Back in 2016, footballer Oscar, then of Chelsea, was bought by Shanghai SIPT for a (then whopping) GBP 60M, with a salary of about GBP 20M a year.
Around the time the deal got announced, we were having our 10th year reunion at IIMB. During that a professor told us that one reason Shanghai had to pay Oscar so heavily was the quality (or lack thereof) of teammates he would have to deal with in Shanghai. He was then playing for Chelsea, who had won the Premier League in 2015, and would win it again that season (2016-17). And he was leaving that quality of teammates to join unknown teammates in China, and that meant he would have to be compensated heavily.
During and after last nights’ Manchester Derby, a friend and I were talking about Andre Onana, now the Manchester United goalie. Onana has been an extremely promising goalkeeper, excelling for Ajax and Inter (apart from one doping ban). He is a brilliant sweeper keeper (one reason he got chucked out of the Cameroon national team during last year’s World Cup), adept at playing with his feet and with great positioning sense.
And who does he have in front of him at ManYoo? The former Leicester defensive pair of Harry Maguire and Jonny Evans! They absolutely lack pace which means they can’t play a high line. That means Onana’s sweeping skills are grossly underutilised, and he ends up getting judged based on his shot-stopping skills, where he is nowhere in the same league as his predecessor David De Gea.
When we get into organisations, things we evaluate are the kind of work we do and what we are getting compensated for it. The thing we tend to overlook is who we need to work with, and whether they will elevate us or drag us down. Sometimes, the organisation (like Shanghai SIPT) recognises that you have to put up with suboptimal colleagues, and thus pay you a premium for your services.
Often, though, the organisation will be more like ManYoo, which doesn’t really recognise that the team around you may not be optimal for your playing style. And not everyone is willing to accept a premium in exchange for suboptimal colleagues. So, if you end up like Onana, you are not only frustrated because of the quality (or lack thereof) of your colleagues and peers, but you also end up getting judged on axes that are not your strengths (and what you have NOT been hired for).
Over the last decade, hiring at Manchester United has been curious, to say the least. There have been half-hearted attempts at changing the playing style, and almost everyone brought in to play the new style (I assume Erik Ten Haag wanted to play a more high-press style when he bought Onana) has been frustrated and unable to perform to potential.
Related to this, going back to something I’d written earlier this year, every company has an optimal rate of attrition, which is non-zero. If you end up paying too much of a premium to loyalty, you risk stagnation. If your Onana has to put up with Maguire and Evans, he won’t perform to potential. And then you go back to setting up the way it is optimal for Maguire and Evans.