The recent headlines regarding the National Football League’s handling of domestic abuse issues certainly create a visceral response in just about everybody. Emotion is front and center, whether in support of the victims or the players. After the emotion is set aside, we are faced with a variety of issues and nuanced arguments.
Many of these issues are consistent with those faced by business owners of all sizes every day. They include core values and the behaviors that support them; decision making and critical thinking; leadership and communication; protection of the brand and aligning brand with corporate culture; and juggling multiple agendas. They also include considering the needs of all stakeholders, both internal and external.
In an ideal business world, vision, mission, values, culture, brand, strategy and tactics are all aligned. All employees know what the company wants to achieve and they know how to go about doing it. They know there are consequences for actions, and they expect all to beheld accountable for their behaviors. There are few gray areas. Obviously, that is not the case in the NFL.
From watching and reading of all that has been going on, it appears that:
Everyone has rights. The victims have the rights afforded them by the law. The accused have rights. And the teams (i.e. the company) have rights. How can they all be jived? Where does fundamental fairness to all reside?
Under the law, defendants are innocent until proven guilty. But companies should be guided by more than just the law. There should be company policy that reflects the core values of the organization. If someone is accused of something that is felonious, how should the organization behave? It needs to show its stakeholders, both internal and external, its values and beliefs. The first action should be by the team and it should be based on company policy. That action should be clear and it should be quick.
In the case of football, the league also has disciplinary and regulatory power. The league should have its own code of conduct which comes into play as well. It may not always be exactly consistent with that of each team. Perhaps it should be stronger. And the commissioner should be vocal and should be a leader, stepping up and stating unequivocally what the decision is. Commissioner Goodell’s statement was unsatisfactory because, while he admitted making a mistake, he provided no information that could really be used to ascertain how the league had actually behaved.
All of the apologies seemed to be based on the fact that the press presented evidence of poor handling by the teams and the league. They were sorry they got caught, not sorry they had acted poorly. Nobody behaved well.
Organizations need to examine their core values and determine exactly what behaviors are acceptable and what are not. They need to consider how employees accused of crimes will be handled. And they need to consider the impact on other employees, customers, vendors, shareholders and the public. They must think about their culture and their brand and how their decisions impact the perception of both.
Issues such as this are complex ones for organizations, especially if they try to juggle the rights of all of the parties. They are made easier if there are strong policies based on clear core values. Zero tolerance policies carry teeth. And tough consequences.
Business owners need to stand up and show courage and integrity. It is part of being a great leader. It is part of setting a tone inside an organization. It is part of creating and building a powerful external brand.