Growing up in England in the 70’s and 80’s with a passion for football that engulfed my life, Kenny Dalglish was a superstar. My statement is not born out of blind hero-worship (since the age of five I have been an Arsenal fan). Dalglish was the star player and then Manager of a Liverpool team that swept everything before them to become the most successful team in English Football history (cue complaints from Manchester United Fans. Sorry, statistically this is true).
This weekend Dalglish was re – appointed Manager of Liverpool Football Club, having resigned 20 years ago. It is a great move from a PR perspective by the employer. To draw business parallels, Dalglish is the Shareholders choice, the person on whom the hopes of resurrecting former glories rests. The club is in disarray, they have not been champions of the top division in England for 20 years. Much has changed in that time.
The Premier League is a global product, full of hugely talented players ( and some less so ) from all four corners of the globe. In 1991 when Dalglish resigned, players in the top league came from all four corners of the British Isles. Dalglish has held a couple of Manager roles since, but with nowhere near the same degree of success that he enjoyed with Liverpool. Is he at risk of destroying the legend?
Should you ever look back to a former employee to return a company to former glories?
It’s a brave move by Dalglish. The hero-worship he enjoys amongst Liverpool fans will protect him from inflicting any long-term damage on the Dalglish legend. It will certainly buy him and the owners of the club time. Time that perhaps a Manager without the same history and status within in the club would not enjoy. He has a massive job to do, not least on employee engagement. The team look disillusioned, disenfranchised, disjointed.
Time is against him. He has only been appointed until the end of the season. The opportunity to create even a 12 month plan is not available to him. He must create a short-term vision, communicate that vision, ensure all are behind that vision. Those that don’t buy in, he must move on. He has major recruitment issues to address as the club has arguably only 3 players that are talented enough to meet the vision the majority of stakeholders (the fans) have for the club, but he has little time to do it. Can he attract the right talent with only a short-term objective to communicate?
The appointment has certainly lifted morale. There are examples in business when a superstar CEO returns to transform a business. Think Steve Jobs at Apple. Business and Sport are short-term results games. In business it’s all about this month, this quarter, this half-year, this annual return to shareholders. Sport is even more short-term, it’s all about the next game. In both cases, you are only ever as good as your last result and stakeholders can have short memories.
For success you need a long-term outlook, a clear long-term vision, to be given the time to build that vision. The short-term nature of much of sport and business means little time is devoted to succession planning, to developing the leadership stars of the future. As a result success is only ever short-term.
The success that Liverpool enjoyed in the 70’s and 80’s was built entirely on constant planning not only for today but for the future. Dalglish was one of a long line that read Shankly, Paisley, Fagan, Dalglish.
He was the last in the line. He didn’t build for the future, didn’t plan for his successor and Liverpool has suffered ever since. Will he do it this time? Can he build a platform for the future on which the club can enjoy sustained success? Only time will tell.
It is a short-term move that reeks of desperation, of lack of a vision and long-term plan by the board. They have put a tourniquet on a gaping wound and stemmed the flow of blood, for now. Unless the club gets major surgery fast, the legend that is Dalglish will be tarnished. Is he the man to deliver it?
Employers and Shareholders need to be patient. Hire slow, fire fast. Keep moving forward. Look back to learn the lessons from history. Build for the future from the lessons of the past. Steve Jobs is a rare example. Don’t go back, go forward. In the meantime good luck Kenny, you are going to need it.