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IMT 581: Case Study Analysis: Leading Superstars – Sir Ferguson’s Way

by on November 17, 2010

Change Management applies everywhere. Be it on a football ground or in a closed cubicle. And every company has outstanding minds driving the organization to the path of success. Leading such minds has never been an easy affair for a manager. These extremely gifted professionals can often navigate a once-ailing company into a lucrative venture. Often such professionals are notorious in their outside world and consider work protocols as a hindrance to getting their job done. Top talents in an organization feel that the leaders are beholden to them and not the other way round. Moreover, they always have an option outside the organization to choose lucrative offers giving them a strong sense of independence. Eventually, the performance curve of these stellar minds drops down for a period of time, leading to criticism and depression for them as well as the organization. These are several issues that a manager has to tackle while leading a team having superstars. As a manager, you have to maintain the organizational culture and success while making sure that you do not lose the key players of the game. There have been contradicting theories on tackling superstars: either by letting them use their way of work or by encouraging them but making sure that rules are the same for everyone within an organization. And at times, situation demands to get rid of those talented minds if they are not willing to work for the good of organization.

Case DescriptionDavid Beckham was kicked out of Manchester United club in 2003 by the manager, Sir Alex Ferguson. He was a star player of the team and had scored dozens of goals for Manchester United and English national team. His off-field involvements and focus on celebrity status led to his loss of concentration in the game. The second case explores the relationship of Wayne Rooney and Sir Alex Ferguson. Wayne Rooney, another stellar player of Manchester United club, recently created controversies about leaving Manchester United due to several reasons like strict rules by Sir Ferguson, unable to foresee the future of the club and financial offers from other competitive clubs. Even after his poor performance in 2010 World Cup  and numerous controversies, Sir Ferguson eventually got Rooney to sign the contract with Manchester United till 2015. Sir Bobby Robson, a famous footballer said – “How do you make a millionaire sweat? – ask Ferguson”.

Why did Sir Ferguson use two different strategies for Beckham and Rooney?

Both of them had made incredible contributions to the club in their pasts but showed poor performance later. Their poor performance triggered the need of change but the question that comes to our mind is – Why did Sir Ferguson plan to kick out Beckham but kept Rooney despite of his controversial media statements?

Based on the two cases, what are the key things that are important in handling superstars in your organization?

Do you evaluate the companies current situation against the stars’ performance? How do you motivate such employees to stay with the organization?

Our Thoughts:

Sir Ferguson changed his strategy based on his judgment of the star as well as the context. The changing nature of the football industry made him never stop moving forward. His approaches of leading the stars were always aligned with the team’s strategy.  When a star brings negative impact to the team and is no longer indispensable for the team’s future, he considers selling him whatsoever. When a star is valuable for the team’s future strategy, he would lead him with motivation, protection and more space. Managers in industries can learn from this approach about taking a proactive and sensible approach to handle stars. They should evaluate the contributions of that employee, reasons for his poor performance and the current state of the organization. Evaluation of these factors would help a manager to understand the context and take a right decision. Therefore, implementing right strategy in right situation is important to lead through a change where talented minds are involved.

By: Shirish Munshi and Ke Ding

From → Coursework

  1. Shirish and Ke,

    Good case — the “star performer” problem is a very interesting one. My question is: one what basis do you evaluate a star performer who has slipped? How do you decide whether to try and revive that star, or let him go? If I understand correctly, Sir Furgeson judged Beckham to be dispensible, but Rooney wasn’t. I’m unclear how he made that distinction. Was it purely the general future of the club on the whole that helped him make the choice?

    Ross, on behalf of Ahsan and Sanjeevi

  2. Ahsan Ali permalink

    To add to the comments above, how much do you think Ferguson’s experience with Beckham shaped his behavior with Rooney? Was there a forceful backlash from the public for letting Beckham go? Do you think Ferguson may have regretted that decision? Should he have confronted and dealt with the faltering Beckham, to guide him back to a successful role within the club?

  3. This case is very interesting. Recently, NY Yankees also has this same dilemma about retention of Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. Jeter is franchise shortstop and first-ballot Hall of Famer, and Rivera is the greatest closer ever. Both of them have irreplaceable positions for Yankee fans. These superstars not only have outstanding performances in the field but also bring tremendous economic values. How to evaluate the exact value for them and offer reasonable lease that would be a critical topic for NY Yankees this year.

  4. Meng-Chi Lee permalink

    Good topic about leading the superstar in the organization. However, we think that it is really a big challenge for an exective to e whether the superstar is still able to contribute to the prganization. Maybe in the soprt area, we can tell his performance based on the game reoced or health. But, can we evaluate our superstar’s performance exactly in real business world?

    Thank you,

    By Che-Wei(Tommy) Hu, Zhenhua(Thomas) Wang, and Meng-Chi(Patrick) Lee.

  5. Good case .However the questions that would be raised are :

    1) Despite Rooneys importance to the team,is there a danger of mollycoddling him too much resulting in getting an overinflated ego and disrupting a team dynamics .Do we really want a star performer who despite his issues is kept happy just because he is significant to the team
    2) How was the “special” treatment accorded to Rooney received by the rest of the team members ? Similarly how do you ensure the other members of a project team are kept happy and within line when the star performer has a bit of a free reign.

    Though I would agree with the Shirish’s and Ke ding’s analysis that judgment of a potential of a superstar and how he can potentially contribute to the future of a team despite his own issues is critical in determining whether to let him go or no,factors such as the relationship with the team manager and the critically of the situation at hand also play a vital role.

  6. Good case and analysis. A few points I wanted to share were:
    – A strategy which managers follow is keeping these key performers involved and updated on decisions made.
    – Sometimes, there are politics influencing the way these star performers work. What role would managers play to shield them from politics?

    Ajay, Nishant & Paul

  7. Jeroen permalink

    Thank you for an interesting topic. It would also be interesting to further hear how this can be applied in organizations and what the strategies are that either HR departments implement or managers of top-level performers.

    I know that in an organization such as HP, the top performers are motivated with higher bonuses, promotions and much flexibility in terms of for instance taking vacation. Managers are given the power to grant employees vacation even for a year. This is ok, because certain of these people are invaluable to the organization and the would rather keep the employees motivated for many years and grant them vacation than to loose them or their value in work through not granting such a thing. Because here the case is no longer about how high they perform but about keeping their motivation up and giving what they need.

    – Gauravee, Surry, Jeroen

  8. Starts can easily become arrogant performers. Managing arrogant performers is always a tough issue faced by the management. Because arrogant performers always have key skills that a team can not work without it. Firing them is simply not an option. So a balanced team skill set and a proper talent pool is needed to avoid this kind of situation. A balanced team skill set means that at least two people in a team have one core skill that the team needed.

    Scott, Jitsuko and Swarnika.

  9. @Ross:

    Sir Ferguson used several factors to evaluate Rooney and Beckham’s performance. Some of the major points were the phase of their individual career as well as the team’s current status. When Beckham was playing, there were few star players available for Sir Ferguson to choose from. On the other hand, for Rooney, he had carried ManU on his shoulder last season by scoring several goals. The decision making by Sir Ferguson was situational.

  10. Steve permalink

    You do not address a knight by the “Sir” and his surname. It is “Sir Alex”, “Sir Alexander”, or “Alexander Ferguson”. It is always incorrect to call him “Sir Ferguson”

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