I don’t get to write about football often but if there’s ever a time to break the mould, it’s as the nation is being swept along in a giant wave of meme-fuelled World Cup optimism.
There’s been a lot written about England’s campaign so far. From the ‘likeable’ playing squad to the impeccable way in which the manager has conducted himself on this biggest of footballing stages, there’s a collective sense of pride about this lot. And deservedly so.
In fact, whether you’re a diehard football fan or not, there’s a lot to be learnt from the collective group. Gareth Southgate, together with his players, coaching staff, medical team, nutritionists, analysts, technical director Dan Ashworth, senior comms manager Andy Walker and no doubt many more, have given us some valuable lessons in management. Change management, people management, reputation management, management planning. We’ve seen it all, executed to perfection.
Based on some of the fascinating insights I’ve read over the last three weeks, and in the spirit of #GarethSouthgateWould, here are four lessons we can all learn from England’s World Cup campaign. Even if you can’t take a penalty like Harry Kane.
Lesson 1: Own the moment
The more observant football fans amongst us noticed that Jordan Pickford picked up the ball after every Colombia penalty and gave it to the next England penalty taker. This was England ‘owning the moment’, working together to give the individual complete control of the situation. Ben Lyttleton sums up this strategy perfectly in The Guardian.
Southgate himself has also spoken about taking the burden away from players to ‘volunteer’ for penalties (as he did in 1996). Even before a ball was kicked in the knockout stage, he knew exactly which players were most likely to have the mental and physical attributes (including the legs after 120 minutes) to score from 12 yards . And they became the chosen few. Could your business apply the same approach to your next pitch?
Lesson 2: Share positive experiences
This piece from Matt Lawton on MailOnline gave us a great insight into the hours immediately after the second round win over Colombia. Instead of going straight to bed when they arrived back at base, the players stayed up until 6am ‘re-living their individual memories of the match.’
There’s a joke here about overpaid footballers staying up until 6am, but apparently Southgate wanted his players to enjoy the moment – and no doubt learn from each other’s experiences. Time to bring back that best-practice sharing session you never get round to doing on a Friday afternoon?
Lesson 3: Be honest and open, even in a crisis
A topic of particular interest for me, England’s whole campaign has been a brilliant demonstration of how to manage media relations. And from what I’ve read, ex Birmingham Mail reporter Andy Walker (now the FA’s senior comms manager) has had a big part to play in it.
From the American-style open interview session at St George’s Park with every single member of the squad, to the open and transparent darts matches between players and journalists in the England team hotel, Southgate has encouraged open communication between his team and the press at every opportunity. We even saw pictures of Harry Maguire racing his teammates on inflatable unicorns. What more can you ask for?
BT Sport presenter Jake Humphrey gave us an insight into Southgate’s respect and understanding for journalists in this Twitter thread. In contrast, I heard from one radio presenter that similar darts matches were arranged during England’s disastrous 2014 World Cup in Brazil but that results were strictly ‘off the record’ – perfectly summing up the mistrust in previous regimes between journalists and the team they are paid to write about.
Hats off to everybody involved – through a strategy of honesty and transparency, the England football team have improved relations with journalists and transformed their public perception as a result. More than a few businesses could learn from that.
Lesson 4: Plan for every eventuality
Another piece that caught my eye was this from Sam Wallace of the Telegraph, in which Wallace writes: “Under the scouting programme drawn up by Southgate and FA technical director Dan Ashworth, all 19 full-time coaches at St George’s Park were assigned World Cup teams to watch and research before the tournament.”
The level of detail that has gone into Southgate’s meticulous planning is admirable, if not unexpected for those that have followed his career.
Of course, we don’t all have a team of 19 analysts under our wing, but the message here is to do your homework, whether you’re pitching a story, meeting a brief or selling a product. If you fail to prepare and all that…
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