30 May 2012

Memo to the Melbourne Football Club: remember the basics of recruiting

Last weekend Melbourne Football Club, the oldest football club in Australia suffered its eighth straight loss in the 2012 AFL season, after losing to Carlton by 58 points. Melbourne now sits firmly at the bottom of the AFL ladder, below the two most recent expansion clubs, the Gold Coast Suns (second season in the AFL) and the Greater Western Sydney Giants (first season in the AFL). 

Melbourne’s previous senior coach, Dean Bailey, was sacked in late 2011 following his team’s disastrous 186 point capitulation to ultimate premiers, Geelong. New coach, Mark Neeld, after a number of years as an assistant coach at powerhouse club, Collingwood, was chosen as Bailey’s successor.  

After Melbourne’s loss in the seventh round, a 101 point belting at the hands of the Sydney Swans, Chief Football Writer for The Age, Caroline Wilson wrote a fascinating article about the recruitment process used by Melbourne to secure Neeld. 

Among other things, Wilson’s article pointed out that
  • Melbourne CEO, Cameron Schwab admitted that the panel’s interview process was about avoiding long PowerPoint presentations and instead focused on each candidate answering the following four questions:
‘Where do you think the game is going?’
‘How would you handle his trend as the coach of our club?’
‘How would you balance the immediate and the future needs of the club in building our club’s competiveness?’
‘How would you implement your standards and values?’
  • No objective profiling or assessment tools were used to aid the selection panel’s decision making process.
  • Neeld was offered the senior coaching position just three days after his first full interview (in the face of perceived competition from the other two clubs interviewing for new senior coaches at the time, Adelaide and the Western Bulldogs). 

Now Mark Neeld may well turn out to be a premiership winning coach for the Demons but right at the moment, his team is winless and languishing in 18th place after, under now-sacked coach, Dean Bailey, finishing the 2011 season in 13th place with a total of 8 wins. 

Not knowing much about coaching football or how the other candidates for the job performed, I’m not in any position to know whether Neeld was the right choice for the Demons senior coaching role, but I can provide some informed commentary on the methods used to make the final decision to appoint him. 

Observation #1: Using validated profiling or assessments is a smart way to greatly increase your chances of making the best hiring decision 

It’s all well and good to say that Mark Neeld was an experienced coach. Yes, he has been coaching for 15 years and, yes, he has spent the last four seasons under the wing of legendary AFL coach, Mick Malthouse. 

BUT he has not coached a senior AFL team before. In other words he was being assessed for a job that he has never done. Being an assistant coach at an AFL club is a great apprenticeship for a senior job but it is a completely different job with respect to dealing with the media, the supporters, the players and the club’s board and executive officers. 

Mark Neeld’s coaching skills can be accurately assessed from taking references from appropriate people (eg Mick Malthouse) but his skills in dealing with all the other stakeholders mentioned above can only be guessed at by an interviewing panel. The best way to gain an understanding of how Mark Neeld is most likely to deal with these stakeholders, especially under pressure, is to conduct a validated and independent psychological assessment. 

Observation #2: Asking subjective interview questions only helps you understand a candidate’s knowledge, not their competence 

The four primary questions, as detailed by CEO Cameron Schwab, above, are all questions asking for opinions. Opinions are collected by interviewers when they ask theoretical questions. Theoretical questions don’t help interviewers assess the competence of the candidate, only the candidate’s knowledge. 

Here’s how I would suggest rephrasing those four questions in order to gain some understanding of Mark Neeld’s competence, rather than his knowledge: 

NOT: ‘Where do you think the game is going? And ‘How would you handle his trend as the coach of our club?’’

Instead: ‘Could you give me an example of what steps you have previously undertaken to gain an understanding of the trends of the game at an elite level and how this understanding has influenced your coaching during the most recent season?  

NOT: ‘How would you balance the immediate and the future needs of the club in building our club’s competiveness?’

Instead ‘Could you give me an example of where you have previously needed to make decisions concerning the current and future needs of a football team? How did you go about making that decision? What was the outcome? What did you learn from that process?’ 

NOT: ‘How would you implement your standards and values?’

Instead Could you give me an example of where you have previously needed to implement your standards and values within a team? What were the most difficult aspects of that process? What were the results? What did you learn from that process?’ 

Observation #3: Don’t let the actions of your competitors, perceived or real actions, force you into taking short cuts in your hiring process 

There is no such thing as an infallible recruitment process. It’s impossible to have such a process when you are dealing with human beings.  

However, you can undertake a number of steps that dramatically increase your chances of hiring the best person for the job and avoiding hiring the person who ‘interviews well’ but doesn’t have the motivation or capability to fulfill the critical requirements of the job. 

With two certain losses to come in the next two rounds (R9 Essendon, currently 2nd on the ladder, and R10 Collingwood, currently 4th), it looks like the Board of the Melbourne Football Club will be under enormous pressure to act if Mark Neeld doesn’t coach the Demons to a win at home against the newcomers, Greater Western Sydney in round 13 on Sunday 24 June. 

When your ‘performance at work’ is watched by tens of thousands of live and TV viewers every week and the scoreboard at the end of each match clearly delivers a clear verdict on your organisation’s short term ‘productivity’, the shortcomings of your recruitment decisions are very painfully public. 

If you don’t get your recruitment right, everything you are committed to achieving as a organisation becomes very tough indeed. 

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