1. Don’t change the two most important people in the organisation at the same time
Sir Alex Ferguson had been manager of Manchester United for 27 years and David Gill had racked up a decade as chief executive when the duo stepped down last summer. For manager and chief executive at a football club, read chief executive and chairman at a publicly listed company. Allowing both to leave at the same time is dangerous, particularly when their combined leadership has been so successful. Where was the succession planning that didn’t let that happen? And what happened to the board’s oversight of the career decisions of its two most important executives? How many companies have lost their chairman and chief executive at exactly the same time and replaced both with great success?
David Moyes (AP Photo/Clint Hughes) David Moyes (AP Photo/Clint Hughes)
2. Don’t let the last business leader choose the next one.
Sir Alex Ferguson imposed what some observers have described as a “Stalin-like grip” on Manchester United during his 27 years in charge. Very little, it is said, happened without either his direct say-so or tacit approval. But allowing the man who has had a stand named after him and a statue erected at the club’s Old Trafford stadium to effectively nominate his replacement as manager brought personal emotion, ego and self-interest into the succession, when it should have been a rational, well thought-out collective board decision. Who on the board would have dared to shoot down the suggestion of the club’s most successful manager ever? Ferguson was allowed to become much too important during his reign at the top. How many departing chief executives are allowed to select their successors?
3. Groom successors from within when you have a winning team
Ferguson’s biggest failing perhaps was not grooming a potential successor. Maybe that’s a pitfall of having a domineering, win-at-all-costs personality. But some of the most successful leadership at winning companies has taken more of a team-based approach, generating a cadre of capable lieutenants who have gone on to follow them as well as taking the helm at other companies. Groups including Procter & Gamble PG +0.32%, Dixons, Asda and the former menswear chain Burtons have served as prodigious academies of management talent. And in English football three of the 19 other managers in the Premier League served as players and/or backroom staff under Ferguson, demonstrating that the talent to groom at hand was indeed available.
4. Keep the most important support staff intact when the top jobs change
David Moyes entered the lions’ den when he took the manager’s job at Manchester United. The previous manager had won everything there was to win in a glittering career; the top players’ medal cabinets were stuffed full too. Having never won a major trophy himself as a manager, he had an instant credibility gap and needed wise heads around him who had the benefit of having been around in the glory years. Instead, he replaced the entire top coaching staff, bringing in the team that had served him at Everton. While this might have been seen as asserting his authority at the time, it left Moyes unsupported within the club and deprived the club of vital experience, know-how and continuity.
5. Appoint someone big enough for the job
Moyes has never won a major trophy as a football manager and yet he was expected to deliver more or less instantly at a club whose previous manager had won 13 English Premier League titles and two European Champions Leagues. As if this was not mission impossible, his body language, demeanour and communications with the media suggested almost from the outset that he did not feel that he was up to the task.
6. Get the cultural fit right
The history of an organisation is an irrevocable part of what it is. It is almost impossible to imagine Apple AAPL +0.74% as a company full of conformists or General Electric GE +0.53% as recklessly-managed. Similarly in football, Manchester United’s history and reputation is as a dynamic and romantic team full of derring-do, adventure and attacking style. From the youthful exuberance of the “Busby Babes” in the 1950s to the swagger and pomp of Best, Charlton and Law in their prime, the club has developed a “United way”. Ferguson, a self-confessed sporting gambler, stuck to those principles. However, while Moyes spoke about a strong youth policy and the club’s fine reputation for attacking football, his actions and strategies did not match his words.
7. Manage the management’s communication
Moyes had no choice but to take the microphone after every defeat – the broadcasting contracts governing English Premier League football stipulate that the team managers are interviewed after every game. Moyes, following a master media manipulator in Ferguson, could not be expected to have his predecessor’s touch in this department. Honest and decent in his public utterances, he nonetheless needed support from his backroom staff and senior players and directors. The club’s media team could have taken a much more active role in protecting Moyes, presenting a collective front and showing support to a manager who was always going to have a tricky first year in following a legend.
8. Be decisive. Know when it’s the right time to stop the rot.
Prior to Moyes’s departure, United had a reputation for giving managers time to build teams, in contrast to some of the rapid firings seen at other top teams in the UK and Europe. Yet, it was clear that Moyes had lost the dressing room, while his comments after the team’s final performance under his management demonstrated that he didn’t have the long-term vision required.
9. Don’t let the news leak
Once the decision is made, make the announcement. Some of the momentum gained from the decisiveness United’s owners showed with their judgment that enough was enough was lost by widespread reports the day before that made Moyes’ sacking the worst-kept secret in British football. Nearly all Britain’s national newspapers led their sports pages with the news that Moyes was to be sacked, before it had been announced. While United’s listing on the New York Stock Exchange governs the timing of price-sensitive news, the leaking of the dismissal led to speculation about compensation, replacements and club strategy, when the focus could have been on a new beginning.
10. Have a credible new plan.
When an instant fix is neither credible nor desirable, at least have a plan, a process and steady temporary leadership. Appointing Ryan Giggs, United’s most decorated player in the club’s history, to take charge on a temporary basis, restores some respect to the fallen champions. Giggs is adored by fans, respected by the players and hugely liked by the sports media. With so much of the past leadership having departed, his is an obvious temporary appointment to try to arrest the team’s slide and provide some stability. Few companies, however, are likely to have somebody with his attributes waiting ready in the wings.
– By Andrew Cave – Published in the Forbes 22/04/2014