A Performance Management Lesson from Neil Henry

After weeks of speculation, the result predicted on the back page of every newspaper finally happened: Neil Henry, coach of the Gold Coast Titans has been sacked because of “a range of issues”. While some of these issues “can’t be talked about” Jarryd Hayne, the Titan’s most expensive and, based on performance, overvalued player has been the “catalyst” that has led to the coach’s immediate departure. When the coach is allegedly not on speaking terms with your most expensive and underperforming player, you have a serious problem.

Outspoken, well-connected and under-performing team members are every manager’s nightmare. Dealing with such individuals is tough and can even be frightening in an age where reputations can be burned after a vicious tweet or post.

Social media does give us some insight into this particular feud.

In March after a poor result against a rival club, sports media unearthed information that Hayne had been fined for skipping a training session. Hayne took to Twitter to state his case:

“Loose lips sinks ships!”

“Was meant to be [a captain’s training session]. Captain said was ok 4me 2get treatment in syd! Coach found out and fined me. Media will milk it!!!!”

-Jarryd Hayne via Twitter


For those unfamiliar with ‘footy speak’, a “captain’s session” is training where the captain of the club makes the decisions on what the team works on. It is common practice for football teams to have these sessions, and are important for team building and cohesion.

Players who wish to miss training sessions, should speak to coaching staff, not their captain. Going behind Henry’s back and putting a captain in an awkward position is inappropriate behaviour. As is throwing an insult to your colleagues via Twitter. “Loose lips” name calling is certainly not behaviour conducive to strengthening the relationships with team mates, coaches or other staff at your club.

Hayne’s injury remains a mystery, as does the reason why he required treatment in Sydney rather than from the adequately qualified and experienced Titan’s staffers around him.

Hayne’s reputation as a team player took another beating after he chose not to turn up to support his team-mates at a game while injured, despite showing up on social media in a nearby location hanging out with people from a rival club. And now, at this latest press conference, Titan’s CEO Graham Annesley admitted it was Hayne’s revelation that he and the coach were “hardly speaking” that resulted in emergency board meetings and Henry’s eventual sacking.

Neil Henry was well liked by several senior players in the team who came out in support of their coach while media-fuelled speculation was rife. Annesley acknowledged this fact at yesterday’s press conference advising that “if it was a player driven outcome Neil would still be the coach.”

So what are the lessons we can all take from this unfortunate predicament?

First and foremost, ignoring an issue, or engaging in passive aggressive behaviour like the silent treatment is likely to put you on your manager’s radar as an under-performing manager. This means you are at equal odds of being sacked or performance managed as your under-performing team member.

Second, not dealing with a single poor performer can be extremely detrimental to your entire team. Prior performance in other positions or environments, support from other staff or team members counts for little if your team isn’t achieving your goals, right now, and you don’t have a plan to rectify any issues you are facing.

Third, I don’t know what is inside Hayne’s contract, but this incident drives home the critical need for performance measures to be agreed, documented and form part of any employment agreement. From a manager’s perspective, you want to be regularly measuring performance and giving feedback to team members against these metrics, or getting advice from your Human Resources department about revising metrics or engaging in performance management processes where necessary.

For the board to sack Hayne, it would cost 1.2 million that comes out of their salary cap. Henry’s salary is a mere $400,000 that comes out of administrative expenses. There is incentive for the board to try and find a coach to get value from the over-priced Hayne, rather than keep the coach that is failing to manage performance Hayne appropriately. Things might have gone differently for Henry if Hayne’s contract had a clause that annulled payout in the case of under-performance.

Finally, this saga demonstrates to me the importance of having well developed performance management processes and termination/separation processes in place. Neil Henry and several other coaches at Hayne’s previous club that called out Hayne’s poor performance/effort before quitting or being sacked should have had a range of performance management tools to manage Hayne’s casual attitude to team performance and effort.

Managing performance processes and termination/separation are essential skills for all HR professionals. For best-practice performance management training/assessment resources, please get in touch.

Co-authored with Andrea Stockton


Jarryd Hayne, the Donald Trump of the NRL, is already on a collision path with his own coach and club by Andrew Webster

Jarryd Hayne brushed fellow Gold Coast players in favour of spending time with old mates by Adrian Proszenko

Gold Coast Titans announce sacking of coach Neil Henry, reveal Jarryd Hayne’s role in next coach appointment by Simon Brunsdon


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