Recruiting Leaders - Lessons from FIFA

4 June 2015

As an avid football supporter, all this scandal around Sepp Blatter and corruption is enough to make me pull my hair out. When Russia and Qatar were ‘awarded’ to be host nations for the next two World Cups, it’s fair to say that any suggestions that FIFA was riddled with a repugnant brown envelope culture were all but confirmed. The details will follow and I’m pretty sure that there will be some fairly shocking revelations to unfold but what next for FIFA and what lessons can organisations and businesses learn from all this scandal?

The FIFA brand has been damaged almost beyond repair and the organisation has a serious rebuilding job on its hands. The fact that Sepp Blatter was re-appointed as President in the election a few days before he was forced to resign highlights the fear factor that he had created, and also strongly suggests that changes are necessary throughout the organisation, not just at the very top.

So how did it come to this?

When I have worked on senior level appointments, part of my role is to delve deep into the ethos of an organisation to ensure that the search process is as accurate as possible in terms of finding candidates that ‘fit’ and who will make a positive contribution to the culture. As an organisation, FIFA has invested time and resources to compile a comprehensive set of Statutes, a Code of Ethics and a detailed Disciplinary Code that should serve to provide a robust level of governance. Having read through this, it’s clear to see that the principles of ‘good governance’, ‘transparency’, ‘inclusion’ and ‘zero tolerance of any wrongdoing’ have somehow been buried and weren’t aligned to its leadership. When there is disconnect between the principles of an organisation and the actions of its leadership, disaster is not too far around the corner.

FIFA makes bold statements around the role it plays in wider society and promotes principles of equality and inclusion but it only takes a couple of Sepp Blatter’s public statements to question whether these principles are worn on the sleeve of FIFA’s rank and file. When an organisations most senior figure behaves in a way that is contrary to its core principles, these behaviours will invariably filter through the rest of the organisation.

"He should say that this is a game. We are in a game, and at the end of the game, we shake hands, and this can happen, because we have worked so hard against racism and discrimination."
- Blatter making light of a player making racist comments during a match.

"Let the women play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball. They could, for example, have tighter shorts. Female players are pretty, if you excuse me for saying so, and they already have some different rules to men – such as playing with a lighter ball. That decision was taken to create a more female aesthetic, so why not do it in fashion?"
- Blatter’s advice on how to attract more followers to women's sports.

"I would say they should refrain from any sexual activities."
- Blatter advising how gay fans should behave during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, where homosexuality is banned.

Such statements have brought a wave of controversy to FIFA through his tenure but they do help to highlight the disconnect that exists between the leader of an organisation and the ‘intended’ ethos and principles that should influence the culture and behaviours of everyone within it.

FIFA now has a huge task to implement change and rebuild trust. The change will run through all levels of the organisation but clearly there will be a significant emphasis on having a leader who is more closely aligned to its principles and ethos.

The task of appointing the right leader for FIFA cannot be underestimated and indeed appointing a leader for any business or organisation is a hugely important process. So what do we have to look out for when hiring people into leadership positions?

Business author Jim Collins commented recently that, “the right employees for your organisation must be driven not by money but by your organisation's mission”. According to Forbes, 69% of US businesses reported to have been adversely affected by a bad hire in the last year, and the cost of this is often much beyond the investment in salary. Interestingly, a significant reason for the hire not working out has been proportioned to them not ‘fitting in’ to the culture and ethos of the business rather than being incompetent. Getting any new appointment right is important but clearly the senior level appointments have the potential to impact your business most and do require particular attention.

Much could be written about the positive aspects of FIFA and part of me is reluctant to jump on the bandwagon but it is such a good example of an organisation's failure to ensure that the recruitment process was geared towards aligning candidates with its core principles.

Some of the important steps to incorporate in any hiring exercise are:

1) Ensure that your organisation has clearly defined values, vision and goals. These should be communicated clearly to your employees and visible to the wider public.
2) Find out if your candidates are talented, growth-oriented and mission-driven. This should be evidenced by previous experience and achievements.
3) Interview candidates for their ability to meet the challenges specific to your organisation. This should be done through multiple forms of assessment such as competency based interview questions and psychometric profiles.
4) Assess who the best candidate is in terms of talent, motivations, ability and how closely they ‘fit’ into your organisation. This should be assessed throughout but can be supported by an assessed Presentation, detailed reference checks and even an offsite more social meeting prior to making an offer of employment.

There are plenty of examples where a leader has made a more positive impact in shaping the culture and behaviours of an organisation and I would be really interested in anyone reading this to share these examples. Maybe we can help FIFA find a future leader!


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