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What makes a champion? 13 tips for business success for architects inspired by Liverpool FC.

Updated: Aug 3, 2020

Last Sunday, the Premiership League Season 2019/20 finally came to an end. What a season it has been! No one could have predicted what was in store at the start. Even without COVID-19, Liverpool FC has had an extraordinary season and finished with a happy ending at last – crowned the Premiership League Champions of 2019/20.

I am a fan of Liverpool FC. It all began for rather shallow reasons: I am German and I am a fan of Juergen Klopp. Had Juergen Klopp joined Watford FC, no doubt I would be a Watford FC supporter instead. Quite frankly, I understand very little of the game apart from the winning part. Offside is still a mystery to me. This is rather embarrassing considering that I grew up in a football fanatic family, who have been loyal supporters of the HSV in Hamburg for generations. And yet, following Liverpool FC’s journey over the last five years has been fascinating for many reasons – including the crucial role that business acumen, leadership and teamwork have played in their amazing development. These areas feature significantly as topics in my work as a coach and strategic thinking partner with architects and designers. So, here are 13 nuggets of inspiration from Liverpool FC’s success story for any architectural practice leader with high aspirations, to apply at individual and practice level.

1. Everything begins and ends with leadership.

Liverpool FC’s success is the result of brilliant leadership at every level of the club. Managing owner Mike Gordon, sporting director Michael Edwards, manager Juergen Klopp, team captain Jordan Henderson – they all are examples of skilful leadership within their area of responsibility. At the heart of any successful business is an inspired leader who can motivate their team to perform to their full potential. If you want to go places with your practice, you need to lead with vision and inspiration. Everything begins and ends with leadership.

2. Dream big.

Liverpool FC had a dream – a big dream. With the arrival of Juergen Klopp, the club embraced this big dream wholeheartedly and pursued it with a serious plan. This big dream was the fuel to the Liverpool FC machine and every part and member of the club. When it comes to the power of dreaming big, there’s no difference between a football club and your architectural practice. Dreaming big is the first essential step to give your practice meaning and direction. As part of my work with practice leaders, one crucial element of long-term planning is setting a ‘big hairy audacious goal’ (BHAG) for their practice. A BHAG will require full commitment to planning and implementing that goal. Most importantly, it will be the fuel that powers all your efforts as a practice by exciting the practice team. Dare to dream big.

3. Share your vision. Turn doubters into believers.

Liverpool FC’s big dream wasn’t the dream of an individual – it was a shared vision throughout the club, from the club’s management, to the players, to the support team. It motivated and gave meaning to every individual’s role in the club. You and your management team might have exciting plans for the practice, but if you don’t share it with every single member of your practice and get people excited alongside you, it will never become the fuel that catapults your practice forward. A shared vision supports motivation and engagement and keeps you going in the long haul, especially during hard times and setbacks. Share your vision.

4. Follow the success recipe.

Liverpool FC’s journey to ultimate glory is a picture-perfect example of this success recipe:

  • dream big and create an inspiring vision;

  • set out a strategy for how to get from where you are to where you want to be;

  • develop detailed plans for every area of the club;

  • stick to the plan and implement;

  • at set intervals, review against your vision and adjust as required;

  • stick to the adjusted plan and implement;

  • repeat until you have reached your destination.

This recipe for success is universal – it also works for architects. As with any recipe, you might choose to skip one or more of the steps, but the result will not be perfect. Stick to it religiously and there’s no doubt that you will see positive change. Follow the success recipe.

5. Be patient. Perseverance pays off.

It took Liverpool FC 30 years to regain the premiership title, but even in the Juergen Klopp timeline, it still took the club five years to really shine again. Liverpool’s path to glory wasn’t easy or straightforward. And it certainly wasn’t short of disappointment and humiliation. There was the unfortunate 2018 Champions League final in Kiev, losing the Premiership title in 2019 by one point, to mention just a few examples. How easy would it have been to throw in the towel out of sheer disappointment? Nevertheless, the club stuck to its plan. Whatever the goals of your practice, strategy implementation takes time and setbacks are part of the journey. It will take time to raise your practice profile, to implement new processes, to become a magnet for the type of people you’d love to attract to your practice. Little, consistent steps in the right direction will make the difference, not any one-off big gesture. Don’t shelve your ultimate goal after a temporary misfortune. Stick to your plan, celebrate the little successes on the way, and be patient. Perseverance pays off.

6. Look at your business holistically.

While it is Juergen Klopp and the players who stand in the limelight of the Premiership title glory, their outstanding success didn’t happen in isolation. From strategic financial decisions, to skilled recruitment, to a talented team of assistant coaches and advisors to Juergen Klopp – the outstanding performance from every part of the club contributed to its ultimate success. Liverpool FC, as an organisation, works like a well-oiled machine. As practice leader, it is easy to lose sight of the bigger picture at practice level in pursuit of architectural brilliance at project level. If you’re looking for exceptional success, it is important to strive for excellence in every area of your practice. Ensure that every critical role is filled with people that are the most suitable and talented for the task at hand. Look at your business holistically.

7. Be transparent. Make time for communication.

There’s a continuous and consistent flow of communication from top to bottom and bottom to top at Liverpool FC. Meetings and catch-ups take place regularly at the different levels and formations, involving the managing director, sporting director, the manager and his coaching staff and players. There is a sense of transparency that filters through the club at all levels. Problems are picked up quickly and goals are clearly communicated. When you add transparency to the culture of your practice, your team will be more engaged and committed to the vision of the company. Be transparent. Make time for communication.

8. Don’t just hire anyone. Hire the perfect fit.

A lot has been said about Liverpool FC’s transfer strategy and player recruitment. It involves the use of a transfer committee, supported by a system of applied science and technology, as well as analogue analysis to determine whether a footballer is a good fit – not only as an athlete, but also a good culture fit. Nothing is left to chance. There’s a clear picture of the ideal team, aligned with the intended style of play and tactics. Gaps are identified and roles are strategically filled with the perfect people. The hiring of Virgil van Dijk, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and goalkeeper Alisson are all success stories of this approach. When it comes to your practice recruitment, you don’t have to go to the same extreme lengths of scientific data analysis, but put in the time to identify your ideal team, aligned with your practice vision. Then strategically fill the gaps. Hiring with purpose not only will help your practice move closer to its ultimate goal, it will also nurture your practice culture. This will result in a happy and engaged team, where everyone feels that they are making a real difference and contributing to the practice’s ultimate vision. Don’t just hire anyone. Hire the perfect fit.

9. Always play to your strengths.

On the surface, football is a rather simple game: two teams of 11 players try to manoeuvre the ball into the opposing team’s goal. Upon closer look, though, you discover that every team has different roles: forward, winger, goalkeeper, just to name a few. Juergen Klopp excels in playing the right people in the right positions, to bring the best out of them. He spends time understanding individual players and helping them grow. Jordan Henderson is just one example of a player who has been able to really shine when asked to play in a more advanced box-to-box midfield position. When it comes to your practice, how aware are you of your team members’ strengths and weaknesses, as well as your own? Is everyone playing to their strengths? If you want to realise the full potential of your practice team, every single position needs to be filled with the person that is most talented and suited to the task at hand. Always play to your strengths.

10. People are your greatest asset. Invest in them wisely.

Juergen Klopp and his team of coaches are known for their commitment to training and practice between games. This involves fitness, tactics, strategy, diet. Everything is aimed at ensuring the players hone their skills and perform at their best. The hiring of a dedicated throw-in coach is just one example for this targeted approach. When it comes to you and your team of architectural players, how much effort and time do you put into professional development? Do you just send them out to do the job based on the skills they brought to your practice when they joined? Or do you do your best to help them develop and hone their skills, so that they can become a brilliant team of brilliant individuals? Are you helping them become more efficient at using their tools, such as CAD and other software? Are you helping them develop professionally, by training them in soft skills like leadership? How much do you invest in broadening your team’s knowledge through CPDs and research? People are your greatest asset. Invest in them wisely.

11. Teamwork makes the dream work.

There is no doubt that Juergen Klopp has outstanding leadership skills. The success of the Liverpool FC is linked directly to his skills as a coach and leader. He is a brilliant example of someone who brings the best out of his team. He nurtures a culture of collaboration, with no place for divas. Leadership skills – whether as a practice leader or project architect – are essential to the success of a practice and any project team. A poor leader can demoralise a team and cause poor performance. The better the leader, the more motivated and higher performing the team. If you aim for excellence in your practice, outstanding team leadership is essential. To realise the full potential of your team, you need outstanding leaders. If required, provide training and coaching. Teamwork makes the dream work.

12. Plan. Prepare. Perform.

Juergen Klopp believes the training ground is where the difference is made. This is where the drills are run and where tactical ideas are tried and tested. Every session is meticulously planned with his staff before training. Every aspect of every day is plotted and analysed in minute detail. To prepare for games, he and his team will research the opponent thoroughly and brief the players with the most relevant details. In the context of your practice, it’s easy to see the difference in value between winging it and giving every new assignment, project, and presentation 100% in terms of attention, preparation and research. Leave as little to chance as possible – preparation is key to success. Plan. Prepare. Perform.

13. Love what you’re doing.

Listening to Juergen Klopp, it’s obvious that he loves the game of football. It’s similarly obvious that the team loves playing. In an interview, Alisson Becker stated that the club’s incredible form this last season had been made possible by the squad’s genuine enjoyment of their daily work. It’s simple: if you’re striving for excellence, you need to love what you’re doing. If you find yourself dreading another day of work or bored by your job, pause and revaluate. What is missing? What is required to get you excited about your work? You will never achieve exceptional success if your heart isn’t in it. This applies to you as practice leader as well as everyone in your team. Love what you’re doing.


All images courtesy of Unsplash.


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