There is a story – and whether it was originally true or not doesn’t matter as it’s now accepted fact – that on the way back from the 2-0 mauling by Olympiakos David Moyes was spotted by the Manchester United players reading Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great.
Footballers being teenage boys much sarcastic comment was passed and the The Chosen One’s stock fell even further – and as we now know, it wasn’t long before Moyesie was clutching his P45.
The Daily Mail had plenty of fun with the story as well, pointing out that ‘achieve BHAGs – Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals’ – didn’t mean signing Marouane Fellaini and that Moyes took ‘be a hedgehog, not a fox’ rather too far and had seriously prickly relationships with several players.
But hang on. Good to Great is a bestselling book. It’s stood the test of time. It can’t be all bad – and it isn’t. ‘Be a hedgehog, not a fox’ is just another way of saying keep it simple: focus on one thing at a time. And if there’s one characteristic that anyone who’s built a successful business has it’s exactly that. They identify the single most important thing they need to do and they focus on it until it’s done. And then they move on to number two.
No, David Moyes’ mistake wasn’t reading the book: it was letting his players – and a Daily Mail journalist – see him reading the book. In the laddish culture of a football club – especially one looking for a scapegoat – that was never going to be a good idea.
So what other mistakes did Moyes make? And what can we learn from the most spectacular management failure of the last nine months?
• If you’re a leader, you’ve got to be seen to lead and you have to display confidence. ‘Talk the talk’ and ‘walk the walk’ aren’t my favourite business phrases but that’s exactly what David Moyes failed to do. If you’re the leader of your team the first thing they want from you is confidence and belief
• …And the fact that you know where you’re going. David Moyes mumbled excuse after excuse and constantly gave the impression he was making it up as he went along. I’ll admit that he wasn’t helped in this by some ridiculous decisions from the Board but did he ever look and behave like someone with a long-term plan? No.
• Don’t sack the people who know what they’re doing. Almost Moyes’ first act was to replace all the Manchester United backroom staff with his own staff from Everton – a backroom team which had a proud record of winning nothing at all. If you’re going to bring in someone from outside, they have to be credible: your staff have to be able to look at the new person’s track record and say, “OK, I can see why he did that.”
• Finally, don’t have favourites. If you’ve read The Secret Footballer you’ll be aware of the phrase ‘the boss’s son’ – the player who never seems to be dropped, irrespective of how badly he plays. You will have to argue long and hard to convince me that Wayne Rooney’s five year, gazillion pound contract didn’t have a serious effect on the team’s morale. Even if a member of your team is completely and utterly out-of-this-world, business, like football, remains a team sport.
Next week I’ll be looking at promises – no, not promises like ‘Don’t worry, you’ve got a six year contract’ – and the part they have to play in business. In the meantime if you think there are any other lessons we can learn from the Moyes fiasco I’d be delighted to hear them…