Hiring and firing football managers (1): a talent management perspective

This post is inspired by the sacking of X, where X — the name of whichever manager has just been fired. No matter when you read this, I’m confident that you’ll be able to supply a name: in football, managers are getting fired all the time.

The point of this mini-series of posts is to explain how this looks from the perspective of a talent management company, albeit one working in a different sector — our clients consist of membership organisations and learning providers.

The job of a football manager varies from club to club. Some are focused on first team affairs; some include oversight of reserve and youth teams too. Some are focused on technical matters, such as coaching and tactic; some have wider responsibilities in such areas as transfers and strategy. Some take a direct role in coaching, spending plenty of time out on the training field; others leave that to the coaches they manage.

But there’s one area of management that professional football managers cannot avoid: talent management. All managers have to work with talented people.

Even when the players mostly have a common social and geographical origin, they will be a diverse group. Each player will have his or her own personality, experiences, strengths and weaknesses, needs, preferences, and goals.

Most talent management happens in private — in the changing room, on the training ground, or in the manager’s office. It follows that those who comment on the sport — fans, commentators, and journalists — observe little of this directly, in contrast to such matters as playing tactics.

Inevitably there’s a risk that firing decisions will be based disproportionately on those aspects of the job most directly observable.

This perhaps explains the mismatch between two phenomena:

  • talent management is in many ways a long-term matter: in general it is not something that can be achieved through short-term programming
  • firing decisions are often (and increasingly) based on short-term criteria — a run of a few poor results can get a manager the sack.

That talent management is not, for the most part, achievable through short-term programming is something that many observers must know from their own experience. Commentators and journalists would presumably see themselves as talent and describe their own sector as a talent-based industries. Many fans must see themselves as talents and/or have responsibility for managing talents — in offices, schools, hospitals, and so on (even, as parents, within families).

If the turnover rate for talent managers in these sectors were anywhere near as high as it is for football managers, our economy and our society would be in chaos.

Next in the series (8 March): ‘Managing the talent managers’.


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