Four business lessons from Sir Alex Ferguson

Nurturing talent

Giggs, Scholes, the Nevilles, Beckham and Ronaldo are just some of the world class players to have developed under the tutelage of Sir Alex Ferguson. The ability to develop and bring talent through the ranks has been one of his most valuable facets as a manager and is vital for the long-term health of all organisations. When developing your own team you need to look at individual strengths and weaknesses and fine tune the little things they're not so good at.

The "hair dryer" treatment

Okay, so you don't want to give your sales team the full Fergie "hair dryer" treatment or go round kicking football boots into people's faces à la David Beckham circa 2003, but a motivational half time 'pep-talk' is sometime needed when sale targets aren't being met.

This is where knowing your team really comes into play. You need to know what's going to boost their confidence and what's going to drive them to get those sales. Sometimes a quiet word in the ear is all that's needed, while other times a reward of some kind might be more appropriate. A public dressing down is never to be recommended, but in the right environment (and I stress - right environment) a plasma screen in the sales room that shows how everyone is performing on an individual level can provide a similar function.

Fostering a 'never say die' attitude

Ole Gunnar Solskjær's injury time winning goal in the 1999 Champions League final has come to epitomise the Man Utd team spirit.

In a sales team you want (to use a football analogy) the team to fight for each other. On the last day of the month, when sales target haven't been met, you want all of your team to be 'chomping at the bit' to hit targets so they make commission. How do you create this hunger?

It starts with your recruitment strategy. It might be un-PC to say in these altruistic times, but from a sales perspective, you ideally want your team to be motivated by materialistic rewards. You want them to be in the sales profession for the thrill of the chase, the 'kill'; you want them to strive to earn commission. In a sales environment it's hard to push your team if they're not interested in the monetary rewards.

Targets should be set and changed on a regular basis to incentivise and keep people on their toes. A joint, team target with some form of reward, such as leaving early on a Friday or a trip to the pub, is a good idea to foster spirit. Tip: always target and monitor.

Team spirit & man-management

Throughout his career Ferguson has always been great at attracting and retaining the best players. A large part of this success is due to his personal approach. Before he signs any player he makes sure he gets to know their characteristics and personality to ensure they fit with the Man Utd 'way'.

You should do exactly the same when recruiting. "Sell me this pencil" is the cliché interview question. But when recruiting for sales staff you'll often get more out of the process by throwing that list of pre-defined interview questions in the bin and actually talking to the interviewee, not just about their experience but also their lives. Once they're comfortable and relaxed they will open up more and you get a much better idea of whether they are the right fit for the company or not.

Oh and by the way…no I'm not a Man Utd fan!

John Pooley is owner and MD of The Data Partnership

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