Friday, April 6, 2018

No Room to Field Bad Behaviour

This week we've seen it plastered across headline after headline. We've read the stories about Darren Lehmann claiming he had no idea what was going on and whilst I have to say I believe him (based primarily on his unprintable expletive-laden enquiry of Peter Handscomb when he saw the disturbing vision of Cam Bancroft) , this doesn't excuse him. We've seen Steve Smith authentically 'own' his error in judgment, take full responsibility as captain and apologise for his mistakes. We've seen Cricket Australia swiftly remind the senior coach that the ball tampering happened on his watch, run a speedy but seemingly adequate investigation and determine their version of the punishment that fits the crime.

So, what are some key learnings we can draw from the Australian Cricket Team scandal? We can determine a healthy culture from a potentially toxic one by three distinguishing features:

1. Whether or not any unethical behaviour is committed at all. Does someone do something in the organisation that others wouldn’t dream of doing in theirs? (Think allegedly widespread unethical loan practices in some major banks).

2. If someone does play up, is it 'called'? Does the organisation turn a blind eye to the behaviour, explain it away or unwittingly condone it through inaction? Are there situations where people are not able to speak up for the moral cause because it will immediately isolate them as "wooses", the vice police or worst of all, not "team players"?

3. Is what's committed ever 'consequenced'? We get the culture we deserve; we get the behaviour we are prepared to tolerate. Every example of unethical behaviour shapes culture. If enough people are condoning and enabling this within an organisation, we have a self-perpetuating system.

In view of the above, leaders need to learn quickly and with humility (particularly from mistakes - theirs or others’). They need to summon courage, glean the facts and circumstances, exhibit mental toughness or bounce back-ability and to quote my beloved "West Wing" enact the proportional response.

Leadership is like parenting. Others learn from us when we want them to. They learn from us when we don’t. People need to know what it is they are expected to do. They need a clear understanding of what the alternative way of ‘being’ actually is. And actions speak louder than words. One can say, ‘I care about the fairness of sport’ and/or 'I care about our brand'. But what are they doing about it? They can apologise for their actions but that doesn't erase the wrongdoing or explain the factors that gave rise to it in the first place? Of course, they might deeply regret what they've done and promise it will never happen again, but in a practical sense, what catalyses their next action and how do we ensure they don't regress in another high stakes moment? The Ashes against England? Reporting the company financials ahead of merger negotiations?

We are seeing more signs that high performing and professional sporting teams want to jealously guard good culture and continue to demonstrate they will not tolerate 'below the line' behaviour. They know that caring about the brand is more than on field performance. The clubs would no sooner want a pre-season sex scandal as dismal match day performance in the first three rounds. In fact, for brand impact, the scandal would be worse. Whatever the organisation’s code or set of trademark behaviours, their people need to ‘live by it’. Every organisation has their rainmaker, their number one sales person, their talented high profile star but what price is the organisation paying if it continues to tolerate or tacitly condone cheating, bullying, sexual harassment or any other form of counterproductive workplace behaviour? What message does it send to clients, suppliers, sponsors, members and “players” when the end justifies any means? As I said on radio last week, we can explain David Warner's seething rage over several weeks driving a desperation to beat South Africa and resulting in the collective ball brainfade of Smith, Warner and Bancroft. But if Warner wasn't encouraged as the resident team "attack dog", if Smith hadn't struggled to control his talented yet most maverick player, if the culture enveloping the team wasn't so "whatever it takes", I dare say all three players would be gearing up for a productive and lucrative cricket season in the IPL.

Whether it's sporting clubs, the boiler room, the boardroom or anything in-between, organisations need to create the optimal environment for success. It must know its enabling critical success factors and actively work to remove impediments to that success. Being clear, intentional and consistent about the vision and the expected behaviours to go with it are hallmarks of enlightened organisations serious about sustained success and 'premier' reputation.

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