Hasn't it been an interesting month or two in Australian sports?! First we had the Captain, Deputy Captain and a player for the Australian Cricket Team admitting to ball tampering, and then the backlash surrounding comments made on social media by Israel Folau.
Whilst I'm no sports expert - I have found the responses of the respective organisations, Cricket Australia and Rugby Australia fascinating from a culture perspective. There are plenty of lessons in there for business leaders!
Whether you have explicitly defined them or not, all organisations have values. And culture is the behavioural expression of those values. I'm curious about what leads a couple of the worlds best cricketers to cheat. Even if the leadership of the organisation was not aware of the decisions made on the pitch, what is the tone that they have set that lead the players to that course of action? How has Cricket Australia's leadership enabled that behaviour? I wonder how tolerant Cricket Australia is of losing? It's not that great of a leap between pushing for competitiveness and win win win, and a player interpreting that as "win at all costs". While the leadership of Cricket Australia might not have said its okay to ball tamper, what might the players have believed the consequences of loosing to be?
At the time, I felt the CEO of Cricket Australia was slow to respond. Their captain had fronted up to a press conference and admitted to cheating, and yet it took several days to decide even to travel to South Africa. At the time I felt they ought to have immediately suspended the players who admitted their part while they investigated further. In leadership what we walk passed we condone. There was a real risk they were reinforcing the view the Captain seemed to express in the first post match press conference, that the incident was something to be played down. In the end however, Cricket Australia stood up to the "moment of truth" and made a tough decision to stand down for 12 months their Captain and Vice Captain, two of their best players.
In contrast, Rugby Australia appear to have fallen into the trap of valuing the skill of a player over the culture of the organisation. It’s tough when we are talking about a values disconnect or behaviour that doesn’t align, let alone when it is one of our highest performers or a key leader. Yet the reality is team members acknowledged as high performers have a huge impact on the culture of the organisation. How we deal with situations like this speaks volumes. When what a key person says is out of step with what the organisation has espoused it values to be, everyone in the organisation is looking. It's not what you say in the media that matters; it's what you do, or don't do that matters. What you do or don't do sends a message loud and clear about what the organisation really values. In this instance it would appear to be individual brilliance over diversity and inclusion. What is the right decision for Ruby Australia? Only time will tell. What their leadership shouldn't be surprised by though, is when someone in the organisation actively behaves in a way that excludes groups or individuals; because their decision about Israel Folau has set the tone for what is acceptable.
In my experience, if you decide to value the skills of a key player above culture, all you do is undermine what you are trying to achieve in your organisation. You lose all credibility. You have claimed we value one thing, and yet your behaviour bears out that is simply not true. It's not only what we reward and highlight, but what we choose not to call out or take a stand on that matters in leadership. Inaction is a choice, and leadership is about playing the long game not the short game.
I've been in the position of having to let go one of the best performers in the organisation on a couple of occasions. It sure isn't easy, and whilst it does have an impact on your performance in the short-term, in the long run it strengthens your organisation. If you are on the journey of transforming the culture in your organisation, it can also be a critical moment of truth that allows people to see that your direction of travel is real, and you're prepared to make tough decisions to support it. I've also been in a position where we chose to allow someone to stay. The long-term implications of that decision were far worse than the short-term impact of them leaving.