Blog series part two - Strategy Assessment

How to plan short, mid and long-term success - Strategy Assessment

By Andreas Frische Geir Lislerud

On May 26th 1999, the most legendary Champions League Final took place in Barcelona. 20 years ago, with 90 minutes played, the game was almost finished. Bayern Munich led with 1:0 against Manchester United. In minute 91, Sheringham scored 1:1 for Manchester United and in minute 94, Manchester scored 2:1 and won. 

The goal scorer of the 2:1, the Norwegian player Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, is a legend in Manchester. Today he is the Premier League manager of Manchester United and he has taken on the responsibility to bring the Club back to the times when they won Champions League and many other titles.

Let us take a look at what Solskjær did when he entered his new assignment: Whenever a new CEO starts a new assignment s/he has to start with a strategy assessment. An assessment of the current situation in different aspects to identify future opportunities and mid and long term changes. Whenever a new Premier League Manager is appointed, he has to do the exact same: a thorough analysis of the status quo to know where to start a process to guarantee short, mid and long-term success.

In December 2019, Ole Gunnar Solskjær took over Manchester United from José Mourinho. Although Solskjær knew the Club from his time as a player, he started his analysis and changed the things he could change on short notice. Manchester United won the first 10 games under Solskjær - maybe because he did not change anything dramatically, but gave the team some confidence and a clear idea of how to use their strengths.

By the end of the season, Manchester United missed the qualification for the Champions League. Solskjær sends his team into the summer break with individual fitness programs and he promises that he will sell every player who returns from holidays in bad shape. He had analysed that the team was not on the fitness level he requires to implement his idea of the game and how to play. During the season, there was hardly any chance to do something about it. Solskjær knew the shortfall from his assessment but only started to change it when he had a chance to succeed. At the start of his assignment, he might have known about the issue - but he only worked on the things he could influence on short notice.

Five elements to assess at the beginning of a new assignment

According to our experience from many Executive Search assignments and onboarding programs, five elements have to be assessed at the start of an assignment:

  • What is the followed strategy so far – do the team have a clear vision of how to play?
  • What goals can be achieved short term
  • How should the future look like - team, staff, infrastructure
  • What is the ambition of the Board, the owners, the share- and stakeholders
  • What are the financial abilities to achieve the ambitions

We do not know if Solskjær analysed the situation in Manchester in exactly that way. But, he definitely had a thorough thought regarding the topics he could influence:

  • Vision of how to play
    As Solskjær took over from Mourinho, he knew that the team had invested a lot of time to learn and understand Mourinho's idea of the game. He did not changed the basic idea immediately but he made some smaller changes to strengthen the confidence of the team in their abilities to win with their trained playing style.
  • Short-term goals 
    Obviously, Solskjær expected to make the qualification for the 2019/20 Champions League, but he never promised it. In his initial analysis, he could already see that the team and the club was not in the best condition to achieve the goals. He did not promise a short-term success but he started to implement a mid and long-term strategy to bring Manchester United back into Champions League. That's likely the reason why he could stay although they missed their short term goal.
  • Idea of future
    After the season was finished, Solskjær immediately started to form his idea of the future. He quickly decided which players he would like to keep in the club, which he had to replace and those who needed to leave. He promoted the second goalkeeper instead of buying a new one after de Gea left. He wanted to keep Progba and build a new team around him and he knew that he did not have unlimited financial possibilities to renew the club, team and brand of Manchester United. However, it looks like he used the interim period to analyse the situation not only for a short-term assignment. He used the time to develop a strategy even after the few months he was originally assigned for.
  • Ambitions and expectations 
    Manchester United is one of the most successful and well branded Premier League Clubs. It is obvious that supporters, shareholders and members of the Club wants to see them back on their former success path. The past is very much linked to the legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson. He managed the Club for over 20 years and made it his Club. A new era needs changes and a realistic expectation of what can be achieved. As a former player and hero of the 1999s Champions League final, Solskjær might be the right person to find a new balance between the traditional successes everyone is used to and realistic expectations on what can be achieved in a phase of restructuring and reorganisation.
  • Financial abilities
    Manchester United is not owned by an investor with unlimited financial possibilities. Although all Premier League Clubs benefit from the huge TV-deal in England and are comparably rich, Manchester United suffers financially from the missed Champions League qualification. It is of utmost importance for the Club to implement changes in a financially affordable way. The Premier League manager has to get a clear view of what can be done. This refers to the trading of players and all other investments in the Club and around the team. A thorough assessment of risks and changes has to be done with every investment.

It looks like Solskjær is following his strategy with consequence. The latest news says that Manchester United is using the summer to look for very specific players to strengthen the team, to implement a new playing style and to respect the financial limits of the circumstances. Good luck Ole Gunnar – we Scandinavians would love to see you succeed on this assignment!

Read part three of the blog series on "Assessment of Team resources".