What can Procurement learn from Leicester’s success?

Successful businessman being thowing up by his teamwork or colleague. Feeling and emotion concept in success and team work.

A year ago, Leicester City, a football team from a provincial UK city, was one game away from relegation from the English Premiership, which would have cost them an estimated £100m in lost revenues.
During the summer break, they sacked their manager and to the outside world, the club seemed to be in turmoil. They appointed Claudio Ranieri, an experienced manager, yes, but one that again, didn’t seem to fit with the club’s perceived need – survival!
Fast forward 12 months and a couple of nights ago, Leicester City was crowned English Premiership Champions, losing just three games from the 36 played so far.
What a turnaround! What a story!
This is a story that has travelled around the globe and not just in football circles.
As someone who likes to understand success and what makes people or teams successful, I’ve taken a close look at the turnaround and started to pull together a number of themes that I believe can be applied to the world of procurement.
Let me explain…
Under performance to over performance
Every organization will have areas of under performance. In the procurement world, you’ll have contracts that are under performing, you’ll have suppliers that are not meeting the agreed standards, you’ll have team members that are just not delivering.
So what can you do to turn these around?
Looking at the success of Leicester, I believe that there have been four core elements to their success
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A shared vision that developed over time – early on in the season, Ranieri focused on finishing the games without letting the opponents score a goal. In some respect, this was a small incremental step forward – if the opponents didn’t score, Leicester would either draw or win. However, the critical element here is that the team started to see success against this simple measure and as we all know, success breeds success.

At this stage, Ranieri started to talk about a new vision – to reach 40 points – the accepted level where relegation would be avoided. Moreover, he established a pressure point – to reach this figure as quickly as possible. Given what had happened the previous season, this again was a major milestone for the players and built their belief in what was possible.

Once achieved, he started to talk about European qualification (typically a top 6 finish), the Champions League (top 4 finish), before, once all of these milestones had been achieved, identifying the Premiership Title as their one remaining target.

The lesson here is that all too often, we have a tendency to try to move from one extreme to another – from under performance to top performance in one step. This happens all too often in contract renegotiations, supplier performance reviews and team performance reviews.

By establishing a series of incremental steps that can be achieved quickly, momentum will build. Moreover, the process of achieving these smaller milestones will improve collaboration and trust between parties – a foundation on which to deliver ever greater success in the future.

A clear strategy for delivering the required results – there are many ways to play football, tactics are discussed and argued about during and after every match. However, there is really only one way to win a football game – to score more goals than your opponent.

As such, Ranieri devised a very simple winning strategy – to make it very difficult for the opponents to score a goal whilst attacking quickly and with vigour immediately they won the ball back. This approach meant that for most games, the opponent’s possession stats were far superior to Leicester’s.

However, this played into Ranieri’s strategy in that they would leave gaps as they tried to push forward to score and these gaps could be exploited by his Leicester players who had speed of mind and the necessary skill to take advantage.

So, the question is, do you have a clear strategy – ideally a simple one – that will deliver the desired results consistently and sustainably?

To do this, you need to follow Ranieri’s example – look at the team, understand their strengths, understand their weaknesses, identify areas for improvement and take action and then play out the defined strategy.

Don’t change it – if you passionately believe that the strategy is right, don’t ditch it immediately something goes wrong, monitor performance, make adjustments where necessary and play to your strengths.

Your strengths will include the strengths of your supply chain partners – do you fully understand their strengths and weaknesses? Do you actively collaborate with them and develop joint improvement plans?

Do you jointly ‘own’ the strategy?

The team is greater than the individual parts – Did Leicester City have any superstars in the team at the start of the season? Absolutely not!

Do they have any stars in their team as we approach the end of the season – yes but I’d wager that these individuals understand completely that their individual accolades would never have been achieved without the foundation established by the team and the team ethic?

Each member of the team knows and understands their role within the team. Moreover, they seem perfectly happy to play their role to the best of their abilities. The team works together, hunting in packs to win the ball back and breaking forward quickly and with devastating effect.

What about your team? Does your team understand the role that they play in the process of delivering, whatever your organisation produces? When I say team here, I’m talking about the entire team – both internal and external.

Do you think that the Leicester success is just down to the 11 players on the pitch? No, of course not, there are many more people involved in the process – the coaching staff, the administration staff, the catering staff, external partners – the list goes one.

It is the same in your organisation but all too often, I see organisations working in silos and keeping their external partners at arms length, where information is deemed to equate to power. How can this be right?

An absolute focus on the desired result – admittedly this is easier in a sporting context than in many industries, but having a clear key performance indicator and monitoring that consistently is a fundamental success factor.

Leicester City and Ranieri had a very visible KPI – the league table. He knew from game to game, how successful they were becoming. However, do you think that this was the only KPI used? I doubt it.

Ranieri and his team would undoubtedly have developed a dashboard of performance indicators – from completed passes, to distance travelled in each game by individual team members, to in-depth medical assessments of each player.

These performance measures would be much more insightful to Ranieri than the harsh reality of the league table, providing him with the knowledge of when a player would need a rest, or highlighting where additional coaching was required on a particular element of their performance.

So, how do you measure performance? Your answer to this question will probably be focused on the end result – savings delivered or ideally value created.

However, the real point to the question is to ask what indicators are you using to track progress and how are you using these to tweak things to ensure that the desired end result is ultimately delivered?

The Leicester City story will be talked about for years to come. How could a provincial team, almost relegated 12 months ago, take on and win ‘big’ against the more established clubs, who have significantly higher budgets and ‘better’ players.
I’m sure that there are many more elements to this success story than the four I’ve mentioned above but I believe that these are the four most powerful and more importantly, these four are completely transferable into your procurement organisation.
To succeed in the future, Procurement needs to change. Success will be determined more by these ‘softer’ issues than anything else in my opinion and I will go into this in more detail in my latest webinar – Isn’t it time to change the perception of procurementclick here to reserve your seat.
So, I can’t finish this off without sending a massive congratulations to Claudio Ranieri and Leicester City and I look forward to hearing many more success storied from you in the months to come.