From boardroom to pitch: CEO of the FA shares his secrets on tackling culture

CEO of the Football Association, Martin Glenn, opens up about the rewards and challenges of transforming sport in England, in a recent interview aired by podcast, Culture De-Cooded.

Hosted by strategy, culture and leadership consultant, Charlie Coode, the passionate conversation reveals how Marin successfully transitioned from the world of beverages and biscuits to national sports.

Referring to his entry into the FA as his “delayed midlife crisis”, Martin emphasises the universal principles that underpin all successful organisations, highlighting the importance of a clear purpose, understandable strategy, and sense of urgency to score.

Unpacking the hurdles to be overcome, Martin speaks openly about the courage it takes for leaders to seek help from others, to bring employees and investors on board.

“In a sophisticated corporate, if you talk about culture, you will get listened to… Raising the subject won’t raise eyebrows… But in the world of private equity back in the day in 2006, they thought it was a degree of HR gobbledygook and it was seen as a diversion”, he explains.

Reflecting on his time at both Birdseye and PepsiCo, Martin draws parallels between the worlds of consumer goods and sports governance, explaining how being able to transpose his personal experience eventually led to England reaching the semi-finals of the World Cup.

“The vision was simple”, says Martin: “Uniting the game to inspire the nation”. He realised that people needed to see the FA as an organisation of impact, rather than as a “bumbling Dad’s army”, using culture to deliver a complete makeover of the FA.

Speaking about his success, Martin explains: “We haven’t had that level of performance for years. We go into tournaments now looking like we’re contenders […] That’s been the result of a number of things, which cultural change has been key to unlocking”.

It’s not just men’s football that has benefited either. Martin also advocates for women’s football, explaining how we must treat it more like an Olympic sport to ensure equal opportunities from a young age.

Passionate about making all areas of sport better, Martin also acts as chairman of charity The Football Foundation, as well as chairing PGMOL (Professional Game Match Officials Limited) and Chapel Down – Britain’s biggest wine producer.

Regardless of the field, “quick wins are always essential”, claims Martin. This is what ignites enthusiasm. And it’s something he thanks host, Charlie Coode for, having worked under his guidance for 15 years.

A champion of business culture, Charlie launched his own SaaS platform – Culture15 – to allow all kinds of leaders, just like Martin, to measure and track culture with data.

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