I recently had a drink with a friend at the pub. He was lamenting that an employee he had treated very well recently jumped ship to a competitor and in the offboarding process, badmouthed the company and even tried to poach another employee.
Knowing he is a fan of the Arsenal Football Club, I comforted him that he was not alone in feeling betrayed, as in the world of English football, there are many such cases of players leaving for other clubs that treated them well. Take Robin Van Persie last season. Arsenal stood by him for more than four seasons when he was injured but the moment he had one successful injury-free season, he left for Manchester United.
Indeed, the experiences of the English Premier League can have many lessons for Singapore managers and bosses. Here are some of the lessons from the pitch:
Know your job
There is no relationship whatever between functional expertise and managerial ability. Jose Mourinho tried playing football as a young man, but soon realised his shortcomings. From Chelsea to Real Madrid, he has achieved outstanding success as a manager.
The same logic can be applied to rank-and-file roles as well. Some of the best recruiters in my organisation were previously insurance agents, property agents and air stewards.
Know your talent
Steven Gerrard excelled at Liverpool but at the national level, due to the presence of Frank Lampard, he is often played out of his natural position and, as a result, his performance is inconsistent and mixed.
At the World Cup matches, you may see appalling performances from players who consistently excel for their club teams when fulfilling very different duties.
Talent is meaningless unless it is deployed in its most fitting context. So, knowing the strengths of your employees and matching them to the right roles will extract optimal performances from them. Thierry Henry was an ordinary player until Arsene Wenger converted him from a winger to a striker. With Henry on the team, Arsenal was difficult to beat.
The hammer cannot be your only tool
Managers must act quickly to gauge the people they are working with. If you surveyed those who played under Brian Clough, arguably the greatest-ever English manager, they would offer conflicting narratives.
Some say Clough was avuncular and caring, others that he was an intimidating tyrant. Neither was true — he had just simply worked out how to press the buttons of different characters.
Indeed, the modern boss must be versatile with a flexible toolkit to bring the best out of each talent. The hammer cannot be your only tool.
Managers promote self-belief
If we look at our own careers as employees, most of us will say our most productive and enjoyable period was when we worked for a manager who had the confidence to push us to our limits.
Wenger summarised the galvanising effect this relationship has: “All great successes, all great lives, have involved the coincidence of aptitude, talent, but also the luck of meeting people who have believed in you. At some point in your life, you need someone who will tap you on your shoulder and say, ‘I believe in you.’ ”
As a manager, if you want to see your company succeed, you have to learn to take a leaf from football’s playbook.
Managers must not see talents as friends
Coming back to my friend at the pub, his problem was that he treated his former employee as a close friend. That’s why the pain was deep. A lesson to learn: You can be friendly, caring and kind but you are their boss, not their personal friend.
The company is a place for staff to earn income and build their career. Very few will let friendship stop them from earning a better salary or taking advantage of better career prospects with another employer. That is their right.
So, treat employees not as friends, but as talents. To retain people, organisations can use two different approaches concurrently: award incentives and award challenges.
Your top performers may still leave one day because other companies will also offer them great deals. When that happens, acknowledge their contributions and let them move on — just as in football.
Article by Victor Teoh, deputy managing director of RecruitPlus Consulting. He has had more than 20 years of experience as a senior executive, corporate banker and management consultant.