Hans-Hubert “Berti” Vogts was more successful than most in the game of soccer. He won a major national team title both as a player (World Cup 1974) and a coach (European Champion 1996) with his native country of Germany (technically he also won the European Championship as a player in 1972, but even though he was on the team roster he did not play due to an injury).
Yet he was never really loved by the people, or as he put it: “If I would walk over the water then my critics would say that I can’t even swim”. As a player, that was probably due to his style: He was a hard playing defender, which earned him the nickname “The Terrier”. As a coach the reason is maybe his rather demure style of presenting himself.
Vogts obviously has a rather special sense of humor, and in many cases it seems like the journalists just didn’t fully get it. When he said “Hate doesn’t belong to the stadium. These feelings need to be lived out at home in the living room, together with the wife”, many took him serious. Another example: Before the crucial World Cup match against Croatia, he, well, “motivated” his players with these words: “the Croats hack down anything that moves. So our midfield has got nothing to fear”.
After leaving the German National team following the 1998 World Cup, his career took a rather unusual turn; he coached German Bundesliga site Bayer Leverkusen before working with the National teams of Kuwait, Scotland and Nigeria. Currently, he coaches Azerbaijan. Last Friday, he had to play clearly higher-ranked Austria in the qualifiers for the 2012 European Championships. In a press conference prior to the game he showed his style of humor again:
“We even want to win here. If Austria accedes.”
Austria didn’t, so Vogts and his team lost 3-0. Still, I loved this approach. He wasn’t going on about his game plan or strategy, he just gave a target and mentioned that implementing would be subject to external factors beyond his control. What a great way of managing in uncertainty.
Vogts’ team mate from the 1974 World Champion team, Franz Beckenbauer, was known to motivate the team he coached to a World Cup title in 1990 with the simple words “Just go out and play soccer!”.
Could you imagine this kind of approaches in your company? Less planning, more trust in the people?
We’re managing in a world of uncertainty. Yet we always try to come up with a plan. And this plan is in most cases based on our experiences and figures from the past. Why does nobody realize this disconnect?
Thomas Häßler, who was both part of Beckenbauer’s 1990 squad and Vogts’ 1996 team once stated after a match: “We didn’t want to concede a goal. That worked quite well until our opponents scored”. Plans are made to be destroyed. Why are companies developing sales plans for the next five years? In most cases throwing dice would probably as accurate in estimating what you will sell in five years from now as guessing based on some figures gathered in the past.
I was talking to strategists that acknowledged that 70 to 80% of all the planning efforts their companies are doing do not lead to any result. At the same time there’s research that people in management dedicate on average around 30% of their time to planning related task. So if you could stop with all unnecessary planning activities that would earn you at least 20% in productivity. That’s a full day every week!
I’m not saying that planning is generally bad. There are situations where planning is vital. But in most cases it’s not. It’s a way of implementing personal and hierarchical power. If there is no plan, many managers just feel lost and don’t know what to do. Planning gives the feeling of security. “We have a plan so we won’t be wrong”. But it’s the opposite: If you have a plan, and maybe have put a lot of effort into developing it, it is a tough challenge to be flexible enough to adapt the plan to new developments.
If all this sounds a bit too harsh to you, then just think about what the alternative to planning would be. Michael Hammer, one of the founders of Business Process Reengineering once put it like this:
“The secret of success is not to foresee the future. But to build an organization that is able to prosper in any of the unforeseeable futures”
(I found this quote in a presentation by Niels Pflaeging on “Performance Management” which is a great read, so check it out here.)
We’re back to leadership and trust. Plans and targets are the opposite of trust. Get good people in and build an environment that enables them to work good. Convince them of your purpose and they will deliver. And they will adapt to a changing environments as they won’t hide behind a plan but take over responsibility instead. There is no responsibility without trust.
Sounds easy, but basically this sums up what the job of management should be. And guess what: It’s not easy. Because it’s fuzzy. Because you lose control. Because you can’t arm yourself with 150 detailed planning figure charts when your boss calls you in.
Yes, you have to be bold to tell your team: “Just go out and play soccer!”. Or: “Just go out and play business!”. But there’s no excuse for not even starting with this approach, even if you start small.
Why not write down all the forecasts and plans that you do on a regular basis and then walk through the list one by one, trying to find out in which situations these plans really add value and in which they don’t. Ask yourself which of them you can omit and which of them you can change from periodical production to on-demand (don’t be too shy: remember the benchmark is 70-80%). You will save time and create a positive motivational effect. Sounds like a good starting point to me.