You’re the Chief Revenue Officer and you just hit your sales quota for the month. You’re the CTO and your team just built an extremely fast middle-out compression algorithm. Or you’re the CFO and you just implemented a complex version of Great Plains Accounting Software and rolled it out to your entire finance department, all the while helping your company raise a Series B round.
Congrats, you’re fired.
These were the scenes in London last night: Manchester United’s manager, Louis van Gaal, led his team to their first FA Cup triumph since 2004. And despite the win, within hours it had been
leaked reported that Van Gaal was set to be terminated.
Good way for LVG to bow out. But that’s it. Club plan to tell him Monday & announce Mourinho new boss Tuesday.
— Dan Roan (@danroan) May 21, 2016
I feel for Van Gaal. To rob him of his moment in the sun, for the news to break of his imminent departure within hours of his triumph, certainly seems a bit disrespectful at worst, or unfortunate at best.
The thing is, despite the awkward timing, it’s the correct decision. Yes, Van Gaal led Manchester United to FA Cup glory. The emotion of winning such a massive game, in front of 90,000 people at Wembley Stadium, can surely go a long way in helping a man’s job security, legacy, or both. But the executives at Manchester United weren’t concerned with emotion, they were concerned with data.
Productive people and companies force themselves to make choices most other people are content to ignore. Productivity emerges when people push themselves to think differently. – Charles Duhigg
Van Gaal won a (very important) match, but his results over two years were underwhelming. Keeping him on the job due to the win would have masked Manchester United’s larger issues. So they cut the CTO after he deployed the solid code. Sacked the CFO after he closed the Series B round.
In Van Gaal’s place, they’ll bring in Jose Mourinho, the manager with statistically the best win percentage in Premier League history. They’re choosing data over emotion. Manchester United didn’t let winning mask their problems.
If Van Gaal and Mourinho aren’t your cup of tea, and the other football is your sport – run it back to the New England Patriots in 2001. Starting QB Drew Bledsoe went out injured early in the season. At 29, he was in the prime of his career, he had led the team to a Super Bowl five years prior. Unlike Van Gaal, he was universally loved by Boston sports fans, the media, and his teammates. By the time Bledsoe was healthy again, this unknown kid Tom Brady had come in and led the team to an 11-3 record. Coach Bill Belichick looked at the data and stuck with Brady. He made the choice that most other people would be content to ignore.
The emotion would have said – stick with Bledsoe – it’s “how we’ve always done it,” but the data showed that Brady, despite being new, different, and unknown, despite being the uncomfortable choice, was playing better.
Fifteen years and four Super Bowl championships later, it worked out just fine in New England. Data won.
Van Gaal may have been good enough but Mourinho, likely, will be better. Bledsoe was more than serviceable, but Brady had another gear, and took a franchise to another level.
You may be winning – through skill, through luck, through both. But if a difficult or complex change is necessary to take that winning performance to another level, to push out better code with fewer flaws, to make your sales process, and thus hitting your quota even more predictable, to run a tighter financial ship, don’t sit idly by. Make the tough choice and go for the win.