Rugby Coaches and Acting Positions: Three Questions

The ‘secret’ is out. Allister Coetzee has been appointed the new Springbok Rugby coach. Some say it is nine years late, and that he should have been given the job when the ‘poisoned chalice’ passed to the ‘quirky’ Pieter de Villiers.

In spite of the delay, Coetzee appears upbeat and ready for the challenges that lie ahead. And we wish him well.

But it strikes me that this type of delay is not unusual in business. We hear all too often of people acting in positions for many months and even years before a decision to appoint is made. And it is often not the person who was acting who is appointed.

Why do we fail to recognise how we demotivate some of our most dedicated employees? When an employee has been asked to act in a position it should be obvious that they, at least, will consider themselves to be in the front line for the permanent position. The employer may well know the employee’s shortcomings. While this employee can be trusted to keep the organisation, department or project going for a time, they will not grow the organisation or bring the fresh ideas and creativity or the strength of character that is needed. But the employee doesn’t see that. The employee sees the acting position as a sign of the employer’s confidence in their ability.

The very least the employer should do, when a decision is made, is to explain the decision to the employee. We want the employee to return to their previous position and give every support to the new incumbent. How can we expect such commitment when we have, apparently, treated them with such disdain. They are demotivated and disappointed. It is going to take time and much encouragement and motivation. This may not be a top performer, but they are among our most committed, loyal and hardworking employees. That is something we want to encourage. Thank them for their input, commitment and contribution; explain the situation to them; and encourage their development where possible.

Some who read this are probably wondering what all the fuss is about. Surely no one would ask someone to act in a position then demote them without communication and discussion. Sadly it happens all too often. Now you know why my people-management company is called Simply Communicate. Simple communication is what we find so difficult at all levels in all types of organisations.

Whenever an employment decision is made, be it a promotion or an appointment from outside, stop!

  • What are the implications of this appointment for the organisation, department or project?
  • Is there an individual or a group who might need special encouragement to settle quickly into the new dispensation?
  • Take the time to hold those difficult conversations. You will reap the rewards, and so will the new incumbent.

What are your thoughts?

Ian Webster

From Methodist minister to Customer Relations manager in a computer bureau to HR Manager in a newspaper printing and publishing company. Now focussing on training and developing people and HR & people-management consulting.

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