SIR ALEX FERGUSON’S RETIREMENT: THE HR PERSPECTIVE

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Most people will be wondering what HR has got to do with football but by the time you are done reading this piece you will appreciate their relatedness. It is now cliché to describe the field of Human Resources as traversing all units of every organisation and across industries. The football industry has evolved into a money-spinning venture and is attracting investments in multitudes of billions of pounds across the globe. One of the leading clubs in Europe, Manchester United, recently announced the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson (SAF), its Manager of twenty seven years. The news was received with great shock within the footballing world and beyond. Sportsmen and even Politicians have paid tribute to the most successful Manager in Britain. Since the news broke out, analysts across various disciplines have been busy discussing the implications of SAF’s retirement on the club.

Economists and Financial analysts were quick to notice the plunge in the opening value of Manchester United’s shares at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on the very day the news was confirmed by the club. Although, the stocks later recovered but it did dip by 1.76% from £12.08 to £11.87 at the end of Thursday’s trading. This is an indication that Investment Bankers will be busy making projections on the value of the club’s shares for the nearest time to come. Analyses on managerial change should not be limited to Sports journalists and financial experts but it also has far reaching implications for the study and practice of Human Resource Management (HRM). Putting it succinctly, it is purely the prerogative of HR practitioners and this is what this piece sets out to prove.

It is no longer news that fellow Scot, David Moyes has been appointed to replace Ferguson.  The swiftness at which this appointment was carried out suggests a succession plan was already in place. Laying credence to this claim was Sir Alex himself, when he said he made up his mind to leave since December due to a family bereavement. However, it is plausible to say that the plan has long been hatched before this date. This can be deduced from the reason I gave earlier; the speed at which the whole succession was managed and executed and the open admiration of David Moyes’ exploits at Everton.  Sir Alex Ferguson has this to say about his would-be-successor:

“I’ve admired for a long time and approached him as far back as 1998 to discuss the position of assistant manager here. He was a young man then at the start of his career and has since gone on to do magnificent job at Everton”

Traditionally in HR, succession planning is identifying individuals from within and preparing them to take up key positions in the future. One would have expected players like Ryan Giggs or Paul Scholes to succeed SAF having played under the Manager all through their careers spanning about two decades. This would have paved way for continuity because these two players represent everything about the club. However, the club decided to appoint an external candidate in the person of David Moyes. It is important to stress here that in the contemporary business world, talents are mostly sought externally as demonstrated by Manchester United. The bright side to this is that fresh ideas and new skills are injected into organisations that recruit externally for leadership positions. Let me also sound a note of caution, it is imperative to strike a balance between internal and external labour markets. I would advise the incoming Manager to work with Mike Phelan and Rene Meulenstein, Ferguson’s two assistants.

The import of my suggestion is fuelled by the often negative reception to change by employees. It will aid rapid transition of David Moyes into the club and also douse any misgivings that may arise as a result of the managerial change. It is acknowledged that change is a slow process while football is a result-oriented game. These two contrasting descriptions are to be aligned. In order to hasten up the change process and starts turning out impressive results, the incoming Manager needs the support of everyone (Players, Physios, Fans, and Board etc.). A call stressed by Ferguson. Garnering support of all and sundry in his new role is hinged on effective change management. Change has been described by Hayes as “punctuated equilibrium paradigm”. It is what I call ‘unsettling the waters’.  Lewin’s Field theory postulates three stages of change which include Unfreezing, Movement and Refreezing.

Unfreezing involves analysing the need for change and unlocking the resistance to change. This can be done by disseminating the benefits to be derived if change becomes a reality. It is certain to all why Ferguson is stepping aside; apart from old age, he cited family reasons. The second step is moving to a new level in terms of behaviour and beliefs which precede implementation of change. Refreezing involves re-enacting a new equilibrium state and putting in place supporting structures to make the change an enduring one. The latter two stages can only come into effect when David Moyes takes charge. He needs to get the support of his players by setting high but achievable standards. Surpassing the great feats of Ferguson may sound too ambitious but sustaining the club’s dominance in the English League and showing strong presence in Europe are the yardsticks by which Moyes’s performance will be measured. These would also determine the effectiveness of the managerial change.

While some analysts have questioned the choice of David Moyes as a replacement for Ferguson, it is assumed his competencies have been evaluated by the club. Succession planning is directly linked to competency frameworks but whether Moyes’ competencies will lead to more League titles, better performance in Champions League and beautiful style of play for the club, we will have to wait a little. Despite not winning any trophy to show for his eleven years stay at Everton and being inexperienced in Europe, the new coach is a believer in youth system and has transformed the Goodison Park’s team from relegation strugglers into a first eight team in England. These modest achievements fit into some but not all of Manchester United’s strategies. The limited budget at his disposal may have been responsible for his moderate performance. That was Everton, this is Manchester United!

Manchester United has consistently topped Forbes top ten richest clubs ranking for nine years until it was dethrone to second position by Real Madrid this year. Under Ferguson’s watch, the club has won thirteen Premier League Championships, two European Cups and five FA Cups! The stakes are really high but not surmountable. Moyes has an assembly of skilful players at his disposal and a little tweak of the team with one or two signings will bring about the desired results. Football Management is about managing players for success which is the nucleus of human resource management.

 Bashir Mudi Baba can be reached @El_De_Bash on Twitter   

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8 thoughts on “SIR ALEX FERGUSON’S RETIREMENT: THE HR PERSPECTIVE

      • This is a fantastic write up. To tell you, this is one of the best succession plan article I have ever read…simple and concise….I am a young HR practitioner who has 2yrears+ experience but would like to learn more from you at your leisure, if you do not mind. How do I get in touch?

  1. I like the total crux of this article. The HR perspective is one among many other perspectives, and I must say you did a good job explaining and relating one to the other. Good one here.

  2. Pingback: Change Management at Manchester United | Simplyhrmatters

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