Sir Alex Ferguson is the most successful manager in Premier League football but his methods have often been controversial. Sir Alex was recently asked to give a talk about his thoughts on management at the Harvard Business School. After he revealed intriguing secrets about preparations for top-level football – such as installing tanning booths at the training ground to boost his players' Vitamin D levels – we asked a business behavioural science specialist, a psychologist and a life coach to give their verdict on his techniques and if they can work in business.
The fragility of today's players
Sir Alex said: "Players these days have lived more sheltered lives, so they are much more fragile now than 25 years ago. I was very aggressive all those years ago. But today I'm more mellowed… And I can better handle those more fragile players now."
Daniel Read, a Professor of behavioural science at Warwick Business School, said: "In the past he may have gotten away with what these days you might call bullying. If the managers from 50 years ago were in the game today they could well end up in court."
To praise or not to praise
Sir Alex said: "For a player – and for any human being – there is nothing better than hearing "well done". You don't need to use superlatives."
Life coach Roz Spencer said: "Having one gear is probably not helpful. Praise needs to be specific, authentic and timely."
Sir Alex said: "You can't always come in shouting and screaming… But in the football dressing room, it's necessary that you point out your players' mistakes."
Mr Read said: "Because Manchester United are at the top, and because players don't really have anywhere to go once they've reached the top, they will put up with an angry boss. But managers of second tier clubs – and second tier businesses – would find people leaving to go elsewhere."
How to inspire
Sir Alex said: "I like to tell different stories, and use my imagination. I remember going to see Andrea Bocelli… So I spoke to my players about the orchestra – how they are a perfect team."
Psychologist Oliver James said: "The Bocelli story is humourous, but it shows how he gives the team a narrative towards victory. He probably does what I call love bombing, whereby despite his shouting, there is someone on the team who offers something reparative, who makes the players feel good."
Keeping Galácticos in line
Sir Alex said: "When I work with the biggest talents, I tell them that hard work is a talent too. And if they can no longer bring the discipline that we ask for here at United, they are out."
Mr Read said: "If you're a director at Apple, and you can replace someone with the best candidate, then it is easier to fire a talented person with a big ego. But in smaller firms, if someone is bringing in 30 per cent of your sales, then that person will get special treatment."
Chucking out your chintz
Sir Alex said: "For me the hardest thing is to let go of a player who has been a great guy. But all the evidence is on the football field."
Mr Read said: "It's not so simple in the workplace: if management show no loyalty to the workers, the workers will show no loyalty to the company."Reuse content