Manchester United – A Case of Poor Succession Planning!!!!

Manchester United – A Case of Poor Succession Planning!!!!

I am a Manchester United fan!!!!!

I have lived close to and worked at Old Trafford (albeit selling pastries and drinks on match-days) and has experienced what the club means to its fans, the immediate community and the world at large....and as a HR person, it resonates strongly with me how organisations can and do get it really really bad when it comes to succession planning. The experience of football managers is not particularly a good reference point when discussing leadership and succession planning considering that the industry has a reputation for hiring and firing for very fickle reasons but I believe there is a lesson to be learnt from how things have transpired at this powerhouse of English and global football.

My love and recently painful affair with the Red devils started 18 years ago during the Ferguson era and the feeling of winning and success was a very prominent part of being a United fan. Since his retirement in 2013, the club has had 3 managers. That’s 3 in 3 years compared to 26 previous years with one manager. This was obviously new territory for Manchester United FC

………………..With Alex Ferguson spending 26 years, you would assume as well that he had a very long time to figure out who would succeed him and when it will happen. In fact, he could afford to give birth to a successor and start training him from birth to one day eventually replace him. So what then happened?

Manchester United had just won the premiership for a record 20th time. We will never know how long it took for David Moyes his “carefully chosen” successor to be hired, but it was announced a day after the 2012/2013 season came to an end. Moyes had been in management for 15 years, without a trophy to his name, yet was appointed to lead a club that had experienced nothing but success for over two decades. Suffice to say it went horribly wrong as he signed a six year contract and ended up spending ten months with terrible results and uninventive football recurrent themes of his brief tenure.

Louis van Gaal replaced him after a relatively successful 2014 world cup guiding the Netherlands to 3rd place. He spent two largely uneventful seasons and left with scant respect and recognition for winning the English FA cup in his last game as manager of Manchester United. Poor talent management and an insistence on repetitive drills and conformity to a rigid system stifled creativity and self-expression from his players.

Jose Mourinho was announced in May 2016 as Manchester United manager just days after the FA cup victory against Crystal Palace. He had managed at the top level of European football for over a decade and in that time had won league titles and cups in four countries (Portugal, England, Italy and Spain), as well as winning the UEFA Champions League twice – in 2004 with FC Porto and in 2010 with Inter Milan.

He however had been very interested in the job in 2013 and for many supporters, Ferguson’s retirement seemed like the perfect opportunity to snap up the “Special One”, considering he was due to part ways with Real Madrid that summer. How it then happened that Moyes became manager remains as much a mystery as the Bermuda Triangle. He has since his appointment assembled the most expensive squad in history but has flattered to impress, with key signings not having the desired impact and results largely disappointing.

Succession in succession planning means so much and is as clear as can be in terms of the impact it is expected to have. An organisation is in existence and as such has experienced success. For that success to continue, the organisation decides in its present to plan for the future to be able to meet long term objectives and add value to all that is a part of its existence. When organisations fail to prepare for when senior or key individuals leave, they essentially jeopardize their future and continued existence, exposing themselves to a multitude of risks.

The situation at Manchester United is a classic example demonstrating that myopic, short term replacements are often times, counter-productive. Short-term performance will suffer and there could be longer-term consequences, such as damage to culture, reputation, staff morale, financial and non-financial performance, as well as governance.

So what must organisations do to ensure that “success” continues as a formal and well thought through process???

Make sure your business is not exposed if a key person decides to move on - Organisations fail to adequately plan for senior or key individuals leaving. They incorrectly assume that they will be around forever or and are then left scratching their heads when those key individuals leave, and they need to quickly scramble to appoint a suitable replacement.

Your succession plan must be a living breathing process rather than a classy document gathering e-dust in some storage system - Companies that view succession planning as a one-time effort with deliverables that consists of nothing more than a framework with fancy diagrams and projections will be disappointed with the results they getting after investing time, energy and resources to the process

Plan for people to grow and develop from within - Companies that are successful at succession planning typically view it as a development process rather than a replacement process. When critical openings occur, they are filled with skilled, experienced internal candidates that have been exposed to the proper training and career development opportunities that guarantee continuity.

Succession planning is not a stand-alone process. It must align with other talent management practices - Job profiling, performance management, compensation, learning and development, reward and recognition are very important activities that must be carefully designed and implemented to ensure that human capital is developed and maximized.

It is my fervent hope and prayer that Jose Mourinho succeeds and restores Manchester United to the glory days, but it is clear that Succession Planning based on foundation principles in Strategic Human Resource Management results in sustainability and the continued success and relevance of corporate organisations!!!!!

Written by Oludare Sobajo

Categories: Insights, Business
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