilience. This does not mean to say that ability and skill are not important, but what Leicester do well is keep playing, keep players on the pitch and keep coming back. This quality is also seen in Leicester Tigers Rugby, known for tough, combative, tenacious play.
Impending failure can build strength.
  • Leicester were almost relegated. The lessons of avoiding defeat can give a sense of relief, but also of confidence that anything is possible, if you stick at it. Ranieri is known for instilling a belief that anything can be achieved and to enjoy playing for that.
No individual is bigger than the team.
  • Ranieri builds a culture of serving each other. A big player has a bigger duty to produce results for the others, and nobody is worth more than the others. Ego is not of use, interest or relevance at Leicester.

Build tactics around current strengths.
  • Ranieri recognised a fear of different tactics. It can be good to introduce changes, but not if players are unconvinced they have the skill to deploy. Build around what people can do well, and the rest will follow in time.

Let people have a break.

  • Leicester have a small squad; they would easily tire out if they played each week. So players were given rest days to help them survive the long season. Often we keep relentless pressure on people, so they never perform at a peak, and get hurt, angry, lonely, tired.
Train at intensity.
  • High intensity training sessions build the capacity to work and think at speed. Other sports teams use this idea; often it is not the core skill that is a problem – it is the ability to use core skills at speed.

And nowhere is there any mention of buying in
expensive highly talented players to fill gaps or make a difference. There is a lot of talk about using what you have to the best of their ability. And that is leadership.

About the Author:

Nigel Murphy supports is Director of Portfolio and Capability Development at MCE and he has a background in management in manufacturing, education and training.
For the past 10 years he has worked on leadership programmes across the globe. He is interested in the mentoring of new managers and leaders, and leading remote teams of people in today’s globally dispersed businesses.