case study

Changing Human Resources Management at Bolton Wanderers Football Club In 1999 Sam Allardyce was appointed as manager of Bolton Wanderers Football Club (BWFC). His strategic objective was a daunting one: to achieve promotion from the then First Division to the premier League and to stay there. However, the club was saddled with a heavy debt burden caused by the development of the Reebok, a new, state-of-the-art football stadium. Tight fiscal controls meant that they did not have ability to follow the dominant trend of paying huge sums to attract the best players to a relatively unfashionable club, so an alternate strategy was required in order to achieve their objective. By the 2004 – 5 season Bolton were not only enjoying their fourth consecutive season within the premiership but were playing in the UEFA cup, thus attaining their dream of ‘getting into Europe’. Key to their success was the operation of distinctively different strategy from that of their competitors concerning the management of people and how they invested in and maximized their potential (Gilmore and Gilson 2007). Whilst they still had to offer a pay and reward package to players and coaching staff that was not too far removed from the industry standard, these cost were some of the lowest in the premiership. A substantial investment was made in the operation of cutting-edge sports science: diet, fitness, coaching methods, the use of sports psychology, and the extensive use of performance measures. These allowed coaching and exercise staff to measure and assess every aspect of player performance, collectively and individually. To ensure the consistent stream of home-grown talent for use within the first team, or sale to other clubs, their scouting network and academy facilities were expanded so that recruitment could take place within an increasingly global talent pool as well as the local community. This means that a good percentage of first-team players came from the ranks of the academy programme. Although some of these techniques were also used in a few other Premier League clubs prior to Allardyce’s arrival, the level of investment in the area of sports science and its strategic use as a performance lever is still unparalleled within the football industry. This allowed the club to attract some outstanding players because they could rejuvenate and extend playing careers through the focused operation of these techniques. But, whilst they were concerned to ensure that those who work there in whatever capacity were made to feel part of Bolton ‘family’, lack of performance by staff or players resulted in termination of contract. The football department acknowledged the difficulties inherent in combining rest practice with ruthless approaches towards performance, but through their mantra of ‘first touch, last touch’ tried to ensure that departures from the organization were handled as sensitively as possible. The rationale for such an approach to exit strategies was not based simply on a belief in good people management, but acknowledged that good reports of experiences in a club were important when recruiting. But, in concluding this case, it is important to state that these strategies and practices developed within the football department occurred without reference to the club’s newly established HR function. Following Allardyce’s departure from the club in 2007, along with many of his backroom staff, it is interesting to speculate as to whether or not these initiatives have remained in place or were jettisoned by those who replaced him. 1. Human Resources Management is everyone’s business and not just the Human Resources Manager. Using this case argue why human resources should be devolved to the line managers. (15 Marks) 2. Examine one (1) human resource strategy that Sam Allardyce implemented in this case. Clearly identify the strategy, why you think it was implemented and indicate if you believe it was effective or not. (15 Marks)

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