All to play for: What small businesses can learn from the new breed of English football

Roy Hodgson made one of the biggest announcements of the sporting year recently, revealing the chosen 23 to represent England at Euro 2016. After a succession of disappointing and, in some cases disastrous, international tournaments, the country’s hopes rest on a squad of exciting young players who are finding a whole new way of playing the national game.

With familiar faces like Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard announcing their retirement shortly after the Brazilian World Cup in 2014, a new generation of players have emerged to fill their shoes, signalling both a change of gear and what can only be hoped to be a more successful era for the England team.

As with big changes in any industry, this shift has come with important lessons and they are particularly interesting for anyone who runs their own business. So while we’ve still got it all to play for, what can be learned from the new shape of English international football?


Striking the balance

All too often the national team has relied on a polarised approach that is dictated by waves of talent. Fabio Capello’s 2010 World Cup squad depended almost entirely on the maturity and experience of older players, with an average age of 28.5. Despite the undoubted calibre of the individual stars, the team’s rigid and uncompromising style – lacking in surprise or innovation – led to a disappointing performance, with the team on a plane back home before the quarter-finals.

Managers shouldn’t have to choose between experience and innovation, success lies in a balance between the two. Both require each other to be truly effective and the recent introduction of players such as Harry Kane and Dele Alli signifies that Hodgson is keen to promote a hybrid, putting innovative younger blood alongside older stars like Wayne Rooney.

As a small business or start-up, financial health depends on the ability to think fast, and come up with new solutions when opportunities arise, or crises loom. Yet this innovation can be empty unless it is stabilised by experience. This can create tension – and that’s the point – constructive conflict between the two can be a magical formula when it’s handled well.

Final whistle: In fast-moving markets commercial success can rely on a blend of innovation and experience. Those that find their own perfect balance and combine the best elements of informed wisdom and new ideas stand a good chance of outpacing the competition.


Aiming for agility

One of the big developments in the English team over recent years has been the evolution of the different functions of players, creating a welcome new fluidity. Even as recently as the 2010 South African World Cup individuals held largely segregated and concrete roles. The new generation of England stars are bringing a novel approach to function within the team.

Rather than simply changing the player themselves, Hodgson has encouraged players to expand their defined roles to support their teammates when needed. Increasingly, defenders are coming to the help of those on the wing and vice versa.

Agility and role interchangeability can be critical in a young business with a small team. Constantly developing, reviewing and expanding roles can help small firms achieve true agility, which in turn makes for a great team spirit and avoids painful half-time talks.

Final whistle: Agility is key in a small team. Once armed with a resourcing plan, this fluidity needs to be embedded in the business through great culture and leadership. The associated costs around promotions and staff retention should also be factored into forecasts.


Insights behind a winning formula

One of the most difficult aspects of Roy Hodgson’s decision was deciding exactly what blend of resources were needed to tackle the different challenges ahead.

At the group stage, England face Russia, Wales and Slovakia (and even harder challenges beyond, let’s hope). In choosing both the squad and the starting line-ups for each match he will need great insights into the players themselves – and the more complicated subject of how they may be able to bounce off each other and form new partnerships.

Small business leaders face a similar challenge in the need for insightful management information – that reveals what’s working in the business today, and what’s draining away profits. This is where accountancy services that go beyond the basics of tax and bookkeeping come into their own. Up to date management information should be presented in a way that instantly shows an individual business leader exactly what they need to know, and accompanied by advice on practical solutions.

While accountants are poles apart from football stars in just about every other way, the profession’s going through its own journey at the moment, moving from the defensive basics of looking after tax returns and spreadsheets, to useful advice that proactively spots what’s not working in a business model and finds ways to fix it. Accountants may never be the strikers of the small business world, but the best are starting to provide the occasional assist.

Final whistle: Insightful management information is vital for identifying what’s making an enterprise profitable and what’s holding it back. These insights can empower leaders to make swift and successful decisions.

Pelé once said, “Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.” Whether you’re running a business or a football team, here’s hoping some of that spirit will rub off this summer.


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