The role of a High Performance Manager. A case for Job Analysis.
With Cricket Australia’s (CA) High Performance Manager (HPM) role now vacant, there has been much media speculation about who should move into the role permanently. Within Cricket Australia, instead of asking WHO might fill the role they are most likely revisiting WHAT the High Performance Manager’s role actually is.
Within a sporting organisation, the role of High Performance Manager is one of the most critical. At the same time, it is perhaps one of the least understood, especially by those outside of the organisation.
For any role, achieving clarity around what the role is, and the key results it should generate, is a critical step that should occur well before the search for candidates. This requires a thorough Job Analysis which explores questions such as;
- What is the purpose of the role?
- What is this role accountable for and what does success look like?
- Who are the key stakeholders / clients that this role services?
- What skills and knowledge are necessary to do this role well?
- Are results delivered through others?
- Which relationships are critical to the success of this role? and
- How will the role maintain alignment with the organisation’s broader strategy?
Within the Football codes, the title of High Performance Manager is often held by the senior Strength and Conditioning practitioner. It is arguable that in some cases, a more accurate description of the role would be Head of Physical Preparation. The argument being that the focus of the role is oversight of the athletes loads and the physical preparation of athletes. This includes having significant input into the duration and form of game based training sessions for the purposes of reducing the risk of fatigue and injury.
While physical conditioning is fundamental to High Performance, if you believe that High Performance equates to an athlete consistently performing at, or near, his or her potential, then High Performance is the product all facets of the athlete program that contribute to performance. Beyond physical preparation this includes skills training, game simulation sessions, medical services and well-being services. What the athlete must manage, somewhat independently, is how their life away from training impacts performance.
In terms of accountability for performance, be it high or otherwise, it is typically the Senior Coach who most acutely bears the consequences of performance. However, while the Senior Coach sets performance expectations that should influence all elements of the program, it is unrealistic to ask the Senior Coach to monitor, assess and manage each program element. First, their expertise is their knowledge of the game rather than conditioning, rehabilitation etc., and second, their core role is to coach individual athletes and the team.
To ensure there is an integrated training program conducive to High Performance, sports organisations employ a High Performance Manager or, in some cases, a Football / Program Director. This role takes a big picture view of the total program and works to ensure that the activities each training area delivers is completely ALIGNED to the goals of the overall program. This alignment is critical as high performance comes from the multiplier effect that a truly integrated program produces. The analogy of a finely tuned racing car is relevant. If one component of the machinery is not working effectively, the car may continue to run, but will not achieve its ultimate performance potential.
Within such a structures, the High Performance Manager is not delivering the actual training programs. They will use their expertise to influence the program and measure and assess the outputs while delegating the delivery to the various program leaders. They in turn report to the Senior Coach or General Manager, or the combination of the two.
Such a structure is relatively contained within a Club setting. However, in a National Sports program such as Cricket Australia’s, it may well be that the role of the High Performance Manager is at the very least a peer of, if not senior to the National coach.
High Performance Managers of National Sporting Organisations straddle a very broad and widely dispersed collection of service providers and will be working to ensure there is an alignment to the philosophies or principles that form the foundations of the programs at the Senior level and through the elite talent pathways.
The skill set of those who hold a Program Director /High Performance role will vary across organisations but typically it will be a mix of the following.
- A high level of expertise in at least one of the performance disciplines (e.g. The skills of the sport, Exercise Science, Performance Psychology, Medical, Rehabilitation)
- A very good understanding of the other performance disciplines, generally gained through working in a variety of athlete programs and/or further education
- The ability to influence and manage others
The sports scientist who has expertise and experience across a range of disciplines, or an experienced coach who has integrated and synthesised information from these areas over a long career is well placed. An administrator who has experienced a variety of performance programs and is experienced in synthesising information and managing people may also be well credentialed. Those who understand both the ‘Art’ and the ‘Science’ of Performance, and can step back and coach and guide the specialists who deal directly with the athlete are well placed to do well in the role. It is however an area where a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, thus the importance of being willing to delegate and being open to challenge.
In summary, the Head of High Performance role is a complex one and defining the role and qualities needed accurately is critical to a successful hire. The Job Analysis process significantly assists in identifying and hiring the right talent. Unfortunately, organisations do not always have the resources, time or subject matter expertise needed to build a position description that is more than just a further iteration of the previous role.
If your organisation would like to get great clarity around a critical role, BKD Sports Leaders is available at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss whether outsourcing the Job Analysis process is appropriate for the position you are filling.
Rob is a seasoned Executive in both the Sports and Management Consulting sectors. Past roles within sport include General Manager of Football at Essendon Football Club and CEO of the AFL Players Association.