How should we react when a team member suddenly steps out of line? Should we issue guidelines; or hold a team meeting; see the individual; or wait for an apology and an explanation? Last week Ashley Cole sent an angry tweet after he believed he had been unfairly criticised by the FA in their report of John Terry’s disciplinary hearing.
England’s top flight footballers will shortly be issued with a new code of conduct which will contain a list of do’s and don’ts including the 11th commandment: thou shalt not tweet (unless it has been cleared by the FA communications team or your club PR people or is so boring no one cares, presumably). The code of conduct, to be issued by the chairman himself, is designed to set three standards, first of general conduct, whether with England or not; second, conduct when the player is with England; third, how the FA will manage the process of breach or alleged breach. When I heard this several thoughts came to mind. If this is the first attempt to set out core standards, perhaps that may help to explain why some players have been so unboundaried up to now? If this is a set of amendments, including specific references to social media and verbal abuse, why is it necessary to explain to adults their responsibilities at work and as role models? And is it really the chairman’s job to undertake an executive function when he and the board are likely to be in a position to arbitrate or judge complex cases in the future?
Setting aside the argument that we are dealing with footballers, who are a unique species (so I’m told), requiring very clear and specific instructions about how to behave in every instance (although I am not sure Michael Owen would agree) what are the lessons we could draw from the FA’s approach that we would find useful in other settings? Perhaps consideration of ethics in the way we all approach our work is worth some reflection. The National Business Ethics Survey (2011) published in theUSAby the Ethics Resource Centre suggests that there is a link between increased use of social media and compromising of social ethics. It may be that the ease with which people now share information and thoughts without consequence has lowered the threshold for confidentiality breaches. Ashley Cole’s tweet was a good example of a breach of the FA’s own respect agenda.
Rather than setting out a piecemeal list of edicts, it is generally preferable to promote a positive ethos based on self discipline and peer regulation. The code of conduct should be the last resort. If a team member has such pride being part of the team/representing the country/contributing to success they won’t break ranks. Instead, there will a strong mechanism to deal with concerns behind closed doors. This level of self discipline was evident in Team Sky during the Tour de France when Mark Cavendish and Chris Froome sacrificed their ambitions for the greater team goal of delivering Bradley Wiggins to the winning line in the yellow jersey. Even when their partners tweeted, they remained stoically silent, and their spouses were quickly silenced too!
All teams need to know who is in charge. The chairman needs to be the final arbiter. The role of the chair and the board is to set the tone and the strategic direction, within which the chief executive and their team can operate. Independence from the detail of the operation, whilst knowing the business and its people, is a difficult balancing act but one which successful board members discharge very effectively. Those who do make an immeasurable difference to the performance of their organisation and are in great demand.
Ultimately, however, we should need the minimum of rules to abide by when we are being rewarded well for doing something we enjoy.