At the beginning of the English Premier League season, Leicester City, a small club, were one of the favourites for relegation to a lower tier. They narrowly avoided ‘the drop’ in the 2015-16 season, spending most of the campaign at the bottom of the ladder, only to win seven from nine of their last games. Shortly after his appointment to Leicester, manager Claudio Ranieri became the odds-on favourite to become the first Premier League manager to get the boot.
Fast forward nine months to May 2 this year – Leicester were crowned champions!
Their achievement has been phenomenal and created a media frenzy. Their rise to fame has been reported as ‘a football fairy-tale’ and ‘the greatest ever sporting achievement’. Yet this isn’t just a sports story. It’s a story about an underdog, unlikely heroes and underlines the importance of self-belief and getting the little things right.
Many of Leicester City's achievements can be applied to the world of small business:
The players scoring the goals and making the headlines were quick to recognise the importance of the team, commonly referring to a collective achievement. They played as a team of equals and their togetherness has proved to be an incredible driver of success.
No matter the environment, be it a playing field or an office, a team of people with the right attitude and work ethic, working towards a common goal, will always flourish over a group of individuals with personal agendas.
Keeping the faith
Under enormous pressure, the team held their nerve and were able to get the job done. They achieved this by staying true to their morals and not changing tactics when up against more fancied opponents. Their team is made up of players who have been released from other clubs, branded not good enough to achieve anything at the highest level.
Having faith in your abilities and sticking to your guns should never be underestimated and it pays to think big! Allied with handwork and determination, self-confidence (not arrogance) is a valuable asset.
Set goals, not limits
Realistic expectations from the outset are important; the Leicester chairman would have been ridiculed and considered unreasonable if he set the team the challenge of winning the league at the start of the season.
Equally important as setting achievable targets is the ability to reflect and re-analyse. While avoiding relegation might have been considered a success, the team didn’t rest on their laurels and achieved greatness by striving for further triumphs.
Leicester scouted for players who suited their style of play, not the other way round. Spending vast amounts on transfer fees and extortionate wages doesn’t guarantee results, and it is often beneficial to invest in raw talent and nourishing those who are hungry to succeed rather than paying over the odds for external recruits.
During his spell as manager at Chelsea, Ranieri was known as the 'Tinker man' and criticised for constantly changing the team’s line-up.
Innovation in business is key and whilst some may consider Ranieri’s attitude to be stubborn, prehistoric and ‘not changing with the times’, stability shouldn’t be considered as ‘standing still’. Progression comes in many ways and finding a formula which works for you and sticking with it can often be beneficial.
Focusing on their priorities and playing to their strengths, Leicester were able to achieve greatness. As a team, a decision was made to put greater emphasis on league performance rather than cup competitions.
Just as in business, it’s important to remain focused and to resist the distractions that waste resources on futile tasks. Of the duties you carry out daily, consider how many of them are in vain and how many actually achieve results.
When other managers were insistent on gruelling double training sessions, Ranieri gave his players extended leave and encouraged them to spend time with their families.
Family, health and happiness are far more important than any sport or business deal. There is no substitute for a good work ethic and we can all be guilty of getting caught up in our workload, but it is vital that we take time to revaluate and recharge our batteries.
In the case of Leicester City, how were the players rewarded for not conceding a goal? Pizza. Usually something which is prohibited from a professional athlete’s diet.
Their supporters were also being treated, with ‘free’ merchandise, doughnuts and even complementary beer at various games throughout the season. It was a cost to the club that wasn’t necessary, but the benefits were invaluable. Supporters were made to feel appreciated and significant. Yes, it was a good PR stunt, but supporters of other clubs were genuinely envious of Leicester fans and questioned why they were not rewarded in a similar fashion.
When was the last time you thanked a colleague or client and made them feel appreciated for no particular reason? Alternatively, how would you feel upon receiving a six pack or bunch of flowers on a day that wasn’t your birthday?
Celebrating your achievements
Towards the end of the season, Ranieri was questioned about his side’s chances of winning the title. He often chose to avoid all talk about the prospect of becoming champions (at least in the public domain) and instead spoke in clichés all too familiar with sports mangers: ‘We’ll take each game as it comes’, ‘We’re just enjoying the ride’.
In business, after each campaign or brokered deal, we often just move on to the next one. Time should be put aside dedicated to celebrating achievements and to reflect on what went well.
The like of Leicester City winning the Premier League may never be seen again, and while not every business deal has a happy ending, we can all take inspiration from their triumph. Score: 1-0 to the underdog.
Simon Wragg is senior account manager at 5iveSenses, a marketing agency.