Inside Sir Alex Ferguson's Early Talent Strategy

Manchester United's academy system that built world-class teams for three decades.

Welcome to the Elite Team Talks newsletter, where we reveal the strategies and blueprints of the world's most successful teams 🏆

"The best leaders are those most interested in surrounding themselves with people smarter than they are."

John Wooden, American Basketball Coach (winner of 10 NCAA Championships)

In this edition of Elite Team Talks:

  • One quick win: The 1 in 60 rule that saves lives

  • One proven system: Manchester United’s system for developing young talent

  • One to watch: Brené Brown’s tip for shedding your armour

  • One for you: Becoming the hero of your own Netflix film

  • One million-dollar question: The hidden impact of celebrating wins as a team

  • Ones we recommend: 11 of the best team-building books to read in 2024

1. THE 1 IN 60 RULE THAT SAVES LIVES ✈️

On March 28 in 1979, a consumer flight crashed into a mountain in Antarctica, killing all 279 people onboard.

How could this happen? The crew hadn’t been informed of a two-degree correction made the night before to the plane’s flight path.

Even a 1-degree error in heading will cause a plane to miss its target by 1 mile for every 60 miles flown, which gave birth to the 1 in 60 rule.

Lucy Paul from Proteus highlights the 1 in 60 rule in practice when applied to projects

Not every decision you make will be life or death but the 1 in 60 rule is a great analogy for achieving your goals this upcoming financial year.

Just as a pilot must constantly evaluate and correct their course to stay on track, help your team constantly make real-time adjustments towards achieving their goals.

Give these 3 tactics a try:

  1. Agree on the optimal direction of travel for the year and what success looks like for the overall team

  2. Be specific around each person’s goals with clear metrics to track (use the SMART framework)

  3. Check in weekly with your team to understand, and if necessary adjust the trajectory so they can land the plane in the best way possible, given all the factors going on around them

2. “YOU CAN’T WIN ANYTHING WITH KIDS” ⚽️

This was a direct quote about the youth players in Manchester United’s first team from a former player, on the opening day of the 1995–96 FA Premier League season.

Those 6 young players from the class of 92’ went on to win a combined 120 trophies, with a historic treble-winning season in 1991.

Sir Alex Ferguson's commitment to nurturing young talent played a pivotal role in his remarkable 26-year tenure of success as Manchester United’s manager. His approach has since become a cornerstone strategy for businesses aiming to cultivate and retain promising young talent.

Here's how you can employ a similar approach when hiring young people or graduates:

1. Talent Identification: Just as Manchester United scouts for potential stars, identify high-potential graduates through innovative assessment methods beyond traditional criteria. Focus on the values, character and leadership potential of individuals, not just their skillset.

2. Whole-Person Development: As several of you may have seen on the David Beckham Netflix documentary, Alex Ferguson acted as a father figure for Beckham and many other players. Emulate his approach by offering whole-person development; a blend of on-the-job training, mentorship, and personal development. This ensures graduates not only excel in their roles but also grow as individuals.

3. Competitive Exposure: To foster a 'one club' culture and expose young players to what they were preparing for, Alex Ferguson ensured that academy players warmed up alongside senior players every day. In your company, it's important to provide real-world projects and challenges that test and refine the graduates' skills, akin to young players getting match experience. This prepares them for future roles, such as leadership.

4. Mentorship and Support: Pair each graduate with a mentor from senior management, mirroring the guidance young players received from Ferguson himself.

5. Clear Pathways for Progression: Similar to how young talent at Manchester United saw a roadmap to the first team, outline clear career paths within your organisation. Then work with individuals on where they envision having the greatest impact.

The steps above led to one of football's most successful teams of all time, spanning a 26 year period with 'Fergie' in charge.

Implementing these steps can help your organisation nurture and retain the next generation of leaders, who will take your company to new heights.

3. THE ARMOUR YOU NEED TO SHED 💛

Brené Brown is renowned for reframing vulnerability as a superpower.

But if we're being totally honest, it's easy to pay lip service to it.

Maybe the biggest thing holding you back isn't what you don't already have, it's what beliefs and self-fulfilling stories you're holding on to?

4. BE THE HERO OF YOUR OWN NETFLIX MOVIE 🍿

As human beings, we are riddled with doubts.

Their goal is to keep us safe. But in reality, they prevent us from taking action.

“Doubts kill more dreams than failures ever will.” (Suzy Kassem)

Try this advice from Joe Rogan to remove the doubts in your head.

“Pretend there is a documentary crew filming your success story.”

What would you do? What moves would you make?

Any setback can be reframed as an act in a movie set that will make the comeback even more inspiring.

We are all on this rollercoaster called life.

Make your journey the best film ever recorded.

5. QUESTION OF THE WEEK 🤔

What one small win can you celebrate with the team this week? 

You never know how much some might need it.

You could have a board in the office where everyone writes down their win of the day.

On an individual level, you could reflect on a personal win at the end of each day and record it in your notes.

At the end of the month, open the page up and read through everything you've achieved over the last 4 weeks.

Research shows acknowledging and celebrating little wins increases the chance of future success.

It does this by feeding what's called the 'self-efficacy success loop'.

Success feeds belief and belief feeds success.

6. LINKS OF THE WEEK 🔗

🧵 12 ways to ensure inclusive hiring for people with disabilities from the CEO of Talent Culture (LINK)

💡 Why every great leader swears by this one team building secret (LINK)

📚 The 11 best team building books to read in 2024 (LINK)

🎙️ NZ rugby coach Brad Mooar on how the team embraces 'whakapapa' to build a legacy of sustainable success in the All Blacks (LINK)

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