Employee engagement: the road to business success?

For a proud Yorkshire firm, full of people who largely support our local teams, this is probably the first time we have ever blogged about Manchester United.  There were however too many obvious learning points to ignore.

Ole may well be at the wheel of one of the world’s biggest and most high-profile football clubs, but what can business leaders learn from the way that the Norwegian has dramatically steered a club back onto the right road?

The truth is, the answer to that question is ‘a lot’. Clearly, you need more than just a few good football players to win 14 of your first 18 games at the helm (Solskjaer’s record to date) just as you need more than simply a few talented individuals to enjoy consistent, sustained business success.

There are certain parallels between the way a football manager coaches his players – his team – and the methods which business leaders across the UK, and around the world for that matter, can implement.

A 2016 study by Gallup found that when an employee’s engagement needs are not met, it can cost the business up to 1.5 times the employee’s original salary.

It also found that engaged teams have far lower turnover of staff, 21% greater profitability, 17% higher productivity and 10% higher customer ratings than disengaged teams.

And with origins dating as far back as 1867, at BHP our longevity is built on our ability to innovate, adapt and lead – especially when it comes to employee engagement.

Small wonder that we were recently named in The Sunday Times’ Top 100 Companies to Work For 2019 – we very much understand that it’s our people who make us who we are.

BHP is a people’s business, through and through, and we celebrate our employees as individuals and as a team.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer celebrates his employees, too. Upon arrival at Manchester United, one of the first things he said that he was “really looking forward” to “working with the very talented squad we have, the staff and everyone at the club” – stark contrast to his predecessor, Jose Mourinho, who had constantly insisted that his players weren’t good enough.

Solskjaer even arrived at the training ground for his first day bearing gifts.

Now, that’s not to say that employee motivation at your business is necessarily on the floor – but there’s every chance that a few simple measures could push it through the roof.

When Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took the reins at Manchester United, he took over a team devoid of confidence, belief and, perhaps more significantly, suffering from a severe lack of team spirit.

Solskjaer quickly changed that. In his very first interview in the role of caretaker manager at Manchester United, he only spoke positively of “getting his players enjoying football again”, with the type of beaming smile on his face which was scarcely present on that of his predecessor.

He recognised instantly that while his Manchester United players were highly-paid, they had been desperately underperforming for months. They had become disenchanted and weren’t enjoying life – neither on, nor off, the football pitch.

Solskjaer put an arm around his underperforming players, and as opposed to vilifying them for making mistakes, he looked into the reasons why individuals were making such glaring errors, and found bespoke solutions for each player in question.

The 46-year-old Norwegian inherited a team who had lost all respect for their previous manager and his methods, in much the same way that it’s possible for employees to lose interest in their jobs, stop enjoying going to work and become ‘mood hoovers’.

He realised that employee engagement was crucial to the first team players of Manchester United Football Club – just as it is to firms across the UK and beyond.

Small wonder, then, that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s positivity – and subsequently new or extended contract agreements with several key first team players who had previously struggled – has had such a dramatic effect on both the team’s performance on the pitch, and fan sentiment off it.

He set about changing the atmosphere at the club, getting other key influencers – such as legendary former manager Sir Alex Ferguson – to buy into a new-found belief in his players and the club as a whole.

Footballers are heroes to many, but just like anybody else, they are employees of an organisation who need to be engaged and motivated. That doesn’t necessarily mean spending huge sums of money on employees’ pay. It simply means recognising each individual’s needs, for the benefit of a wider group of people.

Only time will tell whether or not Ole Gunnar Solskjaer develops into a managerial genius, but he – like many Manchester United fans – quickly identified that the power and strength of a team all pulling in the same direction, with clear objectives and vision, far outweighs the skill or achievements of any individual.