THE BLOG
16/10/2013 09:17 BST | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

Seven Lessons Businesses Can Learn from Manchester United

You can only be truly great when you strive for excellence in every department

Manchester United is not just a football club. It's bigger than that. It's a global brand that inspires emotion and commands respect. That's the result of its great footballing legacy. But behind that legacy is years of hard work and professionalism from a committed team of backroom staff.

At a management conference in 2011, I was privileged to be able to share a series of "talking head" videos from people who had contributed to the success of Manchester United with 1000 of our top executives. Some of the most inspirational interviews were with Albert Morgan, the kit man, Tony Sinclair, Head Groundsman and Riyaz Patel from the security team. Their passion and commitment to quality in what they do epitomises what makes Manchester United great. Only businesses that can drive and embed this cultural commitment to excellence at every level will achieve true greatness.

Developing your own talent is critical

Many have credited Manchester United's youth set-up with being a key factor in the club's long-running success, with Ryan Giggs being the embodiment of that today. Perhaps just as important, however, is how the club's focus on development feeds into the approach to new players joining from elsewhere. No matter what your experience, you still have something to learn when you join Manchester United.

This trade-off in bringing in skills and relentlessly imposing your own learning and development culture can help businesses to achieve sustainable success.

Competing today is about unlocking the world's potential

Manchester United's Academy boasts players from across the UK and Europe. Many of them will drive the future success of the club. Football is a global sport with the top clubs tapping into talent the world over.

The same applies to business today, but bringing in talent and expertise from abroad isn't just confined to the elite. Many small businesses don't recognize just how easy it is to go global today, both in sourcing materials and services and selling their own product. The very best businesses of all sizes are already taking advantage of the "hidden potential" of other markets.

Sustainable success is built on values

Manchester United is living proof that success built on clearly defined values is more likely to endure. In a fiercely competitive arena the club has been able to deliver 13 championship titles in the 22 years of the Premier League's existence. Manchester United is a highly successful business, but I would argue that its ability to attract players, engage a worldwide fanbase and achieve consistent success despite this ferocious competition is built on a brand with clear values that others (DHL included) strive to be associated with.

Embrace adversity

Arguably no football club has faced more adversity than Manchester United. But the club owes much of its resilience and sense of community today to the legacy and memory of difficult times, particularly the Munich air disaster.

The lesson is clear: bad times don't signal the end is nigh - they offer an opportunity to build something special.

History is important, whatever direction you take in the future

Your past defines your future. Anyone joining Manchester United carries the weight of the club's proud history on their shoulders. And that's what brings out the hunger and drive in the very best performers that have led the club to success.

Celebrating your past is important in business too. That's not to say that you shouldn't constantly evolve and look forward. But businesses should embrace the moments that define them, both in good times and bad, and use them as catalysts for future success.

You need big personalities - but they need to contribute to the brand

It's no coincidence that I've shared 7 'lessons' here. In a sport of big personalities and a club with no shortage of legends, the number 7 is synonymous with legendary exploits at Manchester United. However, no single individual wearing the no. 7 shirt has ever stood out without ultimately contributing positively to the club's legacy and its brand.

The more diverse your team, and the more you throw big, eccentric personalities together with your "standard" consistent performers, the more creative spark, differentiation and energy you inject into your business. Managing diverse talent and personalities while making sure that everyone adds value to the brand is crucial to your organization growing and out-performing.