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Need reward and recognition inspiration? Just ask Jurgen and Pep

Talya Zwiers | May 16, 2019

Man wearing a suit drawing a football strategy

You don’t need to look very far to find advice and insight on how to run a successful business – there is no shortage of successful business people proffering top tips on what makes a great leader, or how to get the most out of your workforce. And much of this is valuable guidance; it certainly never hurts to hear from those who have ‘been there, done that’ and have a profitable enterprise to show for it. But when it comes to seeking inspiration for your business, it sometimes pays to look a little further afield. And by ‘afield’, we mean a football pitch.

Whilst it could initially sound like a strange place to look for business advice, the football pitch can offer many valuable insights, particularly when it comes to people management. Afterall, football managers are not dissimilar to any manager of teams of people (with the exception that few managers have their work appraised so passionately by hundreds of thousands of fans each week). Each football manager bears significant pressure and responsibility for getting the most out of their team, and each approaches it in their own unique way. Some favour the ‘carrot’ approach, such as Gareth Southgate, who led England’s team to unexpected success at the last World Cup with his particular style of gentle, thoughtful management. Others prefer the ‘stick’ – Alex Ferguson springs to mind, he who famously kicked a football boot at David Beckham’s head when unhappy with a performance. (Despite his undoubted achievements, we do not recommend emulating the latter).

Two of today’s most revered football managers – Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp and Man City’s Pep Guardiola – are great examples of what a successful football manager can teach us about how to get the most out of a workforce. Both managers are regularly praised for their demonstrations of authority and control, and for their ability to regularly deliver a team that performs with impressive commitment. But with so many managers seemingly incapable of creating this productive dynamic (sorry Jose), what is it that makes Jurgen and Pep so successful?

One key thing that unites both managers is that they have helped produce players who are seemingly willing to go above and beyond for their teams, who will continue giving 100% right up until the final whistle blows. When thinking about your own workforce, this is clearly a valuable achievement; a business made up of such dedicated employees would be a very special place indeed. But it is an achievement that can only be attained by creating a workforce that has a genuine sense of loyalty to the company for which they work. No employee is going to go that extra mile for a business or managers that they resent – just as a football player is not going to give their all in training and on the pitch for a manager they don’t respect.

One of the most powerful ways to gain the respect of a member of staff is to recognise and reward their individual efforts and achievements – just as football teams designate a ‘man of the match’ after every game. Highlighting an individual’s accomplishments may seem like a small thing, but demonstrating acknowledgement and gratitude for their work helps people to realise that they matter, and that their efforts are contributing the success of the whole company. And it can be an incredibly motivating factor, encouraging people to work hard in order to achieve the resulting accolade.  

All too often businesses fail to invest in an effective reward and recognition programme, leaving employees feeling irrelevant to the overall business. If they feel that they don’t matter, why should they bother putting any effort in? Just a few demotivated team members can have a major impact on the organisation as a whole: going back to football, you only need to witness a team with one or two players having an off day to understand the impact that this has on the outcome of the match.

Alongside a focus on the individual, and offering personalised rewards for the specific achievements of one person, reward and recognition programmes should also work to help create a sense of being part of something bigger. A successful scheme will also ensure that others share in individual achievements, that whole teams are recognised together and that everyone in the company is offered the opportunity to celebrate all successes, big and small. Ultimately, your reward and recognition programme should be leaving people feeling that they are an important part of something special.

Klopp and Guardiola lead by example. Both managers demonstrate real passion on the side-lines – there is never any doubt that they are truly invested in the performance and outcome, and this can really inspire players – or indeed workers – to give it their all. And of course, it also works the other way: why should a member of staff feel motivated when their manager demonstrates a lacklustre attitude? So, whilst it might not be appropriate to bounce around the office, screaming and shouting encouragement in true football manager-style, showing that the leaders of the business really care about how staff are performing can be a real game-changer. And reward and recognition is the most effective tool to achieve this.

So next time you are looking for inspiration on how to motivate your team, maybe look outside of the boardroom, and take some lessons from the football pitch.

Employee recognition can be one of the best ways to motivate your team. Download our free e-book to find out more about how to build an effective recognition strategy.

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Topics: Reward and Recognition

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