Training and Competence: what Sir Alex Ferguson can teach us

Training and competence

Training and Competence: what Sir Alex Ferguson can teach us

Training and Competence (T&C) hasn’t changed much over the years. So when Harvard Business Review announced that it had distilled the ex-Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson’s success into 8 key themes, I was interested.  After all, what was it about him that made his footballing record second to none? What can T&C learn from him?

What struck me about Ferguson is that he never set out to create just a great team – he set out build a successful club. In our world, the equivalent message is it’s not about just being good at T&C, it’s about building a business by making staff more professional and the business more effective.

I’ll take the first four of these eight ‘leadership lessons’ in part 1 of this blog and provide an alternative view on Training and Competence.  

1. Start with the foundation

Ferguson’s message: Start at the bottom and get future talent in place that enable you to build not only a future team, but the future club.

The message for T&C: Central to what Ferguson did was development, development and more development. Part of this story is about bringing in new blood. In our world, the growing status of para-planners should provide a career path for those that aspire to becoming professional advisers. For sure, he was able to attract young talent by using the name of Manchester United but it would also be doing him a disservice to say that this was the whole story. Along with raw talent, he insisted that there was investment in an academy and in the right sort of coaching staff. Arguably, the most impressive lesson we can learn from Sir Alex is how he was able to consistently get the most from the existing players and drive standards up. More about this in point 2.

2. Dare to rebuild your team 

Ferguson’s message: he assembled five league-winning squads whilst continuing to win trophies. He identified that the life-cycle of a successful team lasts four years.

The message for T&C: Be strategic. What does your business need from staff within the next one to four years? For example, what skills and knowledge areas will the business need? What would help us to be even better at what we do? This might involve bringing in new talent; often, it will need more from the existing experienced staff.  If a firm is to be effective, sitting still is not an option.

T&C should stretch existing staff. He created a positive culture; one that set an expectation and said that you should never put a ceiling on development. It is the role of Training and Competence is to see people as they could become, not as they are.

3. Set high standards – and hold everyone to them

Ferguson’s message: It’s as much about instilling values in players is it is about technical skills. Ensure everyone wants to do things better, work hard and never gives up. In other words, make them winners.

The message for T&C: You get what you measure. But as most firms measure compliance and not competence, are we truly focusing on the client and in the process, making the business more effective? With the Senior Management and Certification Regime (SM&CR), competence is now a business-wide issue – just about everyone has to be competent and be able to prove it.

You can simply illustrate this as follows:

From this, it is clear that you can be compliant, without being competent. Equally, competence is something that goes well beyond being compliant. So if we did genuinely re-balance T&C to focus on competence, we’d measure things like: client satisfaction, adviser behaviours, relationship skills and business results. When we just measure compliance – which admittedly is easier to do – we look at areas such as persistency, complaints and range of advice. For example with a compliance-focused approach, a client observation form will typically record the adviser’s adherence to FCA rules, not a coaching tool that focuses on the actual client experience.

From a business perspective, if we want winners, we need to focus more on what really matters.

4. Never, ever cede control

Ferguson’s message: The manager cannot be controlled by the players. If certain players are affecting the dressing-room atmosphere, you have to change this or cut the cord. If you want to maintain high standards, you need to take swift action when these aren’t followed. 

The message for T&C: Sometimes, you have to make tough decisions. As in football, sometimes there are people who like to think that the rules don’t apply to them. More generally, T&C contributes to the wider culture within the business. The more people see that Training and Competence is about development and not just monitoring, the more T&C is seen as being relevant. More buy-in reduces frustration and the scope for discord.

Read part two of this blog, click here.

Access the FCA Training and Competence rules, click here.

To find out how we can help you audit your Training and Competence arrangements or make them more effective, click here.

Remember, T&C doesn’t have to be boring.

Ian Patterson, T&C specialist and author of the CII’s J07 (Supervision in a Regulated Environment) and AF6 (Senior Management and Supervision) study texts.

Marie Patterson
Ian Patterson