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The manager surveillance system

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It was the CEO at Capital One, Richard Fairbank, who said: “at most companies, people spend 2% of their time recruiting and 75% managing their recruiting mistakes”.

And the chances are that you’ll be hiring a new manager (or head coach) within the next year or so. Last season, nearly 50% of the clubs in the English football league (47 out of the 96) dismissed their manager. 

So what to do?

When we advise clubs in this area invariably it depends on the context and urgency. Time and again we see clubs sack the manager after a bad run of results (often prematurely, when the underlying performance is actually on track), and then commence the search process. Or a club is left stranded as their incumbent manager is headhunted by a rival club. In such urgent moments, the question inevitably becomes “who’s available?” rather than “who’s the right fit?”, and so the reactive cycle continues.

And while it may sometimes feel like the situation is beyond our control, in fact we can be much better prepared for these moments. In the same way that we should be building succession plans for our players, we’ve created a surveillance system for identifying potential future managers. Without the need to even meet with candidates at this stage, this horizon scanning mechanism can identify from afar certain traits in managers that we should be looking for:

  • Style – does he play ‘our way’ (assuming the club’s philosophy is defined)?
  • Substance – what’s his track record in results and performance (the latter being more predictive of future success)?
  • Resourcefulness – has he over- or under-achieved in previous roles relative to resources?

There are numerous other filters that could be applied depending on the club – including the manager’s propensity for giving youth a chance (measured by the percentage of first team minutes played by homegrown players), for example. 

In the corporate world, hiring for a position of equivalent influence can take a lot of time – a luxury that football clubs often don’t have when in crisis mode. Through applying relevant filters to an information-rich manager database, clubs can easily keep tabs on prospective candidates that fit the desired criteria and can thus move confidently and decisively when the moment arrives. It pays to be prepared with a shortlist of names and the process needn’t be onerous nor invasive.

This doesn’t negate the need for a thorough interview process of course – the manager surveillance system simply means that the club has been more strategic about who they’re interviewing, which in turn means the odds of being the wrong side of the 50% are significantly reduced.

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