published on 06/05/2016 by John Edmonds
John Edmonds
John Edmonds Head of Training at pearcemayfield

achieving good stakeholder engagement

5,000 to 1 – we have all seen recently the fantastic odds that bookmakers were offering to people last August who were prepared to bet that Leicester City Football Club would win the Premier League title. It is amazing that these were the same betting odds that bookmakers were offering on Elvis Presley being found alive; they even considered it more likely that the Loch Ness monster would be discovered (500 to 1) or that Simon Cowell would become Prime Minister of Britain (also 500 to 1)!

Yet the unlikely has happened, and it is a marvelous football story, sports story – actually just a marvelous story. But what has it to do with stakeholder engagement?

I’d like to offer a few observations that I think demonstrate how Leicester City, and in particular their manager, Claudio Ranieri, have actually shown an impressive ability to engage with stakeholders. Whether it is all by design or some of it is by accident I don’t know, but I do believe we have seen some very good engagement at work. Here are some examples:

There have been a number of mentions at Leicester of the ‘bonds’ that exist between the various groups that make up a football club – players, staff, owners and fans. This was demonstrated with a symbolic gesture from the Chairman, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha when, in April he flew over from Thailand on the eve of his birthday to attend a game. To celebrate his birthday, he arranged for every fan attending the game to receive a beer and a doughnut, an action very different to the way that many football club owners operate.

Staying with food examples, earlier in the season the team were conceding a few too many goals, so Claudio Ranieri promised them all pizzas if they could keep a ‘clean sheet’. Now, the promise of a pizza to a group of well-paid professional footballers is hardly the most impressive incentive. However, students of behavioural science know that the carrot of an incentive has very limited power to motivate anyway. What the manager was doing here was far subtler than basic carrot and stick psychology, and very typical of other ways he engaged. These include:

On his office walls, Mr Ranieri placed photographs of all of the other managers in the Premier League. The purpose was to make his peers feel at home when they would visit him there after a game, demonstrating respect for your competitors.

This is reinforced by the TV commentator Gary Lineker, who has said how impressive it has been to see Claudio Ranieri go about his job without the ‘mind games’ so often employed by some football managers. This speaks of an honesty and integrity to the way he has approached his relationships with others.

One such relationship is that with the press and media. This was carefully nurtured during the season. Interestingly, he developed a habit from the start of shaking the hand of every media person in the briefing room each week. He then built on that with self-deprecating phrases that made fun of his use of the English language and which got regularly reported. His phrase, “Dilly Ding, Dilly Dong” being a particular favourite. Throughout the season, he was able to make light of the tension that surrounds professional football by his ability to be very engaging. And, as I write this, I hear that in his first press conference following the confirmation that they are champions, the manager has made sure that it was champagne all round for the journalists…

Claudio Ranieri appears to understand the concept of ‘team’. Throughout the season he has used the fewest number of players in the league, generating a very strong culture of teamwork. This could have proved disheartening for those ‘squad’ players who were not getting chosen to play, but time and time again there were examples of high levels of motivation shown by those same players when they were called upon to be involved.

Often, the number of players used can be affected by injuries, and it could be said that Leicester have been fortunate to have had so few players out of action this season. However, at Leicester, the fact that an innovative sports science and medical team have been carefully integrated into the decision-making process has made an immense difference. It has been reported that the key difference is how manager Claudio Ranieri includes that team in his plans. A former fitness and conditioning coach told BBC Sport: "Quite often, the coaches don't listen." Clearly, Mr Ranieri does!

He developed a culture of honour. One of the players, goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, said of the manager “The best compliment that I can pay is that he resisted the urge to change everything … he came in and just watched and saw how we worked”. New leaders often make changes for change sake. Claudio Ranieri did not. He saw what was good and built on that; he was appreciative of the good that was already there.

Finally, he was adaptable, not fixed, in his approach. Given that he used so few players during the season, it is ironic that he carried the nickname ‘Tinkerman’ in a previous club. People who are good with engaging stakeholders tend to be flexible, they never stop learning and developing. And at 64, Claudio is a great example of a lifelong learner. He knows that different situations call for different responses, and there is no easy checklist for stakeholder engagement.

One newspaper carried the headline, “Claudio Ranieri proves nice guys do not always come second”. This is a story of a man who has shown tremendous grace and respect to all around him and he has done it by demonstrating a clear and distinct leaning towards relationships – with his staff, his players, the media, the fans. That leaning towards relationships is a foundation of excellent stakeholder engagement, and that is a skill that every single leader would do well to cultivate.

John Edmonds

May 2016

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pearcemayfield offers both accredited and bespoke stakeholder engagement training and workshops, for individuals, teams and organisations both in the UK and overseas.  All events are based on the book ‘Practical People Engagement  - leading Change through the Power of Relationships' written by Patrick Mayfield, Director of pearcemayfield.


Check our Stakeholder Engagement course page:

achieving stakeholder engagement