The other day I watched ‘Class of ‘92’, a docu-film about the Manchester United youth team stars who went on to win the treble at the end of the 1990’s. One comment about Sir Alex Ferguson, then the manager of the team, really struck a chord:
“The manager (Sir Alex) would come to you and say I’m not going to play you for the next four games – but the one after that, I really need you on top form. You will be critical to our success in that game.” This quote is by no means verbatim but the sentiment is all there!
I got to thinking about whether there is something to be learned from Sir Alex in his approach to managing this team of young talented players. Could Manchester United hold the key to how organisations, and in particularly HR, should think about performance and motivation?
The beauty of this statement is in its simplicity. In one breath, you get the portrait of a manager who knows how maximum performance is delivered through a) knowing the strengths of the team and how to play them for the greatest return and b) how to motivate the team to deliver a winning performance. And in the context of what we do as HR professionals, it could be argued this has particular resonance – after all, what is our role if it is not to support organisations in achieving better performance through people? I wondered, though, whether these simple sentiments are being lost as the profession designs and implements standardised processes and procedures. Don’t get me wrong, these have their place in supporting organisational performance and I am not suggesting we do away with them altogether! But as we move towards talent management processes, performance procedures and line manager handbooks are we running the risk of overlooking the people factor?
Sir Alex will have had a great talent and resourcing team, structured training programmes, discipline procedures and almost certainly a good payroll team, but it could be argued the defining factor of the team’s success was his relationship with the players: knowing their strengths, how these match up against the strengths of their opponents and what to say to the team to fire them up in pursuit of the winning goal.
In terms of time spent it would be interesting to know the proportion of HR time spent on delivering processes versus coaching managers on how to work with their teams to drive truly great performance. I hazard a guess the former wins out on most occasions. In the pursuit of bringing common sense back to HR, pausing and making a conscious effort to make small, incremental efforts which redress the balance of where time is spent could have huge payoffs in performance terms. Let’s support managers in creating and motivating winning teams by coaching them to understand the skills and drivers of their employees better.
“Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are Chloe Green’s personal opinion and do not represent the views of the author’s company or Symposium Events”