When do you choose the super performer over the team?

Written by Jim Walsh

Deciding on whether the super performer or the team is the most important to the organisation is a decision that many managers have to face whether in sport or business. It is not always a simple choice.

But it rarely hits the headlines in the way that the resignation of Billy Walsh (no relation), Head Coach of the Irish Boxing High Performance Unit has. His move to the US Women’s Boxing Association dominated Irish sports pages, and some front pages, all of last week.

You would need to be an insider to understand the relationship, which existed between Billy Walsh and his employer, the Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA), over a number of years, to assess what was really at the root of his decision to leave.

He says that he didn’t want to leave even though he had been offered ‘crazy money’. The IABA says that it didn’t want him to go. But go he did after eight months of negotiations. The situation was further complicated by the involvement of Sports Ireland who provides much of the funding to IABA.

Whatever did or did not happen or what was said or not said during negotiations, three things are obvious from the saga. They are: the difficulty in mixing an amateur and a professional ethos; the internal strains when one person becomes synonymous with the success of the business or part of it and finally the importance of trust in any business relationship.

The strain between the amateur and professional approach has nothing to do with the individual competencies. It is about the relationships. Billy Walsh was head coach of a High Performance Unit.  A unit well funded by the Irish Sports Council and highly successful in winning medals on the international stage. On the other hand he was an employee of the IABA, who equally attributed the success of the High performance boxers to the stream of young boxers coming through a well-established structure of local clubs, as well as the group of coaches who were involved with Billy Walsh in the High Performance Unit.

Many organisations, sporting and otherwise, often face similar dilemmas. For example in sales, the way a company deals with a super salesperson, who is headhunted, can be a challenge. If these super performers believe that they are vital to the organisation or are irreplaceable and begin to make unreasonable demands, what does the organisation do?

I am not suggesting that this is the way Billy Walsh acted. It is clear that he was devoted to his sport and acted honourably.  But it is also clear that his role in the recent success of Irish boxers in international competitions was viewed more strongly outside the boxing fraternity than within. When his resignation was announced there were a significant number of voices from within the sport that commented on the positive role the High Performance Unit team of coaches played in this success. There is no doubt that Billy Walsh was seen as a great people manager and motivator. The question is how important was he in the overall team that brought success to Irish boxing?

It is a question many HR and business managers have to ask themselves when a key employee decides to leave. If there is no third party involved and the employee is leaving to develop their own career, then it is in everyone’s best interest to say goodbye reluctantly but amicably.

However as in the case of Billy Walsh, when more money, more benefits and it would appear greater status, is offered to a key member of your team, how far do you go to keep them?  And will the price, both in monetary terms and in fostering a strong team spirit, be worth it?

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