Leaders in Sport x Kairos: Where Strategy Meets Execution

We took some time to reflect on the key takeaways from our Masterclass at the Leaders in Sport Performance Summit! Check it out below 🔥

Yesterday, at the Leaders in Sport event in Twickenham we hosted a masterclass session engaging with some of the brightest minds across the sports industry in leading roles within their organisation.

Moderated by Kairos CEO Andrew Trimble, the discussion which aimed to tackle the implementation of strategic goals was led by Manchester United’s Head of Women’s Football, Polly Bancroft and Southampton FC’s Director of Football Operations, Matt Crocker..

Strategy has become a buzz word within the world of elite sport, with many staff becoming sceptical and disillusioned that another ‘strategy meeting’ will again lead to nothing. Our CEO Andrew Trimble with his experience of playing professional sport and now leading a global company posed to Polly and Matt that a strategy in its most simplest form is merely a plan that allows an organisation to overcome a significant challenge or harness a marked opportunity.

Agreeing, Matt Crocker simplified his view, stating that strategy is ‘a long-term action plan’ that needs to be measurable, actionable and achievable. The length of the long-term action plan is unique based on the organisation, but must be constantly performance reviewed to ensure progress is being measured. 

Reflecting from his time at The Football Association, Matt suggested that England’s national teams lacked a clear vision, travelling from tournament to tournament, hoping for the best result. During 2013, they refined their strategy under the slogan, ‘unite the game, inspire a nation’ with the long-term goal of winning the 2022 World Cup. Now that the 2022 World Cup is around the corner, the success of England’s Men’s National team has been unprecedented – achieving a World Cup Semi-Final in 2018, European Championship Final in 2021, and tournament success at junior levels. Similarly, the Women’s National Team are currently having the most successful period in history, winning the European Championships earlier this year. Resultantly, the FA’s decision to roll out the strategic plan back in 2013 saw a successful implementation of the EPPP amongst other methods which made it: measurable, actionable and achievable.

Manchester United’s newly appointed Head of Women’s Football, Polly Bancroft, stressed the importance of collaboration and communication. Polly mentioned the critical importance of ‘involving staff along the way’ which in turn, becomes vital for staff buy-in. Communicating the vision from senior management in a transparent way, throughout all stakeholders within the organisation is essential to achieving the desired outcome. ‘This includes the players, they need to feel part of the journey, so listening to them becomes essential to success’. Polly shared examples from her time at Brighton and Hove Albion. In one instance, they held a player council to listen to the player’s needs, and implemented things such as a flower meadow to become greener and more sustainable, amongst other wishes to make the players feel part of the club.

The recent women’s Euros success has certainly inspired a nation, with participation, viewership and attendee numbers at an all time high. Polly noted her hesitancy in drawing direct parallels with the men’s game, ‘it’s like comparing a 5-year start up to a 140 year establishment’, believing the strategy of the women’s game shouldn’t be to replicate the men’s game, but to evaluate and apply what’s necessary for the growth of women’s football. With the strategic vision running throughout every level of the club, Polly recognised that Manchester United can be a great voice for the women’s game. The ‘United way’ certainly has direction and an expectation that comes with the red print, but the women hope to be innovative when implementing the strategic goals over the coming years. Though early in her tenure, Polly is holding meetings with key stakeholders to evaluate the potential quick wins which can help everyone feel part of the journey.

Similarly, when returning to Southampton for his second stint, the board had presented the strategy to Matt as part of his recruitment process and Matt was tasked with creating the footballing implementation. After speaking with various stakeholders, he admitted he could feel the ‘strategy fatigue’ within the club. After presenting back his plan after 90 days, the short-term execution was simple; ‘action before strategy’, listen to people within the organisation and implement the quick wins. Including them in the club’s success and longer-term strategy could be outlined and worked towards, becoming part of the club culture. The leadership team can identify the ‘what’ and ‘why’ but it takes everybody to be onboard to achieve the ‘how’ reflected Matt. 

Every club has a unique identity, and there are certain negotiables and non-negotiables that must be protected with that identity to keep the culture consistent. Reflecting on the recent managerial hire at Southampton, Matt stressed the importance of two key factors when recruiting a new candidate: playing style and leadership style. The playing style had to match that desired by the Saints, this could be identified by various data points and analysis, however the leadership style was also a key factor. Through psychological profiling they were able to analyse insights, but the interview process was a key differentiator to assess if the candidate was the right fit. The leadership style is important to the club so the strategy can be successfully implemented, and the candidate will be given specific targets that are constantly reviewed to make sure the progress is on the right track.

Both Matt and Polly agreed communication plays an important role in the implementation phase. Everybody within the club needs to be on the same page and language needs to be clear and efficient. Simplicity is key, with clear and consistent messaging throughout the organisation being instrumental for people to feel part of the bigger picture. ‘Catch people doing it well’ Matt emphasised, look for the positives and be sure to highlight them within your organisation.

At Kairos, we work with elite clubs from a communication and operations perspective to ensure everybody within the organisation, both internal and external stakeholders, are part of the journey and ultimately drive performance on the pitch

To learn more about what we can do, please click here 👉 https://kairostech.io/talk-to-sales/