As possibly the most unpredictable Premiership season ever draws to a close, a footballing blog seems appropriate. As in every season, three clubs face the burning platform of relegation. Questions are asked, disgust is expressed by tweet and by sheet (on the terraces), recriminations fly and the more ambitious (and able) team members jump ship.
The rallying cry is ‘Something Must Be Done’ to quickly return the crestfallen club to the league in which it feels it rightfully belongs.
What is often done, in football clubs as in many other organisations, is that the pressure of powerful stakeholders (owners and fans) forces symbolic response. Anything that shows decisive action and a determination not to put up with what has happened. The manager is generally the one to go, perhaps accompanied by key coaching staff.
But playing to the frustrated crowd is not always the best approach.
In the end, sporting success, as with commercial success, often relies far more on the interaction of multiple factors than on the quality of the plan or the individual talents involved. Relationships matter: within a team, between a team and a manager, between a manager and the owners, between owners and fans. Each of these relationships has a part to play in the final outcome of a season.
The environment is uncertain and it changes constantly. How can success be assured? Well of course, it can’t. Look no further than Leicester City and Chelsea.
Leicester, with its last gasp escape from relegation in 2015, recruiting the oft-sacked Ranieri as manager, now fairy tale winners of the Premier League. Chelsea, champions of 2014/15, team brimming with international superstars and managed by a man with serious track record of success, never within spitting distance of the top throughout the whole season.
What were the plans made in each of these clubs last summer? What were the odds of success? What resources did each club have available to them? Their relative fortunes could surely never have been predicted.
In a situation where each result and experience can impact the direction of travel, a purely rational approach to planning holds no guarantees. So how should you proceed?
The relationship between the players in the Leicester team has been striking. Their cooperation, growth in mutual understanding and sheer determination and graft have enabled them to weather the pressure of last year and build momentum this year. The respectful and open relationship between players and manager has also been a great asset, as has the confidence invested in him by the board and the enthusiasm of the fans, even in defeat early in the season. Similarly, in business, problems with culture and process change become more addressable when the relational dynamics are on track.
With close internal relationships, open communication and strong channels of influence to those around, plotting a route through uncertainty becomes a far easier and more productive task. The relationships become the means of success, however unpredictable the outcome. Understanding them and investing in them become as vital as the plan.