The Champions League finale
Did you watch the Champions League finale this weekend? Chelsea beat FC Bayern Munich in the penalty shoot-out. It was an interesting and intense match. Bayern Munich was the better team for the majority of the match. After 82 minutes they had managed to get over 16 corners while Chelsea had a whopping zero. But there was a big difference between Bayern and Chelsea: The team from Munich seemed to be timid and unsure of themselves. Chelsea on the other hand seemed to have that little spark of calm confidence. I had the impression that they were lurking like a predator. In sports and in business that tiny extra bit of energy and confidence can make or break things. I do believe there is a bit of a management lesson here.
Beat me up
I strongly believe that Bayern’s loss was the result of too much pressure and lack of confidence in some of the key players. Some of them looked scared and unsure – even during the first 80 minutes when they were by far the stronger team. Over the past few years, the majority of the players had to suffer through two very difficult coaches. It was reported, the infamous coach Louis van Gaal was mentally abusing players he did not like. Star striker Mario Gomez, for example, hardly ever played under him and the coach wanted to get rid of him. In the weeks leading up to the finale, some players told stories about their terrible 1.5 years under that coach. A clear sign that they were still recovering. Add to that a tremendous amount of pressure from the press, fans and officials. And this has been going on for almost three years. I would argue that this is hardly the environment to deliver a peak performance.
Early in my career, I had the ‘pleasure’ to work on a team that was run by a harsh and egocentric guy. Our team was often criticized and we were subjected to long late meetings to ‘ make up for our inefficiencies’. After a few weeks the entire team lost energy. It felt like we couldn’t win. Nobody was good enough. The project manager piled on additional pressure by openly attacking several team members. Guess what happened – the project was an utter disaster. The client quickly caught on to the fact that the team’s culture was ill. Several people quit, the manager was replaced and the project was cancelled. All that despite a team of highly motivated and smart people.
In my job, I have the opportunity to meet with many different companies. Unfortunately, over the past few years I have experienced a dangerous trend: too many organizations believe that putting constant pressure on their employees is going to deliver quick and easy results. Too many organizations neglect the fact that people are resources. Just like in sports, peak performance requires a delicate balance between nurturing and pressure. Verbal or mental abuse especially create long-lasting damage.
Confident employees will always go the extra mile. Burned out zombies will hardly be able to WOW customers. Confidence breads confidence. It is contagious. Look at sports again – a winning team usually continues winning for a long period of time. Bayern did not have that spark on Saturday. They played an awesome match. But it was simply not enough.