FA wrong-footed in its recruitment procedure

The Football Association (FA) has finally got its man. After weeks of clandestine meetings and behind-the-scenes manoeuvres, Steve McClaren was unveiled as the new manager of the England football team earlier this month.

But the recruitment process has proved a tricky fixture for the FA – riddled with negative tabloid headlines and criticism from football pundits.
Process review

FA chief executive, Brian Barwick, admitted as much at a press conference shortly after McClaren’s appointment, acknowledging that the process could have been run tighter, in terms of confidentiality. He promised a review of the headhunting system to see whether English football’s ruling elite had “tripped over our own banana skins”.

According to Chris Phillips, marketing director at talent management company Taleo, the FA’s first own goal came about because the selection panel had not properly thought through what type of person they were looking for, and were initially swayed by public opinion and media pressure.

When recruiting for senior roles, he said, it is important to create a full list of the skills, competencies and characteristics you are seeking. This will in turn give you the ability to define the requirements of the role logically, and take a lot of the subjectivity out of the selection process.

“It seems to me they did not put enough rigour into defining the job criteria,” said Phillips. “All the candidates were well-known, so it was important to stand back and clinically define the role to be filled.”

At professional headhunting firm Hitchenor Wakeford, chief executive Adrian Hitchenor said there are numerous lessons to be drawn from the debacle that can be applied to general business recruitment. He said the changes made to the FA’s selection panel half-way through the process caused unnecessary confusion.

Lack of co-ordination

Among those joining the panel at a later stage was Arsenal’s chairman David Dein, who was reputedly responsible for an 11th-hour change of tack that precipitated the decision to offer the job to Portugal manager Luiz Felipe Scolari.

“There was no real co-ordination to the process,” said Hitchenor. “They kept bringing people in with different ideas and the left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing.”

Scolari’s public rejection of the FA’s proposal was perhaps the most embarrassing incident in the whole affair, and another learning point for recruiters everywhere.

“Don’t assume someone will take a job offered to them and announce it before they have said yes,” said Hitchenor. “Always wait until the role has been officially taken before speaking to other candidates and the media. Then, if the ideal candidate turns the job down, the next candidate will still feel like they’re first choice.”

Hitchenor also questioned the timing of the appointment. With tension mounting ahead of the World Cup, why did the FA get embroiled in a high-profile recruitment campaign when it should have been getting behind the current manager, Sven-Goran Eriksson, to help him win the tournament?

“All businesses should avoid placing themselves under unnecessary pressure by rushing to appoint someone,” Hitchenor said. “Good timing is essential.”

The FA’s inability to cope with the media circus that surrounded the appointment concerned Mark Turner, managing director of headhunter Veredus.

He said the FA should have put more thought into managing the expectations of the press pack. “They should have given them a bit more information, such as what the interview process was and what candidates might be asked – too much of that was fuzzy,” he said.

Instead, with very few facts to go on, the media started trying to second-guess the FA, speculating wildly and hounding potential candidates.
And if the press were kept in the dark, so, it seems, were the candidates.

In any headhunting exercise, said Turner, it is vital that candidates are looked after. They should be kept informed about where they are in the process, what their chances are and when they might get a decision. “Instead, we got the impression they had no idea of where they stood,” he said.

Drawn-out affair

For Tom Hadley, director of external relations at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, a lot of this speculation could have been avoided if the whole process had been concluded more quickly.

“It was a long drawn-out affair that gave the impression that no-one was willing to be decisive,” he said.

All these off-target shots have damaged the reputation of the FA in the short term, according to Thomas Burke, head of consultancy at employer branding company, Dave.

“When an organisation is under the spotlight, such as when it is recruiting for a high-profile position, it needs to handle the situation well,” he said. “It was a chance for the brand to prove itself, and things didn’t go smoothly.”

But there is still hope for football’s leading body. Burke said the organisation must now get behind McClaren and ensure a consistent, positive message is pushed out.

“How McClaren acts in Germany supporting Eriksson, his choice of captain, and his results after the summer are all opportunities to rebuild the FA’s brand and justify its decision,” he said.

And, of course, if England wins the World Cup, everything will be forgotten.

For more on the recruitment of the England coach, see FA’s recruitment practices leave a lot to be desired

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