Do we have anyone capable of doing the job?

Should the next England Manager be English?

Following the debacle surrounding the announcement that the FA’s preferred candidate for the England job was ‘Big Phil’ Scolari, Alistair Schofield considers the parallel decisions in business.

Luis Felipe Scolari unquestionably has an impressive CV.  In addition to a successful track record at club level, he led Brazil to World Cup victory in 2002 and led Portugal to the final of the European Championship in 2004.  So the debate that followed the announcement that he had been offered the England job had nothing to do with his credentials, but more to do with his nationality.

The question being asked is whether the Football Association should offer the job to a home-grown English manager in preference to such an international superstar.

With the average tenure of a chief executive in the UK now being around 3 years, the same question is one that is regularly faced by companies – whether to recruit externally or appoint from within?

On the face of it, the answer seems obvious – you should always give the job to the best candidate.  After all, what difference does a few million pounds make in salary and benefits for a proven leader to a company that may be turning over billions?  If the new CEO is able to increase profits by just a small percentage, then the costs of their wages will pale into insignificance.

On the other hand, the risks are also enormous.  A move in the wrong direction can wreak havoc.  Just look at the negative impact changes of management had on GEC Marconi or Cable and Wireless!

The problem is that although some form of succession planning is undertaken by most companies, in many cases it amounts to little more than a list of names on a piece of paper.

Luis Felipe Scolari

In my opinion, genuine succession planning is not only about ‘who’, but also about ‘what’. 

What are you doing to develop talent within the company, to create competition for vacancies and to prepare individuals for whatever challenges and openings might arise?

For this to be successful it requires organisations to develop the breadth of people’s talents as well as the depth.  For example, a chief executive will ideally possess a very broad range of knowledge and experience. They need to understand corporate governance, finance, the workings of the City, company law, the nature of competition in their line of business, the threats and opportunities presented by overseas markets, best practice as it relates to their own business sector and that of others, and so on.  How then will a home-grown manager, who is likely to have been with the same company for 25-30 years before rising to the level where they would be considered for the ‘top job’ ever gain this breadth of knowledge and experience? 

It is the same dilemma that faces the Football Association.  Scolari has worked at club as well as international level, has worked in different countries and across different continents and has led two national sides.  On the other hand, most of the other candidates that the FA appear to be considering for the England job have predominantly worked in the UK and have never led a national team.  There is therefore no question as to who is better qualified on paper to lead an England team in a World Cup.

So, if the FA is to develop world-class managers they need to encourage English club managers to gain experience working in other countries and to offer support to clubs and managers to enable them to do this.

The same applies to companies.  If they are to develop home-grown talent that is capable of ascending to the most senior positions, they need to take a far more radical approach to their development; incorporating international assignments, sabbaticals, teaming up with other organisations to offer secondment opportunities in other industries, to encourage wider networking, to use external mentors and so on.

Most importantly of all, they need to allow internal candidates to break through the ‘glass ceilings’ and take on some of the bigger jobs.  To back the enthusiasm of a ‘rising star’ over the experience of an ‘old hand’.

Although the ‘get-the-best-person-for-the-job’ approach frequently leads to an external appointment, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the less glamorous approach of developing talent internally can pay dividends.  In Jim Collins’ best selling book ‘Good to Great’, he identified 11 companies from the Fortune 500 that had outperformed the market by a factor of three or more over a 15 year period.  Of these, virtually all the CEO’s were home-grown, a factor that Collins identified as being significant in the company’s success.

Whether you are a company, a charity, a government department or the Football Association, succession planning and the development of internal talent is a high priority activity

Alistair Schofield is the Managing Director of Extensor Limited.