Just four months ago, Manchester United were 18 points off the all-important fourth place in the Premier League table, which enables Champion’s League qualification. At the time, there seemed to be a cloud following manager Jose Mourinho. Every press conference, every interview and, most tellingly, every match result seemed to become more negative and more defensive. Everyone could see that something was not right at Old Trafford.
In global sport, the cult of the manager is a phenomenon that has surfaced in most teams. If teams are not successful, managers are sacked. The timeframes for expected success, as well as the tolerance of boards to adverse results, seems to have shrunk dramatically. Managers are now routinely sacked if the results have been bad after just five games. This is not a long term strategy for success and seriously undermines step planning where teams can grow together. It also has contributed to a shift in power to the players who can make the manager’s job untenable if they don’t like what he or she says.
However, at Manchester United, the change in manager has resulted in an incredible turnaround with 11 consecutive games won, progression to the Champions League quarter finals and now fighting for what seemed unlikely earlier in the season, a top four position in the Premier League.
So what has Ole Gunnar Solskjær (OGS), a former Manchester United player, changed to achieve this since taking charge of the team? There have been few tangible changes. The players, physical environment, training ground and pitches are the same and the short time frame means that the team is unlikely to have developed much in the way of new skills.
However, there has been a change in playing style and performance analysts have highlighted a more attacking approach and some tactical changes. Yet, Jose Mourinho is one of the most respected tacticians in the world with a history of success at every club he has managed. So can tactical tweaks from a less experienced manager really generate such different levels of performance?
One of OGS’s first changes, which almost happened unnoticed, was the appointment of Mike Phelan as assistant coach. Mike Phelan was part of Manchester United’s coaching set up during one of the club’s most successful periods under Sir Alex Ferguson. Both he and OGS understand the club’s culture and what playing for Manchester United should represent. Beyond Phelan’s contribution to coaching players, he can be considered a culture enabler and custodian of the Manchester United way of playing and acting.
The attack-based playing style is part of Manchester United’s cultural heritage and is how the team used to play under Sir Alex Ferguson. This approach is embedded in the new management team’s philosophy on how football should be played.
From our contacts at Manchester United, it is clear that the players seem happier and the whole environment is more positive. What OGS seems to have achieved then is a culture change in a short period of time.
Perhaps the most important part of this story is not how he has achieved this dramatic turnaround, although we will be following up on achieving culture change in future blogs and articles. Instead, perhaps the real story here is it shows the impact that culture and the workplace environment can have on performance. Where we work, how we feel about colleagues, how much we buy into our leaders and how we feel about our work and our individual roles in the organisation can all have a dramatic effect on overall business performance. Perhaps we all intuitively know this, but what has happened at Manchester United this season shows the scale of performance improvement that can occur when there is buy-in from everyone and when confidence grows with results.
In business, there has traditionally been limited data on organisational culture. They have had to rely on engagement surveys to provide some insight on culture. However, in reality, this type of survey only provides the most basic insight into an organisation’s culture and tells you nothing about the impact of culture on your business performance.
MyPeople takes a uniquely different approach. We understand working environments and, most importantly, how to measure culture. It is not hard to do using our trademarked approach which is born out of building great sports teams. We can help you go beyond engagement to truly understand your culture. We can also tell you how to improve your culture in a way that will positively impact on business performance.
So, perhaps it’s worth finding out more about your business culture. Is it consistent, aligned across all departments and enabling or disabling performance? To quote Ron Dennis, former CEO of Maclaren F1: are all of your people pointing in the same direction?
Contact us today and we will help you find out!