Stuart Creasey - Jun 18, 2021

Euro 2020: The power of People Analytics in world class sport

When People Analytics technology first emerged it was seen as a solution for use by HR departments and HR departments only. Today the story is very different; not only are businesses realising the benefits of applying People Analytics throughout all areas of their organisation, but the benefits across different industries are also being explored.

The story of the Royal Belgian Football Association and their national team’s road to the Euro 2020 championships is a fantastic example.

Driven by data and insights

A recent BBC documentary ('Roberto Martinez: Whistle to Whistle') explored how the team are using People Analytics to work towards their goals of winning their first major trophy and becoming ranked as Fédération Internationale de Football Association’s (FIFA) #1 national football team in the world. It shows how the manager's mindset, methodology and top-down approach as a leader is driven by data and insights to ensure his team perform to the best of their abilities, whilst ensuring conscious or unconscious bias is not influencing key decisions and actions.

The Royal Belgian Football Association’s People Analytics journey began when they failed to make it past the quarter finals in the Euro 2016 championships – being put out by outsiders Wales - and long-standing manager Marc Wilmots was fired. Roberto Martinez was hired as his replacement and initially faced criticism for his perceived inexperience. However, he quickly began to prove his critics wrong as he implemented his vision through a People Analytics methodology.

Collecting data from all levels

Under Martinez’s leadership the Royal Belgian Football Association implemented People Analytics to monitor existing player performance, identify training needs, and monitor injuries and recovery plans. In addition, they offered a career development path to coaching for active players to support them once they retire from playing, and ensure there is a succession plan in place to continue the work Martinez has started.

Martinez did not stop there with the collation of data or use of analytics. He convinced the federation to invest in collecting data from all levels of men and women’s football in Belgium, professional, amateur and grass roots to ensure they have a complete overview of all aspects of the game to assist in identifying and supporting the development of new players, and determine what facilities and personnel are needed to achieve the Federations and his strategic goals, now and well into the future. In fact, they have active projects in place supporting and developing players for the men’s world cup in 2026 and women’s world cup in 2027 based on the data they have collated from all football played in Belgium today.

Removing conscious or unconscious bias

A head of performance analysis and innovation is responsible for ensuring all available data from every possible source is extracted, transformed, and loaded (ETL) so it can be utilised for dashboards, metrics, and insights to ensure none of the leadership team or people managers need to go and look for the data they require.

Using the data collated across all of Belgium’s sources a traffic light system draws Martinez and his team of people managers’ attention to the areas of concern, actions to be taken and areas to investigate. Without the need and time to deep dive into the data, it also ensures all the available data is utilised whilst removing any conscious or unconscious bias.

Leadership from the top down

Through this approach the Federation, Martinez and people managers have realised that the days of relying on managers’ gut instincts are gone, and the decisions and actions that achieve the strategic goals must be driven by data.

However, they also realise having People Analytics, dashboards and insights alone will not bring the results they are looking for. It needs leadership from the top down, teamwork, commitment and time. Martinez’s leadership is passionate - he leads by example and asks a lot of his people managers and players to ensure they deliver against the goals. Yet he remains calm and positive in his approach and avoids any negativity as they work towards their strategic goals.

Strategic goals

Has using People Analytics worked? The results since Martinez joined in 2016 and implemented the People Analytics approach are impressive. In just over two years, the team rose from #5 in the world to #1 in September 2018 – a position which they still hold today. In their first major tournament since Martinez took charge (the 2018 World Cup), they finished in 3rd place, the highest position ever achieved by Belgium.

That brings us to the current Euro 2020 championship tournament, where they are once again considered one of the favourites to win. By 12th July, we will know if they have succeeded in their goal of winning a major trophy. Whatever the outcome, it is evident that the next few years of planning are already well in place and being monitored through People Analytics to ensure they continue their journey to achieve their strategic goals.

It is clear that more and more industries are waking up to the possibilities of People Analytics. If you would like to know more, get in touch.

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Written by Stuart Creasey