Talent Management - Lessons You Can Learn from Manchester United

Here I go again writing another article about football and Manchester United at that! It’s obviously been an interesting time at United over the last couple of months. Whilst I am sure that the football has been very entertaining (not necessarily for Man United fans), what’s really taken my interest is the gameplay off the field, particularly in terms of recruitment and talent management.

There is a great article by Forbes called 10 leadership lessons from Manchester United’s hiring and firing of David Moyes, which basically reads as a 'how NOT to hire and fire'. However, this was written before the new twist in the tale, that is Ryan Giggs appointment as temporary manager. So in Manchester United’s defence (this will go down well in the office), I wanted to highlight a couple of points where they may well have got it right.

Experience, Qualification or Personality?

Ryan Giggs obviously comes with years of Manchester United experience but he has been asked to manage the club with no formal management qualification or previous management experience. 

All too often too much emphasis is put on people having the right experience or qualifications. Of course, both are important and relevant to a role but they should not necessarily be the ‘be all and end all’. More importantly, great candidates should not be ruled out due to their lack of certain qualification or experience level. 

Man U are not alone in thinking management is about more than qualifications and experience. In a series of articles LinkedIn ran, called 'How I Hire', few business leaders seem to put much store by experience and qualifications. A number of those interviewed for the series, including Richard Branson, said that character, personality, adaptability and work ethic count for more. 

Talent Retention

Sir Alex Ferguson 27 years and Ryan Giggs 27 years are two well-known examples of staff retention, but this retention record is not just on the field and in the boardroom. Last year, in a game between Arsenal and Man United, halftime activities at Old Trafford were dedicated to 5 of Man U’s longest-serving employees, all of whom had more than 30 years’ service (some over 40 years). This included the Catering Supervisor, PA to Club Secretary, Player Liaison Manager, Senior Conference Manager and Receptionist.

Passion and loyalty go hand in hand with football, but when the club becomes an employer it has to deal with the same issues as any other employer. Obviously being a winning club with a world leading brand and plenty of money in the bank helps in terms of attraction, recruitment and reward. But as the appointment of Giggs and above example of recognition from Man United show, they appreciate and reward loyalty at all levels.

Talent Management & Succession Planning

What Man United are able to demonstrate by appointing Giggs as temporary manager is the importance that retention and talent management plays in succession planning.

It all started for Giggs at the age of 14 when he was signed to the club, but he was not the only long-term employee sat on the manager’s bench on Saturday. Alongside Giggs, we saw former players Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and behind the scene, Phil Neville was also in attendance.

All football clubs have great talent identification and attraction programmes that are vital to their future success. But rather than cash in on this talent later in the player's career, Manchester United have held on to the majority of their homegrown talent and now it’s paying dividends.


However, I have one word of caution in relation to Manchester United’s talent management programme. Sometimes you must bring new talent into an organisation – someone who can add new ideas and challenge current thinking. Having listened to the pundit's words of wisdom over the weekend, it does appear that Moyes was always going to face an uphill battle.

Culturally he didn’t fit with the winning mentality of the club, but this should have been picked up during the recruitment process, but quite frankly that’s an article in its own right.

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