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What can managers learn from David Moyes?

Matt Chittock

Matt Chittock finds out what Manchester United’s ex-manager can teach leaders out to survive in high pressure positions

Think that you have things tough in corporate management? Then spare a thought for the daily trials facing your average Premiership football manager.
OK they might earn mega-bucks – but they pay a high price in return for their puffed-up pay packets. 
Take David Moyes. When he took over the reins of Manchester United from the much-loved Sir Alex Ferguson he was essentially drinking from a poisoned chalice. And ten months later, after a series of high-profile losses and a fatal lack of connection with his players, it was no surprise to fans that he was given the flick.

Thankfully, most private sector managers don’t get the thumbs down treatment quite so quickly. But there are still some sectors in which the pressure to get rapid results can pile on the stress.

For example, former BBC director general George Entwistle was sacked after an infamous 50-day stint in the corporation’s top job for which he was controversially given a £450,000 send off.
Banking and retail are also infamous for job insecurity at the higher echelons too – with CEOs regularly shown the door if the company doesn’t perform.

The need to make a swift, visible impact on the bottom line (whether that’s in terms of sales targets or scoring goals) can have a serious impact on a manager’s decision-making process.

According to management expert Peter Honey pressure to get results quickly naturally leads to managers making decisions that work in the short-term but may not offer any long-term benefits for the company or its staff.

“Most human behaviour is logical in these circumstances – and circumstances have a lot to answer for!” he says.
“Take prevention for example. Prevention isn’t better than cure because no one ever got accolades for preventing problems, only for solving them. Ditto with short-termism.”  

“It makes perfect sense for a manager in a new job to concentrate on scoring some quick successes even if they are at the expense of the long-term.”  

As Honey points out, the higher the pressure to deliver at all costs, the higher the incidence of short-term thinking across the culture.
“You’d have to change the circumstances to change the behaviour,” he says.

“The only way round it would be to guarantee that a manager would stay in the job for a fixed term – but that would be ridiculous.” 

But why can’t we change a working environment that demands short-term gains over sustainable results?

One answer could be the widespread influence of shareholders on modern business.

Today many organisations, including football clubs, are in thrall to investors who are often looking for positive results in the next quarter, not the next decade.
If these results don’t materialise they’ll remove their investment, or demand change at the top. 
Ironically, this state of affairs doesn’t often make for better management. Instead it creates another common-place modern corporate occurrence – the leadership merry-go-round in which leaders hop from position to position (often reaping hefty pay-offs in the process).
“[Creating some quick successes] is not a way to ensure that a manager keeps his/her job. Quite the contrary, they are more likely to be sought after and headhunted!” says Honey.

Assuming that this wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing for your CV – here’s some tips to succeed quickly in high pressure environment, with David Moyes in mind. 

Have a clearly communicable vision. As Moyes’ time as manager wore on commentators pointed out that his strategy seemed to veer wildly from game to game. Plus, the new talent he got on board struggled to fit into the bigger picture. Having a clear vision that all the team understood from day one could have helped create more coherence.

Look beyond money to motivate your team. Wayne Rooney’s £300k a week wage packet meant that he might not have been motivated by promises of more money. If you’re leading a similarly well-salaried team look for other means to motivate them – from a better work/life balance to simple pride in where they work.

Impress the people that matter. “If I was a manger in a new job, presented with new challenges, I’d remind myself that ‘you only get one chance to make a first impression’ and I’d work out who I wanted to impress by doing what,” says Honey.
“Having defined my target audience, I’d go flat out to impress them!”

Be ruthless at rooting out poor performers. David Moyes was always managing much more than a team – by the mid-nineties Ferguson had transformed the club into a global brand. But pundits identified that many veteran players were past their peak – and Moyes might have held on longer by showing them the door.


 


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