Recruitment Lessons: Manchester United v Barcelona

Thursday, May 28th, 2009 - Employer, Employment, recruitment, sunday thoughts

Teams, Communication, Sustainability

Euro 2000

Let’s get a few things out of the way first before you read this piece:

  • I am a rugby fan over a football fan, and hence why I live in Wales. But most of all I like good sport
  • I am a Liverpool fan thanks to the team of the 1970s. I like good sport
  • I am a recruiter over a sports pundit. But I know there are great lessons to be learnt for all teams from sport

I sat down last night to watch what was billed as the “dream game final” in the UEFA Champions League: Manchester United v FC Barcelona. Two attacking sides, with many great individuals and two individuals going for the Ballon d’Or: Barca’s Lionel Messi, and United’s Cristiano Ronaldo.

There are times when individual talent on a sports field can truly amaze many, and hence inspire the world let alone a nation they nominally represent. It is why I still think, that apart from nearly 20,000 construction jobs it has created in the middle of an economic recession in a part of the UK with a high unemployment rate, that the 2012 Olympics is still and will remain a great win for the UK. There are many individuals and moments you could pick out, but as she lives in Swansea i’ll pick Ellie Simmons winning two swimming golds at the Olympics last year in Beijing, in a world record time. Interviewed afterwards and ever since, she shows both the emotion most people would show in each circumstance, as well as seemingly very down to earth – captured our hearts she has. The fact she is young at 13years old, and classed as disabled always thankfully comes last: sport has that way of changing our perspective and inspiring our energy that day and future vision.

Recruitment Lessons

Back to Rome, or more specifically about 15minutes into the game – and my TV remote control hand is looking around for something else to watch. United are down 1-0, look highly unlikely to get back into the game unless they score, and Barca are playing a typical European game of holding the ball and let the other side run around tiring themselves out. What happened? Bored of a dull game, I started channel hoping:

  • BBC1, 20:00 – 21:00: fascinating program presented by Dr Michael Mosely, about the latest scientific results on losing weight. If you don’t want to watch it on BBC iPlayer, then the top four answers are: reduce your plate size; eat protein for breakfast; have soup for lunch; use the car less and take public transport so that you walk a bit more
  • Channel4: 21:00-22:00: a classic-format episode of Grand Designs, where the magic triangle of client, architect and Project Manager fail to communicate, and hence blame it all on the builder. For instance, where’s the setting/measuring point: is it the top of the foundations of 18th century barn, or the bottom of beam number6? Once you knew this gap existed, you knew the answer was that rather than the allowed £250,000 build cost wanted by the client, the answer was the £440,000 estimated by the first builder
  • BBC1, 21:00 – 22:00: the UK version of The Apprentice, the series annual where they shove the remaining candidates in front of a home shopping channel TV camera and make them sell. Now, you would have thought that after three series, the candidates would have got the idea: much as though the game suggests the winner sells the most, what Sir Alan is looking for is a bit of entrepreneurial flair to pick a good product and make a great attempt at selling it. But no, every time a winner, the candidates get high-brow marketing ideas of who the target audience is (most are not fag smoking versions of Eastenders and Coronation Street characters; the majority are time short looking for amusement middle class working Mum’s: so choosing cheap tat is not going to work)

Channel hopping between Grand Designs and The Apprentice, it was obvious that United were falling further behind, and by now losing 0-2. By the time Howard had been fired by Sir Alan and Kevin had drawn some classical building project conclusions, Sir Alex was being gracious in defeat and Ronaldo was blaming Sir Alex’s tactics and – again- not confirming he would be at United next season.

So what went wrong? For me to end up channel hoping, a boring football match. But its at times like these in football I always turn to Henry Winter of the Daily Telegraph, for someone who combines great technical analysis with emotional thought of the fans. His article opens:

Manchester United arrived here hoping to make history, yet left having been consigned to it. The champions of England are too good not to come again in Europe next season, and empires can rise as well as fall in Rome, but last night nothing could console United’s magnificent supporters, who gave the team intense vocal backing yet were rewarded with a truly dreadful performance.

Winter goes on to analyse in the article that the tactical layout of the team left Ronaldo isolated, and the midfield open to be devoured by Barca. This left the United defence open, and hence once Barca had found the many gaps, they continually exploited them. Not the quickest side in the world, Barca won the crucial midfield battle, and hence the game.

So, what lessons are there for recruitment in last nights game, and television?

Firstly, much as though sport is an inspirational piece for many, and often used by managers to inspire teams, most sports are in fact individual endeavours. Andy Murray is great, Lewis Hamilton is undoubtedly talented, Dame Ellen McArthur a hero – but most of their greatest efforts are done as individuals over teams. If you are going to pick a sport or lesson to inspire your team by, pick a sports team over a talented individual

Secondly, few sports people have the capability to over spill and communicate their achievement into the public domain. Many can inspire us doing their thing on their stage of life, but those who can transfer that are few. I always cringe when Andy Murray is in interview, but Ellie Simmons, Dame Kelly Holmes and Sir Steve Redgrave are some of the few.

That communication ability should tell you as a manager a lot. Sir Alan wasn’t looking for the best sales person, he wanted an entrepreneur who could communicate. Communication is essential in teams! United could have communicated this or that wasn’t working on the pitch, and hence change on field or asked for Sir Alex to change something off field. Instead, Ronaldo got surly, and Sir Alex threw on more attackers far too late, and ended up with what Henry Winter called a “polo” formation with no midfield.

As a recruiter, do I ever get a brief with “communicator” written in it, or do I get briefs with the phrase “proven results” as an essential quality? But as a recruiter, I do add the word “communicator” to the client brief. All to often, managers focus on the results without analysing the reasons of how they are being generated. There are teams all over the world where the actual results are down to great team communication, because there is an efficient secretary or office admin worker in the middle, over a non-communicative boss. When the boss moves on, quite often they take the top sales performers with them; only the best also take the secretary or key office worker who creates that team buzz.

Communication makes for quicker learning, and hence better results. Why did Sir Alex feel that he would win against Barcelona last night? He had two games when he could have learnt the lessons to win: when United played Liverpool at home, and lost (Liverpool play a similar system to Barca); and when Chelsea played Barca (Chelsea lost but only just, both play similar systems. The key battle was in midfield).

I have given you above the four key lessons from Michael Mosely’s Weight Loss program from last night – replacing lunch for soup having read an article is the reason why I have lost 5Kgs in the last eight weeks: but how many will take those lessons in and apply them? Research suggests that less than 1 in 10 in a month, and less than 3 in 10 in a year. Those who do get results take the right action – and yet much as though the answers lay in front of Sir Alex’s face and notebook, he choose a “polo.”

Ronaldo blames poor tactics for last night failure in Rome – I agree, but poor communication in the team on both BBC1, Channel4 and ITV1 lead last night to three exits.

Recruiters should not have to add “communicator” to client briefs. Employers should be focusing more on how their teams work and communicate, and looking to improve communication as much to create sustainable long term performance, over recruiting star performers.

Good Luck!


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One Response to “Recruitment Lessons: Manchester United v Barcelona”

  1. Lee Pyotr Says:

    Nice blog. I got a lot of effective data. I’ve been following this technology for awhile. It’s interesting how it keeps shifting, yet some of the core elements remain the same.

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