Company Culture

Peak Performance, On and Off the Pitch: The Norwich City Way

February 6, 2024
March 7, 2024
Rosanna Campbell
Lattice Team

If you grew up in the UK, a lot of things might come to mind when you hear the words Norwich City Football Club:

  • Their chant (the oldest in the world)
  • Their owners (Delia Smith, herself a British institution, is a majority shareholder)
  • Their celebrity fans (Stephen Fry and Hugh Jackman, among many others)

But Norwich City FC is also gaining a reputation as a leader in promoting mental health and wellbeing, in their organization and the wider community. Their recent suicide prevention video, made for World Mental Health Day 2023, packs a powerful punch and has been viewed over 142 million times. 

This progressive attitude is reflected in their company culture, which is why Lattice was such a natural partner to help Norwich City tackle their people strategy goals. 

We sat down with Perry Hamilton, Norwich City’s head of HR and EDI, and James Bemment, their head of strategy, to find out how they manage to create a positive working environment while dealing with the (sometimes painful and highly public) ups and downs that are so central to professional football.

Winning the Long Game With a Supportive Culture

“If a game doesn't go our way, then the first thing that your family and your friends want to say to you is, ‘I bet it'll be tough in the office on Monday,’” said Hamilton. But Norwich City has created a supportive culture that counteracts the high-pressure, demanding context in which they operate. 

“This club recognizes that it isn't only success on the pitch that matters,” he said. “You can have difficult matches at the weekend, but the overall culture that you walk into on a Monday morning is still really positive because the Club recognizes how to recognize those other successes.”

You can put on all of the initiatives in the world, but if psychological safety isn’t embedded in your culture, nobody's going to take advantage of those initiatives.

Their focus is on the long game. They’re building a culture of continuous improvement, internally and for the wider community, Bemment explained. “We want to make the football club and the community better today than it was yesterday. That is why we exist as an organization, as a football club, as a business. That's the mentality that we try to spread across the whole organization.”

Performance and Psychological Safety

You might assume that the atmosphere in a professional football club is one of constant pressure to perform. But for Hamilton, nothing could be further from the truth. “A high-performance culture is irrevocably linked to psychological safety — the ability to feel safe to operate in your own way, with a quiet mind, to just be able to go out there and perform.” 

So, while Norwich City may be ruthlessly competitive during a match, off the pitch they prioritize collaboration and mutual trust.

“We are creating a safe, welcoming, and positive environment which allows people to thrive as their authentic selves,” said Hamilton. 

The Club runs multiple initiatives to foster that environment, such as cross-organizational working groups that focus on topics like wellbeing and sustainability. However, for Hamilton, the key is to be “authentic, not performative,” when it comes to company culture: 

“You can put on all of the initiatives in the world, but if psychological safety isn’t embedded in your culture, nobody's going to take advantage of those initiatives and they're not going to have a positive impact.” 

Instead, a culture of mentorship and support runs through the organization from the top down. As Hamilton observed, a football club is a fairly unique place to work. It has departments, functions, and responsibilities that many new hires have never encountered before.

At Norwich City, they encourage everyone to share those gaps in their knowledge, so that more experienced employees can step in to help. They offer formal mentorship programs and regular all-hands meetings with executive leadership. This easy flow of information, without judgment, promotes a strong sense of mutual trust. 

Creating Shared Purpose With “Golden Threads”

Of course, we’re talking about the Club’s culture as if it were a homogeneous whole — but, as Bemment pointed out, a football club has an extremely diverse organizational structure. The culture of the grounds team or the cleaning crew could vary widely from that of the HR or marketing department, for example. 

Instead of trying to impose one-size-fits-all cultural norms, Bemment explained, the Club has established shared values and behaviors, which he called “golden threads” that run through every department. “We know what right and wrong is because we've clearly set out how we want to behave as an organization.” 

Within that framework, Hamilton explained, they then provide an HR support system that is highly flexible, so it can be customized by managers as much as needed, right down to the individual level. 

The Club’s performance management system is a great example of this flexible but aligned approach. Some departments (in particular, the young talent in training at Norwich’s Lotus Academy) require a high level of structure and governance, including individual development plans

On the flip side, some of the employees hold roles that are less focused on growth: “They nail it on a match date and that’s the joy for them.” Imposing artificial objectives and progress structures for such roles would be meaningless, Hamilton explained. 

Instead, the Club allows managers to decide how granular their performance management will be for each member of the team. Some roles use a comprehensive performance management system. With others, it’s simply a question of regular, informal manager check-ins to make sure the employee is delivering on the overall goals of the organization. 

And the “golden thread” of a clear, well-communicated people strategy ties it all together. Norwich City believes in this people strategy so much that, as Bemment pointed out, “We've even got it on the wall.”

Investing In Your People

The goal of the Club’s HR strategy, Hamilton explains, is to create a virtuous cycle. When companies invest in performance management and role clarity, employees feel valued and certain that their contributions matter. As a result, as Hamilton said, “Your discretionary effort increases, your psychological safety increases, your performance goes up. Culturally, we all thrive.”

To make sure that this positive cycle continues, Norwich City is taking an increasingly data-driven approach to their human resources strategy. “One thing the football club has in abundance is data,” Bemment told us. And they’re putting that data to work to make sure that the lived experience of their employees matches up with the ambitious goals they’ve set at a strategic level. 

One of our key behaviors is respect, so when 99% of people who are in a working group say that they feel their voice is heard...that's a respectful environment.

Specifically, they’ve broken down the employee journey into a series of touchpoints (initial interviews, onboarding, appraisals, manager one-to-ones, exit interviews, and so on). For each touchpoint, they’ve defined a series of metrics that will help check that their behaviors reflect the culture they’re working to build. 

For instance, Hamilton said, “One of our key behaviors is respect, so when 99% of people who are in a working group say that they feel their voice is heard in that group, that's an indicator that that's a respectful environment.” 

To support their efforts to integrate a positive, high-performance culture into the day-to-day lives of their employees, Norwich City has introduced Lattice. Hamilton explained that Lattice is making it “smoother and easier [...] to understand what we’re doing across the whole organization — how what I do over in my corner of the office affects what my coworker is doing over in his or her corner of the office.” 

As he put it, “Success is the byproduct of process.” With the right processes in place, a strong people strategy, and a willingness to listen and learn, even an organization dealing with the enormous pressure and volatility of professional sports can successfully create a thriving, supportive environment. 

It’s still early days, but we’ll be cheering them on from the sidelines. Norwich City, consider us your newest fans — and also now official partners.