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From Football Manager to Company Manager

I like to play computer games. They range from war games (e.g. Romance of the Three Kingdoms) to role-play adventure (e.g. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons) to first-person-shooting (e.g. Rainbow Six). For sports games, it is mainly soccer. And I switched from action, i.e. directly controlling players in the field, to simulation. And the one game I have been so into, is Football Manager.

Interestingly, this game is like a job. You have to decide how to run the club, under the requirements of the board of directors, and constraints from the club itself, e.g. not having much money, or owning (or even just renting) a small stadium. Clearly, if you choose one of the biggest clubs, you can do a lot of things instantly, e.g. “buying” a player at a very high price. I tried that. But after a while, I decided to do it the hard way – starting at a club which is in the lowest division, and working its way up. I managed different clubs of this sort in different countries, including Germany, France and Spain. But the most difficult and dramatic ones were those in England, because the game allowed you to choose clubs in the 6th division. So you need to figure out how to promote the club 5 times in order to get into the highest division, that is the Premier League, and try hardest to stay there, before you can work on your first Premier League title. To a certain extent, you can say I was obsessed, as I tried to do it with different clubs (Dorchester, AFC Telford, and others), and succeeded in getting league titles and cups after a number of (game) years. And the value of the club went from, say, 200k to 800m pounds.

I developed a certain way of playing so that the result is always a success. More interestingly, part of this system can be a reference to managing a company.

Signing Free Players

Normally if you, as the manager, want to invite a player to join your club, you need to agree to pay a transfer fee (at the time of transfer or by instalments) to the club he belongs, before you can negotiate terms with him (salary, appearance fee, goal bonus, etc.), and finally get him to you club. Since the employment contract between a player and his club always has a time limit (say 4 years), if either party decides not to renew the contract before it ends, the player becomes free and can join any club without a transfer fee. There are 3 advantages signing these players:

1. You can save the transfer fee.
2. The player may accept a lower salary. Understandably, some players refuse to renew the contract and leave as a free player to look for better compensation. But others may just leave for different reasons, for example the club does not have enough money to pay his salary in the next season. In this case the player is eager to find another club and may accept a salary lower than what he was paid in the former club.
3. Often the transfer is instantaneous. You do not need to wait for the next transfer window.

So, in company’s context, the first point is not quite relevant, unless you are looking for some high-profile executive who is working in a famous MNC.

The second point is more relevant. “Free” job hunters tend to accept a salary the same as, or slightly lower than, his last job, while those with a job at hand often ask for a higher pay. If the abilities of a “free” candidate and an employed one are about the same, why would you want to pay more?

The third point is obvious. Immediately available candidates can start working right away. No notice period is required.

Training Existing Players

Ready talent can be very expensive. For a player having high rating in different abilities, e.g. finishing, tackling, anticipation, the club he belongs to will ask for a high transfer fee, and the player will want a high salary. What is worse is, he may refuse to join your club simply because your club is not prestigious, even if you can afford and are willing to pay a higher salary than he is earning at his present club.

So when a club is at its developing stage, I prefer to train existing players. I will hire the maximum number of coaches so the training progress is rapid.

The developing company is in a similar situation. Training existing employees builds a strong foundation for the company to advance. Training can occur in different ways, such as organizing internal training sessions, encouraging staff to take outside courses, or arranging senior staff to be coach/mentor. In addition to being more capable, the loyalty and sense of belonging of employees will be raised.

Reaching and Knowing Players

Scouts perform another important function in the club: reaching players. Scouts can compile reports on different players upon request. But more importantly, scouts from different countries allow you to view players from these countries, thereby expanding your network so you have a higher chance of finding the players you need.

Usually a company does not have scouts like a football club, but I think the message is clear. Existing employees in the company form the network for candidate search. Some companies have employee referral program. Yet, sometimes a simple referral will make it work. And you know more than what the CV says because your existing employee can tell you more about this candidate he or she is referring.

Scout report is good because it gives a holistic view of a player. Similarly, to make a good hire the process should not just focus on one aspect of a candidate.

Surely what I mention here is only part of the system. Hopefully combining with your own tricks you will also lead your company to rise through “divisions” in the industry, or even in the world.

(my LinkedIn post in 2016)

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