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When objectives are not aligned

In a new relationship, there can sometimes be a disjoint in the couple’s respective intentions. While one lover may have long-term aspirations about settling down, buying a house and starting a family, the other may be looking no further than the next date.

In a week where three managers in the English Championship lost their jobs, you wonder if something similar is going on in football. There is often a disconnect between the objectives of the club and how those picking the team are judged.

Crudely, there are two types of approach:

Strategy 1: Evaluate the manager (or head coach) on short-term results alone, or

Strategy 2: Appraise on results and long-term goals.

It is easy to say that Strategy 2 is preferable, but sometimes you need to focus on Strategy 1 to afford the time to indulge in long-term thinking. It depends on the context. The issue comes when a club says they’re committed to the long-term, when in fact they hire and fire on the back of a few poor results. In our relationship analogy, it’s akin to both partners saying they’re looking for commitment, yet one strays to have a one-night stand.

Interestingly, when we looked at which of the top clubs in England had given youth a chance* during the past 6 seasons, we noticed that half had disposed of the manager within that season. This points to a misalignment of objectives, and a broader issue around talent development. Is it unrealistic to expect managers to give youth a chance, when they’re invariably judged on results. Younger players need time to find their feet, and that’s often more time that clubs are prepared to give.

For clubs wanting to get the right balance between short- and long-term priorities, introducing a balance scorecard (BSC) approach might be the solution. Applied in other industries, the BSC is a performance management tool that helps organisations balance the strategic agenda and the short-term objectives. In football, the BSC could include achievement against the following KPIs:

  • Results – winning football matches or achieving points,
  • Performance – assessing the club’s underlying on-field performance (recognising that results can often be ‘noisy’ – as Newcastle have recently shown), and
  • Productivity – number of club-trained players in the first-team, or % of minutes played by homegrown players.

In order to avoid conflict and achieve sustainable success, football’s leaders must endeavour to find ways of aligning the targets of the manager with the objectives and philosophy of the club. A manager who is incentivised based on both results and productivity is more likely to give youth a chance. We can’t blame those who don’t, if they’re measured purely on results.

Follow: @blakewooster  

* ‘Given youth a chance’ – calculated by the % of squad minutes by players who played 3 matches at most in the previous season and are 21 years or under. We focused on the top 10 clubs/managers in England who had done so since 2009.

About Blake Wooster

Blake Wooster has created 66 entries.