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Southampton FC

How Southampton FC’s values build a culture for ongoing success

Michelle Butler

Director of HR, Southampton FC

Southampton FC

People Insight's surveys have really helped us quantify the positives and negatives of the work environment. They've provided key analysis to input into the five year strategy about where we are as an employer and where we want to be.
Michelle Butler


Southampton Football Club is a Premier League club competing at the highest level of professional football. They have celebrated an impressive rise from administration in 2009, through back to back promotions in 2011 and 2012, to be one of the top six Premier League Clubs, finishing 6th in the 2015/16 season.

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, Southampton FC achieves one of the top scores recorded by People Insight for ‘Pride in my organisation’ at 96%, and engagement score in the upper quartile at 91%.

But with the best will in the world, ‘Pride’ isn’t enough to guarantee ongoing success. In 2014 the club made several replacements in the Board of Directors, bringing about significant changes in leadership and vision, which would shape the culture and values of the club going forwards.

Engagement score

What, aside from football,makes Southampton FC such a great place to work?

Over the last two years, Southampton FC has built and embedded ‘The Southampton Way.’

HR Director, Michelle Butler said, “The Southampton Way established a culture designed to be resilient to change in the world of Premier League football – where the ups and downs of signings, departures, wins and defeats can be a weekly occurrence.

“When the new leadership took over two years ago, one of the first things they did was to call on staff to develop a set of values, to bring people together to achieve success. So ‘The Southampton Way’ was born, including five values: respect, unity, accountability, creativity and aspiration, and it’s these values that we believe will help us deliver ‘Potential into Excellence’.”



It is clear, speaking to staff and from the players themselves, how aspiration and ambition underline everything they do; as Fraser Forster, the club’s goalkeeper says:

“I agreed a new five-year deal and… the way it’s been under the chairman, Les Reed and the owner, everyone wants to keep moving forward. As a player I’m ambitious… I think the main thing is that there is a real desire to keep on improving.”


Respect, Unityand Accountability

The fact that over 70% of staff believe that senior managers live the values is a key strength; respect, unity and accountability mean that staff trust in the Board to make the difficult decisions that keep pushing the club forward.

I really like our core values and the effort senior managers make for employees to understand and represent the values...
Anonymous 'Our Score' survey responder 
The values of 'The Southampton Way' flow right through the club and I feel they are vitally important. The club also looks after their staff and provides excellent training facilities and opportunities to move forward in careers.
Anonymous 'Our Score' survey responder 

The Southampton Wayis firmly embedded

Now every activity relates back to the Southampton Way. Recruitment has been a major activity with over 35% of current employees joining in the last two years. Values based competency questions are used at interview, then during a two day induction there are values based activities and videos, demonstrating  what each of the values mean and how they can be embedded into your everyday working life at the club.

Performance is evaluated against the values, at the end of employees’ probation period, then during ongoing PDRs.

As for communications, presentations from senior leaders, all staff meetings and the ‘Team Talk’ monthly newsletter are organised around the five values and the mission of developing Potential into Excellence.

The culture, support and values of SFC make it a wonderful place to work. You feel truly valued and like you are working for a professional yet compassionate organisation. The team meetings make you feel invested in and getting the whole team together is very inspiring.
Anonymous 'Our Score' survey responder 

The Employee Engagement Surveyshows how the culture is becoming embedded…

Our Score

When People Insight carried out the ‘Our Score’ Employee Engagement Surveys in 2015 and 2016, we saw above benchmark scores for all questions related to the values.

What particularly stood out, was how the club leads, develops and involves their staff, which correlates strongly with engagement in Southampton FC:

  • Communication – 32% above benchmark
  • Career development – 28% above benchmark
  • Senior managers live the organisation’s values – 20% above benchmark
  • Staff involvement – 16% above benchmark

…but there is stillroom for improvement

Whilst engagement is strong, ongoing initiatives are maintained to embed the culture, in response to the ‘Our Score’ survey. Since 2015, Southampton FC have implemented a number of changes:

Programme Description Measure in ‘Our Score’ survey Change
Training for leaders and managers Developing behaviours based on the values, improving coaching and listening to staff. Being a good line manager is now a competency measure, as important as performance objectives Managers live the values Up 9%
My manager gives me feedback Up 4%
Collaboration The team have literally broken down the walls to create a more open plan, collaborative atmosphere in the stadium offices. Staff from the stadium are encouraged to visit colleagues at the training ground which has improved communication between the two groups significantly I always get the information I need Up 10%
All divisions value the contributions of others Up 14%

So what is next?

For the longer term, the club has developed a new five year strategy with a clear, uniting aim. Under the overarching aim are key strategies around recruitment, developing talent, and improving issues raised in the 2016 survey, such as wellbeing, recognition and work/life balance.

Said Michelle;

“People Insight’s surveys have really helped us quantify the positives and negatives of the work environment. They’ve provided key analysis to input into the five year strategy about where we are as an employer and where we want to be.”

Of course, there’s a great love of football and a passion for the team amongst the staff at Southampton FC. No doubt staff would go the extra mile, to fulfil the mission on the pitch. By developing a strong, united, progressive culture from the ticket office to the training ground, Southampton FC are giving themselves every chance to fulfil their dreams.