Performance Management of a Football Manager

PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT OF A FOOTBALL MANAGER 

Nick considers the dismissal of football managers in the Premiership this season. The majority of dismissals are due to poor results and, therefore, the poor performance of the manager. Due to the value of manager’s contracts, unfair dismissal is not a big concern. However, Nick runs through how you would conduct a performance management process with a football manager.

 

We are coming to the end of another season. Whilst my main football interests are currently in the National League (specifically Wrexham and my hopes of them getting promoted back to the Football League), I imagine that there are fewer readers of this blog who have the same interests. In the Premier League, as is often the case at this time of year, a number of managers have lost their jobs as club owners and directors try to ensure survival and the revenue that comes with being a Premier League club. We have said goodbye to Jose, Claudio, Claude, Mark, Slavisa and David already this year. I had to look that up!

Unfair dismissal

In a normal role, once an employee has service of over 2 years (there are some circumstances where a claim can be brought before 2 years) they have the right to bring a claim for unfair dismissal. Therefore, when dismissing an employee due to issues with their performance, it is important that the dismissal is fair. This would include ensuring that a fair process was followed.

Football management is not like a “normal” job. If a football manager has service beyond 2 years (which is rare these days), a football club is often not concerned about an unfair dismissal claim.

Unfair dismissal claims are capped at the lower of one year’s gross pay or £83,682 (18/19)/£86,444 (19/20). For a football manager earning millions per season, this is a relatively small sum and a low risk. The bigger concern to a football club is the contractual terms including notice (if applicable) or the amount the remainder of the contract is worth. How much it costs to end a contract early will likely depend on the bargaining power of the manager during the initial negotiations and how readily employable the dismissed manager is. Further, privacy is important to clubs and managers and it is likely that an agreement would be reached without the need for a very public hearing.

However, for the purposes of this blog, let’s pretend that unfair dismissal is a risk that concerns Premiership football clubs. If a manager was performing poorly and the club wanted to either improve the performance, or exit the manager from the club, what would they need to do?

Unfair dismissal and capability

There are five potentially fair reasons for dismissal which includes conduct and redundancy. Capability is also a potentially fair reason to dismiss someone. Capability refers to skill, aptitude, health or any other physical or mental quality. It is capability that could be the fair reason to dismiss an employee with whom there have been performance concerns. In addition to having a fair reason, it is also important that a fair process is followed.

Informal action for poor performance

A few losses in a row (and a draw with a League Two club in the cup), a photo of a player leaving a nightclub at 3 a.m. with a cigarette in his mouth and some strange comments at the manager’s press conference. Things might have been going ok but these are signs that some things are going wrong. It is a results business so poor results are one concern to be addressed. The manager is also responsible for the players staying in-line so the star midfielder being seen outside a nightclub with a cigarette doesn’t look good and shows a lack of “management”. The manager is also the face of the club and the main contact for the media so the message from the manager needs to be consistent with the club’s message. The club is still in a good league position but it is important that the decline is stopped early.

Initial and early performance concerns can often be dealt with informally either through an informal supervision meeting or during the appraisal process (which depends on timing). It is important during these meetings that the manager is made aware of the performance expectations and how and where they can improve. During this process, it is possible that training or support may be organised to ensure that the targets can be met. The manager would be made aware that a failure to improve may result in the commencement of formal performance management.

The use of the informal process can ensure that issues are resolved early whilst maintaining good relationships which can be difficult when dealing with it formally.

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Formal performance management action

Results are still in decline, the club is unlikely to make the top 4 this year (or worse, the club are just above the relegation places); the informal approach has not worked.

The club should have a performance management procedure in place which should be available for employees in the employee handbook. This policy should be fair and transparent and aimed at obtaining improved performance rather than simply being a process to dismiss someone. However, should the process not result in satisfactory improvement, dismissal will be the likely outcome.

The first stage of the formal process will include the implementation of a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). The PIP will include set targets in the specific areas where improvement is required. That may include certain results or a points target for the managers or it may be a certain league position.

The PIP will also set timescales for the improvement to be achieved in. These need to be realistic with a timescale that allows the manager to improve his performance. A week would not be realistic or fair to see improvements.

Measures should also be taken, and included in the PIP, to support the manager in improving their performance. These measures may include training (an FA course on cone drills), additional supervisions (with the Chairman to talk through performance), the reallocation of other duties (perhaps to a Director of Football), or the provision of additional support from colleagues (maybe the coaching staff could take certain training sessions to allow the manager to focus on tactics).

As part of the PIP, regular feedback should be given to the manager to see if they are on track to meet the targets set in the PIP in the timescales given.

Dismissal for poor performance

During the formal performance management process, the manager will receive formal warnings up to and including a final warning if his performance falls below targets set in the PIP. These warnings will only be given after formal meetings are held. The manager should be invited to these meetings in writing, in advance. The manager should also be given the right to be accompanied by a colleague or a trade union official.

If the targets set after the final warning is given are still not met, the next formal step is the dismissal stage. The manager should again be invited to a formal meeting and given the opportunity to give their views on their performance. The club needs to consider whether the targets have been met and whether there is an alternative to dismissal (such as an extended final warning or transfer to a position within their capability – maybe the assistant manager position).

To reach the stage of dismissal, the club would need to show that the manager understood the issues and had been given sufficient time to improve. It is also important that the manager is provided with help and support needed and that, at the end, alternatives are considered to dismissal.

Appeal against a performance dismissal

Should the manager be dismissed, he should be given the right of appeal (as he would after the warning stages too). This is something that may delay the press conference on his dismissal (as you would not want the appeal to look pre-determined). Imagine the press speculation where the manager is not in the dugout but no announcement has been made.

It is unlikely that a Premiership football manager is ever going to be taken through a formal performance management process to dismissal. However, in the real world, the above steps are important to ensure that any dismissal for poor performance is fair and to avoid the risk of an unfair dismissal claim.

Nick

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