Rugby Coaches and Acting Positions: Three Questions 1


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?

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About Ian Webster

I have been running my own consultancy (Simply Communicate) for nearly five years – training and consulting in all things people management and development. Prior to that I was 16 years in corporate HR in a unionised environment becoming Training Manager and Human Resources Manager. Before that I was seven years in customer service, and 13 years an ordained minister. I have a Degree in Theology and a post-graduate diploma in Human Resources Management.


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One thought on “Rugby Coaches and Acting Positions: Three Questions

  • Hannes Nel

    In my opinion one should only appoint somebody in an acting position if the new “permanent” manager has already been identified but cannot fill the post yet, for example because she is on course. The acting manager should be told that this is the case in order not to create unrealistic expectations. If somebody is appointed in an acting capacity because top management is hoping for superman to appear or to save money by paying an acting manager less than the “real” one, then it is wrong.

    On the issue of Allister Coetzee – he has a good track record and with his assistant coach (Sticks) we might just see a fresh and exciting new approach to South African rugby. We should give them a fair chance to show what they can do.