In this 5th part of a look at Everton’s ownership and leadership, I’m going to look at strategy. In particular a winning strategy, what is it and what’s required to achieve it.
Strategy – in simple terms, what is it?
In any competitive environment, be it commerce, politics, various functions of government, sport and personal ambition, strategy boils down to one simple point – strategy is about making specific choices to win. Note that the emphasis is on the environment being competitive. The single reason for the existence of an elite, professional sports organisation is winning.
To win, one must create a sustainable competitive advantage over rivals. For some, the uninitiated or perhaps so wealthy it doesn’t really matter, that means throwing more resource (financial and personnel) at an organisation until a winning formula is hit upon. However, that for me is the equivalent of a blindfolded darts player with an infinite number of darts trying for a nine dart finish. Like monkey’s typing the works of Shakespeare, it’s down to chance and longevity plus infinite resource. That’s not a strategy though.
The author of Competitive Strategy (one of the best books on strategy ever written), Mike Porter, says a firm (organisation) creates a sustainable competitive advantage over its rivals by “deliberately choosing a different set of activities to deliver unique value.” Strategy, in his view, therefore requires making explicit choices, to do some things and not others. The organisation then builds a business around those choices.
Strategy is choice
In short, strategy is choice. More specifically, strategy is an integrated set of choices that uniquely positions an organisation in its industry so as to create sustainable advantage and superior value relative to the competition. That’s as true of elite level professional sport as it of business and commerce. It ought to be the challenge that Moshiri has positioned himself to face and respond to in the near six years of his ownership. However, our experience to date, suggests otherwise.
In reality, there’s no evidence of a competitive winning strategy emanating from Farhad Moshiri, his friends and advisors (itself a significant issue as described in the governance article)
In general terms, the absence of a strategy based on winning from shareholders, their board and their executive teams may result in some or all of the following behaviours:
- the definition of strategy as a vision;
- the definition of strategy as a plan;
- the time frame is short-term rather than long-term;
- the definition of strategy as the optimisation of the status quo;
- the definition of strategy as following best practices.
How much of the above characterises Everton, not only under Moshiri, but for several decades? How often at annual general meetings of shareholders have some or all of the above been spouted by the directors and occasionally the owner? We’ve had little vision or anything defined as a plan, but “optimisation of the status quo” has certainly been an objective, albeit a failed objective given our reduced competitive position. The infamous “revered board” quote and the endless business awards are the personification of the final point “best practices”.
The lack of strategy, i.e. not being willing, able and informed enough to make explicit choices and seeing them through, are articulated as above.
These are the behaviours of people who don’t understand what strategy is. They almost always are formed around a single characteristic – the inability to make hard choices. Great organisations that chose to win make hard choices, forcing the hand of those charged with the task but bringing great focus to all involved. That doesn’t sound like the club we have become.
I’ve written extensively over what I believe to be Everton’s issues at board, executive and shareholder level. The list of mistakes made, of poor recruitment, the delay in agreeing a stadium design and capacity (even the purpose of the stadium was to an extent dependent on the outcome of the Commonwealth Games bid), of poor decision making on and off the pitch creates a very long charge sheet. It’s not necessary to go over them at length. They are well known and in the public domain. A cursory glance at our on pitch performance, squad composition, management selections, academy performance, commercial performance, governance and financial performance tells its own sorry tale.
Questions for the Annual General Meeting
In the past, I and others have asked specific questions regarding some or all of the above. To varying degrees we received answers, but the impact of the questions on the board and Farhad Moshiri are little more than a couple of hours of occasionally uncomfortable exposure, nothing changes and its back to business as usual. The continuation of poor process, decision making, lack of oversight, accountability and responsibility. The absence of strategy, the absence of “deliberate choice”. Being in a position circumstances have led us to rather than determining our own status.
So, I am going to suggest the focus of the Annual General Meeting should be entirely on strategy – the strategy of winning. I’d like the answer to 5 inter-connected questions any business that wishes to win has to ask itself:
The questions are simple but to be answered meaningfully, they require thought, they require an understanding of where we are, what we need to do to change and most importantly where do we want to go? If the owner, the Chairman, CEO and other senior executives were individually asked these questions what degree of consistency (as well as meaningful content) would there be in each of their answers?
The questions that need answering (IMO) are:
- What is your winning aspiration, the purpose of Everton Football Club ?
- Where (i.e. at what the level) do we want to win? ( Premier League Survival, top 8, domestic cup competitions, Europa League qualification, Champions League qualification”, Winners, FIFA World Club Champions?)
- How will this be achieved?
- What personnel resource is required to achieve it?
- What systems (footballing & non-footballing) within the organisation are required to change in order to achieve it?
The simplest of questions that require the most meaningful answers. How, other than by chance, can we win, if we don’t know what our aspirations are, what level we define winning to be, how we will do it and what is needed to achieve it?
That requires strategy. It requires deliberate choices to be made. The irony is that setting a winning strategy would have been most easily achieved at the beginning of Moshiri’s reign. Why? Because at that time we had opportunity, resources and the ability to make decisions for ourselves – critical if adhering to deliberate choices. Today we have far less resource, opportunity is limited through the progress of others and regulatory concerns restrict our ability to make decisions for ourselves.
Despite a winning strategy being more difficult to implement in 2022 than 2016, we don’t have a choice if we wish to win. I say we but the reality is that the ball is firmly in Moshiri’s court. It is only he that can determine the specific choices required to win. If he wishes to delegate that responsibility to his Chairman and Board, he needs to make the decision to change the personnel in those positions because frankly, those remaining have proved incapable of making the deliberate choices necessary to win in the past and present. The alternate winning strategy is sell the club to those that will bring a winning strategy.
We can, in the coming weeks, following the publication of the accounts and the date of the annual general meeting ask operational questions and I am sure many will. However it is only by questioning strategy and in particular, asking the five questions above of Moshiri that we can progress. That has to be the message from supporters and shareholders alike. It is the message of the #27years campaign, it should in my opinion be the message of all.
Farhad Moshiri has to create a winning strategy. He has to make the decisions, i.e. the deliberate choices necessary to bring it about. That will result in change. That change will deliver more appropriate people to execute the choices he makes. Without it we are destined to repeat the mistakes of previous years and move further away from winning.
A winning strategy, make deliberate choices, please Mr Moshiri!
Categories: Ownership & Leadership