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Michael Slade

Bibby Consulting & Support

Managing Director

Read more about Michael Slade

Footballing lessons: Is anyone bigger than the company they work for?

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Debate-worthy issues between bosses and their employees don’t often turn up in the world of sport, but just recently there have been some fascinating headlines about the behaviour of football players and how the people they work for have dealt with it.

For example, there was the case of John Terry, who was stripped of his England captaincy – an action that was apparently carried out over the head of his immediate boss, team manager, Fabio Capello.
 
Unhappy at being by-passed, Capello made his feelings known – pointing out that the usual practice is to assume that people are innocent until proven otherwise – and promptly resigned.
 
You could say that he took this action in support of Terry or that it is as an example of an employee (Capello) deciding that the reputation of the England ‘brand’ had not been sufficiently damaged by allegations against Terry to warrant any action. Capello’s bosses clearly felt differently.
 
But the main football story to catch the eye recently was an episode between Premier League football players, Luis Suárez (Liverpool) and Patrice Evra (Manchester United). In case you don’t know the background, Suárez was banned for eight matches for making racist comments to Evra – seven times in one match, by all accounts.
 
After the ban was announced, Suárez said on Twitter that he was “disappointed because everything is not that it seems” and the claims against him were “completely and utterly false”. He announced that he would comply with the sanction, “but with the acquiescence of someone who has not done anything”.
 
On his return, Suárez is said to have agreed that he would shake Evra’s hand in the line-up before the game and that would be that. But when the time came, Suárez avoided the hand-shake and the furore began.
 
Damaging the company brand
 
Backing his player – although it was claimed later that he had been misled – Liverpool’s manager Kenny Dalglish said after the match that those who blamed Suárez for anything that had happened were “bang out of order”.
 
However, the actions on the pitch and the comments made after the game led to Liverpool’s owners and the club’s multi-million pound sponsor making public statements in a concerted effort to protect their brand.
 
Prior to those statements, the sponsor is said to have had a “very robust conversation” with the owners of Liverpool Football Club – which had forged close ties with such organisations as the anti-racism charity, the Anthony Walker Foundation – and demanded that action be taken.
 
Suárez issued an apology, saying he had let down the club “and what it stands for” (ie its reputation), while Dalglish said: “All of us have a responsibility to represent this club in a fit and proper manner and that applies equally to me.”
 
He got that right – all employees and associates have a responsibility to behave in such a way that does not bring their employer into disrepute or damage the company’s ‘brand’.
 
Whether they are John Terry, Fabio Capello, Luis Suárez or Kenny Dalglish, an employee will never be bigger than the organisation that they work for and should always do everything they can to protect the reputation of their employer.
 
In short, behaving appropriately at all times is an absolute must if someone values their career. Anyone who thinks otherwise is likely to pay the ultimate price.
 
So what can HR directors do here? Put simply, they need to have robust equality and diversity policies and disciplinary policies in place that make it clear to all staff that discrimination is unacceptable.
 
Crystal clear policies
 
All employees must also understand that any form of discriminatory behaviour will be considered gross misconduct. It should likewise be clear that workers can expect to be disciplined if they make any comments to other people, in public, using social media, to the press or elsewhere that could be deemed to have brought the name of the business or its reputation into disrepute.
 
Going back to the Suárez case, it wasn’t just that he was judged to have made comments that could damage his employer’s standing – he also compounded the issue enormously by apparently promising his employer to behave in an appropriate manner and then failing to do so.
 
It was this situation that caused the football club’s senior managers to take action, which resulted in Suárez and Dalglish issuing apologies. It is this situation that made it appear that the player – and, to some extent, it could be said the manager as well – felt the reputation of the company was not the most important issue here.
 
Finally, it is worth noting that a problem area for many businesses – something highlighted by these recent events – is the increased use of social networks by employees who express their opinions online.
 
Atlhough it could comprise a whole separate discussion, in summary it is worth pointing out that all companies should have comprehensive IT and social media policies in place so that every staff member knows the consequences of posting inappropriate comments online.
 
Of course, there is no guarantee that this will stop people expressing their views in a way that could reflect badly on the organisation that pays their wages. But if they are aware of the consequences of their actions and still carry them out, then the business knows what to do and the employee knows what to expect.
 
If the policy is crystal clear and the employee is fully aware of it, there can be no excuses.
 
 
Michael Slade is managing director of Bibby Consulting & Support. This article was first carried by our sister publication, www.Businesszone.co.uk.
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Michael Slade

Managing Director

Read more from Michael Slade
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