The leadership of any organisation in sport, the arts or the corporate world must have a clear understanding of its values and standards, and be able to react to a breach straight away.
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You might be feeling there's been more than enough written about cricket’s recent Tampergate and you are probably right. Nevertheless, as someone who has thought and spoken a lot about Governance and Branding in my working life, I am bothered by the continuing focus on the sensationalist emotional dimension of the media conferences rather than where this story has actually gone. You might also wonder what sport has to do with the arts? Well, the same governance and branding issues apply in our sector as well, so there are lessons to be learnt.
Despite the surprise expressed in the media coverage, the coach, Darren Lehmann, had to resign. More than a line manager, his was the senior leadership role for the players – like a Director in a performing arts company, or indeed any other organisation. In such a senior role he should have had a strong influence over the players and his two key leaders. That would make him culpable for helping to create the environment in which this cheating seemed like a good idea, and that when caught, it didn't at first seem to the players involved like a big a deal. Alternatively, he had no influence over any of that at all. Either way, there's a failure of leadership similar to the Captain’s: the reason his position was untenable and he had to go. What’s interesting is that he didn’t realise this at first. Even more interesting is that Cricket Australia didn’t seem to realise it at all.
Cricket Australia is where the unresolved issues lie. Ultimately the CEO and the Board are responsible for the culture of any organisation. If that culture is not what is expected or acceptable, then they are at least as responsible for that failure as any perpetrators of the actions that reveal it. How a CEO and Board respond to that revelation and failure is key.
In this case what happened is startling to say the least. Their first response appears to have been to do nothing other than gauge the public mood – waiting to see what the damage to their brand might be. That’s the first mistake. The leadership of any organisation in sport, the arts or the corporate world must have a clear understanding of its values and standards, and be able to react to a breach straight away. From the outside at least, it appears it was only when James Sutherland and the Cricket Australia Board saw potentially catastrophic damage happening to their brand, they finally swung into action. And they swung hard.
To many, they have over-reacted on a massive scale. This wasn't a case of match fixing or performance enhancing drugs, which seems a better fit for the penalties handed out. Previous ball tamperers have not suffered this kind of reputational damage. From my recollection Mike Atherton retained his Captaincy and was fined less than AUD $4,000. Vernon Philander even less. Repeat offender Faf Du Plessis lost only his match fee on the second occasion he was caught. None of these men were suspended for a single game. Younis, Afridi and Tendulkar were suspended for their ball tampering offenses, but the previous maximum sentence was two matches. Tendulkar never served his, and his reputation remained unblemished by the incident. In fact, the only person to suffer significant loss of earnings and potential career reputational damage over ball tampering before now was umpire Darrel Hair, who was effectively hounded into retirement for daring to accuse Pakistan Captain Inzamam ul-Haq of ball tampering.
Let’s leave aside the details of the offense and the punishment. The real concerns and lessons lie in the apparently bizarre governance approach by Cricket Australia. Firstly, it would appear that once it decided to act, Cricket Australia seems to have neither a process nor system of penalties in place that it could refer to, and made it up on the fly. Secondly in the absence of a clear process, the Board itself has acted as a tribunal.
Once you have the Board convening to determine guilt and punishment, you have left the door open to the possibility that the wrongdoers become victims, having been denied natural justice. The Board has other motives in the matter, seeking to protect their brand and reputation of their organisation or product. A purpose-specific committee, or neutral agency, should have been put in place to at least recommend, if not determine, appropriate sanctions. In the normal course of a case like this, the players might expect to have the opportunity for legal representation or at least counsel, which they would appear to have been denied. They might have insisted on it had they known such steep penalties were being considered. Perhaps being advised (and perhaps wrongly) that preservation of the brand in the face of negative public opinion is paramount, Smith and Renshaw have accepted the verdict without challenge.
Cricket is a different game to most. Rules off the field operate differently to most as well. The stated values of cricket contrast greatly with what happens in football for instance, when someone manages to win a game with a handballed goal, or a dive to win an undeserved penalty. The attitude there is ‘you cheated and you got away with it. Losers can suck it up’. If you get caught, however, the approach followed is that the punishment is meted out within clear rules by the officials during the match and (except in the case of violent conduct and the like) that’s the end of the matter. Cricket has always had a different approach and that is fair enough. Any organisation is entitled to establish its own code of conduct with standards higher than the norm, and to expect those standards to be maintained. Cricket Australia also has the right to expect a higher standard than the game or the international governing bodies require.
This only works, however, if the code is clear and understood by all. It needs to be sufficiently detailed and robust to provide for a wide range of potential breaches, the process for dealing with them and the sanctions that would follow.
'Good people make mistakes,' said Steve Smith, and this was repeated in the media almost as a mantra. It may well prove to be the enduring association with this incident, but that idea is not reflected in the punishment given to the players. It is, however, reflected in the process. The CEO and Board of Cricket Australia have clearly made mistakes here. Are those mistakes going to be acknowledged and dealt with? Probably not, and it is likely that the organisation and its brand that will eventually suffer from that going forward.
So, what are the lessons Boards and Managers in the arts can take from this debacle?
- Ensure your code of conduct not only sets out organisational values and expectations of behaviour, but also describes clear and impartial processes for dealing with breaches, and what the consequences, sanctions or punishments would be;
- Ensure that everyone within your organisation understands the code of conduct and that it ‘lives’ rather than being a ‘sit on the shelf’ document that no one really owns, understands or remembers;
- Foster a culture that reflects that code of conduct in ‘how things are done’ in your organisation, which is not overpowered by the need to achieve results. A results focus is not a bad thing, but a results-driven culture is likely to become a ‘results at all costs’ culture. If that’s what you really want, then your code of conduct is going to be a very thin document;
- Be clear on what your culture is, how it embodies your values, and regularly assess if you are living it in all levels and aspects of your organisation. If not, plan how to improve;
- When things go wrong, fall back on your planned processes to ensure a calm and measured response, rather than respond to a crisis in a hasty or potentially over-zealous way;
- Recognise that your culture is, to a large extent, also your brand. How your organisation and your people behave shapes perception much more than any messaging or carefully crafted statements can do. Responding to threats against your brand should be driven by your culture, not by trying to redirect public opinion. Failure to do this will, in the long run, damage your brand more than the issues you were responding to;
- Ensure you respect the rights of your employees and volunteers even when they do they wrong thing; and,
- Acknowledge that any failings of culture, leadership and behaviour within an organisation can only happen when the Board and Senior Management fail to create, maintain and ‘live’ the culture and behaviours they expect.