Friday, 29 May 2015

Are the Canadiens disadvantaged by the French-language requirement when hiring a head coach?

When posters say that the only reason the Canadiens hire a francophone coach, or sign Québécois players, is so that media types don’t have to go through the trouble of translating the interviews, it reveals a profound ignorance about how much of a barrier language is. They’re immersed in an anglophone culture, with Canada and the U.S. able to communicate freely. They don’t run up against the obstacles francophones do.

If anglophones want to know what Céline Dion or Claude Giroux think or say, they can hear it first-hand, because most media personalities from Québec learn to speak English. The reverse isn’t true. A kid from Sorel who speaks French can’t hear what 50 Cent or LeBron James has to say, he can’t communicate with him directly.

Anyone watching 24 CH gets a glimpse of this. When the team made a trip to Lac Mégantic, the players who got the most attention, and could share the most with the fans, were the francos, David Desharnais, Daniel Brière, Francis Bouillon. The coach, Michel Therrien, is seen in a ‘bain de foule’, signing autographs, comfortably exchanging with residents. There is a scene where Daniel Brière is speaking with workers and volunteers at the arena, and they’re explaining what happened during the tragedy, which areas were affected, etc. It’s a moment of humanity that happens because Daniel can speak with these guys directly, and which wouldn’t happen with Ryan White or Kyle Turris.

Another moment is when P.K. meets with the young boy who got hit by his errant shot a few weeks ago. P.K. goes the extra mile, calls the family, invites them to another game, and meets with them afterward. Now, P.K. has a million-watt personality, and tries to engage with the kids, who are agog at meeting their hero in the flesh, but unfortunately they don’t speak English, and the parents have to translate. It’s still a moment the kids will remember forever, but comparatively less special than it could have been had P.K. managed to learn to speak French, as Ken Dryden and Bob Gainey and Steve Shutt and Larry Robinson did, just enough to hold a basic conversation.

I met a few of the Expos as a kid, I was there with my Little League team, and we got autographs, but none of us spoke English, and none of the Expos spoke French, so it was all orchestrated by intermediaries, and was a little wooden and stilted. I loved the Expos, but the Canadiens, they were special to me, they were mine, I could identify with them a lot more.

So the difference between Ginette Reno and Kate Smith is that a kid from San Diego or Tallahassee can identify with and understand Philadelphia’s good-luck charm, but the kid from Sorel can’t. It’s goes beyond the ‘local singer’ angle.

It’s the ‘hiring a French coach is a problem, we should hire the best-qualified people’ meme that’s the red herring.

The policy has forced the Canadiens over the years to hire obviously unqualified candidates such as Pat Burns, Alain Vigneault, Claude Julien, and Michel Therrien, who were so far out of their element that they were fired, and quickly washed out of the league, never to re-appear. Right?

The idea that there’s a ‘best-qualified’ candidate that can be objectively determined, who will receive a determinate score of 98 during the hiring process, while all others score in the 70′s and 80′s, is a fallacy, and flies in the face of the realities of recruiting and people management.

Any candidate evaluation ventures into subjective parameters, it's an inexact science.  If it wasn't, no one would ever once hired ever be fired.  No draft picks would ever bust.

Thought experiment: is there a best-available candidate to manage a restaurant, objectively, or many that are suitable, with some strong on experience, some on youthful enthusiasm and fresh ideas, some on hitting the numbers, some on motivating and training and retaining staff? And then is it just a question of figuring out what your priorities are, and hiring the manager that will be the best fit?

What about if your restaurant is in Montréal or Toronto or Shanghai, is the objectively-best candidate one and the same? Do you tailor your choice based on your staff and clientele?

To reduce candidate selection to a simple math issue, to the concept that if there are more options you're bound to find the winning ticket, is naive, and ignores the practical realities recruiting and personnel departments face every day.

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