The power of setting achievable goals
Leicester City FC have achieved the impossible. Only 12 months ago they were fighting to stay in the English Premier League and on the brink of relegation. Against all odds they managed to gain enough points to avoid relegation and have since been on a journey which can only be described as a fairy tale.
After eventually finishing a respectable 14th place in the 2014/15 season, it came as quite a surprise to many football fans that the then manager, Nigel Pearson, was fired and replaced by the Italian Claudio Ranieri. This was a surprising decision to many due to Ranieri’s recent managerial performances with other clubs. After succeeding in his early days with clubs such as Fiorentina, Valencia and Chelsea his recent history has been a string of mediocracy with various clubs on Ranieri’s CV including a defeat by minnows the Faroe Islands when in charge of former European Champions, Greece. The appointment of Ranieri was described by Leicester legend Gary Linekar as “uninspiring” and by former striker Tony Cottee as a “huge gamble”. All in all, it seemed a strange appointment.
However, one season in football is a long time and now Leicester have rewritten the history books becoming only the 8th different club to win the Premier League.
So what’s different? The players are largely the same. The finances are largely the same. The league is the same. The only difference is the fact that Claudio Ranieri is now the manager. So this begs the question….
Has Claudio Ranieri been the difference?
After inheriting a team of players that had limited league title winning experience, as well as being priced at 5000/1 to win the competition, it’s pretty fair to say that Leicester have achieved massively beyond expectations this season. Throughout the season Ranieri has very carefully communicated key messages and goals to players, fans and the media alike.
Whilst outwardly declaring that his Leicester team are only interested in avoiding relegation they now sit top of the table in England. By ensuring that his team remain humble, taking games one at a time and ensuring that small goals are met, Ranieri has developed a culture within Leicester that has not felt any pressure.
There are many brilliant examples of strong leadership and clever management shown by Ranieri this season. However, one of the most impressive traits his ability to keep the team engaged and motivated through setting achievable goals. Ranieri rewarded his players as and when they achieved each goal. For example, he set his players the small goal of not conceding a goal in a game earlier in the season and then rewarded his team with pizza when this goal was achieved. These goals and rewards continued throughout the season.
Leicester were relegation favourites at the start of the season and Ranieri himself was the favourite to be sacked first, yet after ensuring they wouldn’t be relegated he then made sure that the team did not rest on their laurels. He kept the team motivated by re visiting his teams’ goals and setting them the stretching goal of finishing in the top 7 and qualifying for the European competitions next season. Only when they had achieved this did he start expressing his desire to win the league.
Below is a cycle of how Ranieri has achieved the unthinkable by remaining adaptable and constantly reviewing and adjusting his teams’ goals. This is something leaders can learn from and implement in their teams and organisations today.
Give your team ownership of the goal and work together to try and achieve the first goal set
In the case of Leicester their first goal was to avoid relegation. This was actually broken down into smaller chunks by Ranieri rewarding players with pizza if they didn’t concede in one of their matches. A goal which the players achieved in October 2015.
Once achieved, review and highlight all of the good points and areas for development
Ranieri needed to set a new goal after confirming that Leicester would not be relegated giving the team the challenge of qualifying for next seasons European competition. He encouraged feedback from every player throughout the season so they felt engaged and involved in the goals set.
Apply the learning from the review and start to engage your team to co-create a new goal
The cycle can then be reused as and when each goal is met. In the case of Ranieri he had to review his goals again after qualifying for Europe and set the task of winning the title.
Ranieri made sure the team was commonly aligned to each achievable goal before then reviewing and applying new goals once the previous goal had been achieved. This less than complicated approach was communicated to players and staff to ensure that everyone bought into this goal together. It is my opinion that the clever approach to setting goals is one of the reasons Leicester are Premier League Champions.
Can Ranieri pull off another master stroke next season? Achieving these goals one step at a time, you just never know..