Managing employees: what can employers learn from Leicester City's success?

Managing employees: what can employers learn from Leicester City's success?


Author: Sarah Lovell

Applies to: UK wide

Leicester City Football Club winning the Premier League is one of the great sporting upsets of all time. It also provides some valuable lessons in effective management for employers.

The Leicester City fairy tale

Earlier this month, Leicester City Football Club ("Leicester") achieved what many thought was impossible by winning the Premier League. From the start of the season, they were underdogs. The majority of pundits predicted yet another victory for Chelsea, whose squad cost £322 million to put together, compared to the £57 million spent at Leicester. The difference in the wage-bill was equally stark; £192 million at Chelsea compared to £36 million at Leicester. Bookmakers gave Chelsea odds of 11/8 to win the league, compared to 5000/1 for Leicester.

Management style

Managers who can get the best out of their employees enable an organisation to fully leverage its resources. The personality and management style of Leicester's manager, Claudio Ranieri, has been credited with leading the team to its remarkable victory, against the odds. He focused on identifying the key strengths of his players and gave them the latitude to play to those strengths, building tactics around the individuals.

Conversely, it is alleged that Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, failed to motivate his players to overcome the challenges that this season presented. Rather than adapting his style while his team stood on the brink of relegation, he persisted with the same approach, with ineffective results.

One person's 'strong' management style is potentially another person's harassment. The line between requiring an employee to meet certain standards and targets and bullying can be a fine one if matters are not handled carefully.

Employees may react badly to being performance managed, especially where strong personalities are involved. Following a fair procedure is key when dealing with underperformance. All organisations should have a performance management process which is adhered to where employees are not performing adequately. This will help to demonstrate objectivity in the event of any complaint about how an employee has been managed. Any grievances raised formally by employees should be dealt with promptly and investigated thoroughly.

What may start as a clash of personalities between individuals often ends up in a constructive dismissal or discrimination claim against the employer. By way of topical example, former team doctor, at Chelsea, Eva Carneiro is currently claiming constructive dismissal and suing Mourinho himself for sex discrimination and harassment.

It is now well established that an employer may fairly dismiss a manager on the basis of 'some other substantial reason' if their personality leads to a breakdown in relations with their team.

Effective management

Just like Ranieri, managers in any organisation should be well placed to understand the key skills, strengths and weaknesses of those in their teams. By, evaluating employees' abilities both informally by day-to-day contact and formally, through the annual appraisal process the best use can be made of each team member.

Flexibility and adaptability are also key. The business world evolves rapidly and a swift response to those changes can be the difference between financial success and failure. Managers who can facilitate change effectively and motivate the workforce through a variety of challenges, bring greatest value to an organisation. Drafting in flexibility to employment contracts and policies can "future proof" the employment relationship, enabling an employer to make changes to working practices where needed.

Motivational management needs to be coupled with a suitable reward structure. While the benefits and remuneration available are likely to be more modest outside of the football arena, these should be carefully considered and, where possible, linked to performance which is assessed on a fair and objective basis without any taint of discrimination.

What can employers do to improve management?

Targeted training for managers can develop skills and embed positive attitudes. Soft-skills, including people management, should be considered on a par with experience when it comes to recruitment and promotion. Job specifications should be reviewed to check whether this is the case.

When an organisations is aware of poor managerial practice within their workforce, the response is all too often to park it in 'too difficult' pile. While superiors may feel awkward discussing negative behaviours, it is vital that annual appraisals are an honest reflection of an individual's weaknesses so that these can be addressed. Putting in place an improvement plan and supporting managers with training, mentoring and coaching will hopefully lead to improvement over time. Where this is not happening, an organisation should then be working towards a fair dismissal on the grounds of poor performance by following its internal procedures.


Claudio Ranieri's methods may not have been perfect, but the tremendous success of his team demonstrates the importance of key managerial skills; flexibility, adaptability, and leveraging the strength of the workforce, which can be applied to any organisation.


This document is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given.