1st June 2019. On the flight from Paris to Madrid with my son Frank to watch Liverpool play (and beat) Tottenham in the Champions League Final, I struck up a conversation with a German guy on my left, also called Frank. We did the inevitable ‘there are aren’t enough Franks in the world’ pleasantries then moved on to sport and football.
It turns out he ran one of Germany’s leading sports marketing businesses and had clients such as Borussia Dortmund, Jurgen Klopp’s former club. He knew Klopp well and his best mate was Jurgen’s business manager. We parted at Madrid-Barajas Adolfo Suárez Airport having connected, I’d said we would take him up on his offer to go and watch Borussia Dortmund and was even more excited about the opportunity of being introduced to Klopp’s manager.
Jurgen was right at the top of the list of people I wanted to interview and probably never would (just ahead of Michelle Obama, David Attenborough and Bruce Springsteen).
I was convinced this was my ‘in’ to get an interview with the great man (yes, I’m a massive LFC fan and have been fascinated with how he’s transformed us from being ok/good to winning the Premier and Champions League.)
Anyway, needless to say, it never happened. He’s too busy, too expensive and too in demand ☹. In my mind I’ve conducted that interview a few times and having studied him, I have concluded he would have 20 lessons for business leaders in recruitment. In this interview that never happened, my opening question after our hug (he’s a big hugger!) would have been
‘So Jurgen, if you were running a recruitment business, what leadership lessons from the world of football and your success would you apply?’
This is how he would have answered:*
- Define your Vision of Success and align, align, align – When Klopp joined the club in 2015 he developed a long term vision of success with the owners at Fenway Sports Group and every decision, player and investment ever since has been aligned to an achieving the agreed commercial and footballing success
- What can we learn? Create a longer-term picture of success (more than just the numbers) which everyone can get behind and align every decision, every hire, every process, every investment to achieving it. The ability to focus and deliver on the short term is critical but we’ve seen at TRN the traction, growth and success businesses enjoy when they shape and share a longer-term vision of success that engages shareholders, management, employees (existing and future)
- Data led decision making: Klopp hired Ian Graham, Director of Research, who heads up a team of 6 providing intelligence led insights into player performance. Passion and opinion matter but underpin it with some data.
- What we can learn? Analytics and data should be at the heart of the business – markets should be researched, performance analysed and data reported – make sure you have the systems and tech in place to provide it (it’s all out there if used properly)
- Marginal gains – No stone unturned. Jurgen recruited Thomas Gronnemark to improve retention of possession from throws – it improved by 23% making Liverpool the most effective in the league.
- What we can learn? If we embed a culture of cultural improvement and everybody buys into the concept of CANI (continuous and never-ending improvement, we’ll just get better and better). It’s an attitude.
- Leadership at every level –People are encouraged to think for themselves and be leaders. Think of Trent Alexander-Arnolds epic corner in the semi-final against Barcelona (and the initiative of the ball boy who was so quick to give him the ball). Everybody can and should influence.
- What can we learn? Encourage leadership and initiative at every level. Create a risk taking culture where risks and front line entrepreneurialism are encouraged. Bring in the right people, train them, trust them.
- Culture first – Stay loyal to the Liverpool way and the agreed principles or you won’t last. Sakho missed the flight to the preseason tour, training sessions and voiced his displeasure on social media. He never got near the first team again and was sold to Palace.
- What can we learn? Culture eats strategy for breakfast. Set expectations for behaviours and hold people to account. TRN is full of recruitment business who have built and nurtured great culture, leading to productivity, performance, reward and fun.
- Minimum standards matter – if you’re not good enough, you’re not good enough. Loris Karius, our keeper before Alisson Becker, was a really great guy but not good enough despite the training and support he received. He had to go.
- What can we learn? We need a team of people who GWC (get it, want it and are capable). If you don’t have that, your performance suffers. Be very clear what you want, very thorough when you recruit, and move fast if someone’s not right.
- Delegation and defer to others – Klopp has surrounded himself with people who have strengths that he doesn’t have and doesn’t feel the need to pretend to be the best at everything. He delegates authority to specialists and players to implement the vision, the game plan and to uphold decisions made
- What can we learn? As we scale our businesses, identify in advance what competencies you need moving forward in the business and develop people accordingly. Set expectations, create the agreed processes, experiences, activities and behaviour and delegate responsibility – it’ll slow your growth if too much is sitting with you. Release the grip.
- Develop, develop, develop – turn potential into top performers. Robertson, Mane, Wijnaldum were good players, not great players. They’re now great players. The potential of people with a great attitude is extraordinary.
- What can we learn? Build a learning culture – it starts with you and your management team. Be a role model for learning. Fast growth recruitment businesses are hungry to learn at every level. TRN members have a hunger to learn and access ideas which is why they join.
- Grow your own – apart from spending big on Alisson and Van Dijk, Liverpool have invested and grown young and good players. They have avoided going for the individuals who are at their peak.
- What can we learn? Taking big billers comes with a risk because of the habits they have. Show me less experienced talent with good mental horsepower that can be mould into someone who does it our way every time. Compromise on expertise if you need to, never compromise on attitude and character.
- Listen to your team: Listen to your team. Give them a voice. Klopp changed his demanding training regimes and their schedule when players shared they missed the morning school run.
- What can we learn? Your team and the individuals have a voice. Listening is easy. Doing something with it is what the best leaders do. The ideas and input from your team will make your business more profitable and better. Develop your ability to coach and question and facilitate. They need to feel listened to, cared for and valued. At TRN we run hundreds of engagement studies every year and insights can be transformational.
- Wellbeing and resilience matters – Christmas 2019 – Liverpool’s players were tired (Klopp is very demanding) and he decided they should spend Christmas at home (unlike most teams) and not worry about the pre-match training. They recharged and smashed in-form Leicester 4-0 on Boxing day
- What can we learn? The mental well-being and resilience of your team has a direct correlation with their performance. Develop a wellbeing programme – there’s plenty on this on TRN World www.trnworld.com. Re-energising, re-engaging, re-charging matters.
- Customer led Remember the 2-2 draw with West Brom at Anfield in 2015. It wasn’t a great performance, result or supporter experience. At the end of the match, Klopp walked the whole team to salute the fans at the Kop end. Great for his personal brand, great for the reputation of the team (although it was questioned at the time). He has built a phenomenal relationship with the supporters and the community (locally and globally) – he knows his customers and cares.
- What can we learn? Obsess about your reputation and brand. Obsess about giving a consistently excellent experience (rather than having pockets of excellence). Personal brand matters and the experiences you give your candidates and clients will influence behaviour – referrals, retention, cross selling etc – and impact performance and profitability
- Be human Klopp makes sure he is kept informed on family issues of members of staff and players so he can empathise and support accordingly
- What can we learn? Our employees work for us. They are contracted to do certain things. They also have lives and challenges and bad days. Get to know them as humans
- Trust is everything – he trusts people to do their job. Michael Edwards is trusted to do run the transfer strategy. Players are trusted to play their part.
- What can we learn? Trust has to be earned through competence and reliability. Micro-managers and controlling leaders rarely get the performance they want.
- Leadership depth – Klopp has leaders anywhere and he knows his ideas will be managed and standards upheld when he’s not there – Hendo, Milner, Van Dijk, Wijnaldum all are key players in the dressing room, on the training ground, on the pitch and in the community.
- What can we learn? No recruitment will scale without the strength and depth of management who can translate the vision, the decisions and the values into daily reality. Without exception, every successful TRN member has invested heavily in getting the leadership and management right. It underpins everything.
- Team first Klopp memorised the names of all 80 employees who worked with and took care of the players. ‘Together Strong’ is on the wall of the executive suite and every employee, irrespective of their role matters and know they matter to the success of the club
- What can we learn? Build a family, build a team and business full of people who care – for the purpose, for the customers, for their colleagues, for the quality of what they do. That’ll only happen if they know that you care for them in the first place
- Total fitness leads to performance – Liverpool’s nutrition coach Mona Nemmer transformed the player’s intake and how they look after themselves. The full English was replaced with personalised menus based on individual blood values.
- What can we learn? Whether it’s the food we eat, what we drink, how we sleep, the breaks we take – our physical state directly impacts performance. Educate and support the team
- Values led “To have a complete idiot with you just because he can kick a little better is totally annoying”. Klopp has strong values and wants people who share them. Klopp invited Wijnaldum to his home for lunch before signing him – not to talk football but to ask him about his last holiday, to understand him and his Values and whether he would be a net contributor to the team culture
- What can we learn? There are businesses that talk about Values (the majority) and those that live them and build a great culture (the few). Check out how to do it right on TRN World – there are plenty of tools and insights
- Positivity Fact – Klopp has the best smile in world football, in sport globally and in fact anywhere you want to look. His smile makes you smile, even if you’re a Man U supporter. His positivity is infectious.
- What can we learn? Positivity is a huge engager. Focus on the strengths, not the weaknesses. Focus on the successes, not the things that went wrong. Celebrate always, even the little things. Life is a dance, not a destination – enjoy it
- Build the Network – Klopp has a phenomenal network of contacts and experts that he can and does draw from including Fenway Sports Group. He excels at relationships and has access to people around the world who can help him be a better manager, leader, expert and man.
- What can we learn? Simple – join us at TRN therecruitmentnetwork.com. We’ve designed TRN to help recruitment business leaders build an even better business, have an even better life and become even better leaders (just like Jurgen!)
That’s what Jurgen has done and on top of the footballing success, the commercial value of LFC as a business has doubled and their customers (fans) are three times as happy. Jurgen – I salute you!
NB*full creative licence has been applied and the great man had zero input (unfortunately).