A breath of fresh air or just sweet FA?

Oct 09 2007 by Andy Hanselman Print This Article

If you have ever watched a British Premier League soccer match, you could hardly miss the barrage of backchat and haranguing that players direct towards the referee every time he makes a contentious decision.

So news that the Football Association, who run the game in England, has announced that only team captains can approach and speak to the referee struck me as a being a real breath of fresh air.

For many years now it has seemed that constant intimidation, abusive language and player petulance was in danger of ruining our 'beautiful game'. Somebody had to draw the line and do something to change the culture of the game.

FA chief executive Brian Barwick told BBC Radio: "It's not going to change the world but I am determined to make an impact - and I'll do it." It all sounded very encouraging.

But then I found out more. The rule will only apply at the grass roots level of the game, not to the millionaire stars watched by millions around the world.

England coach Steve McLaren backed the FA initiative. "If you do not have discipline you are not in control, if you are not in control it can cost you the game," he said. "In my opinion, this thing has to start at the bottom."

What rubbish. Change starts at the TOP.

Can you imagine if a company embarked on a change initiative to improve customer service levels like this? The announcement by the Chief Executive states that everyone in the organisation must pull together, focus on customers, go the extra mile, and create a wonderful experience for them. There'll be new policies, procedures, and incentives to show that we're really serious about this.

Oh, and by the way, when I mean 'everyone' I mean everyone except the senior executives and the top sales guys they can do what they want in fact, they've got free reign to abuse customers as much as they like.

Culture change is a serious business and anyone setting out to create a customer-focused culture has to have both backing and role model in the senior ranks. There are very few - if any - leaders who can get away with 'do what I say, not what I do'.

Culture change not only means walking the talk, but it often takes symbolic actions from senior people to reinforce the change. That means being visible and doing stuff that people notice. The MD who goes out of her way to be easily accessible when there's a customer problem. The sales director who takes time out to visit customers with the sales team. The senior managers who get back to the floor to see what sort of experience their customers are getting on a day to day basis.

Do your senior managers ever sit on reception or on the sales desk in the call centre, help out in despatch, or accompany the delivery drivers on a day out?

Do they talk about customers, not just sales targets? Are customers on the agenda of your team meetings and in-company communication? Do they listen to customer feedback both good and bad?

For example, I'm sure you have a customer complaints procedure, but do you have a customer praise procedure that carries as much weight?

I come across many companies where complaints are taken very seriously. Meetings are held, investigations are started, processes are audited and recriminations are made. But when a letter of praise comes in, it is just stuck on a notice board and forgotten.

Customer-focused businesses create customer champions and these take their lead from the leaders. Take a look at your organisation. Who and where are your role models?

If a picture is worth a thousand words, that means the leaders role is to paint and reinforce those pictures. They do this by their actions not their thoughts. It's not what your people see you doing that they take notice of, it's what they see you not doing too.

In the same way that young footballers watch and copy the Wayne Rooneys, John Terrys and Steven Gerrards of this world, so employees will copy the actions (and inactions) of their bosses.

You can put in place all the rules, policies and procedures that you want, but actions will always speak louder than words. If senior people ignore, or even worse blatantly flout those rules and procedures, do not be surprised if it becomes impossible to persuade others to make them stick.

more articles

About The Author

Andy Hanselman
Andy Hanselman

Andy Hanselman helps businesses and their people think in 3D. That means being Dramatically and Demonstrably Different. An expert on business competitiveness, he has spent well over 20 years researching, working with, and learning from, successful fast growth businesses. His latest book, The 7 Characteristics of 3D Businesses, reveals how businesses can get ahead, and stay ahead of their competitors.

Older Comments

Thanks Andy, i am grateful to see sports covered here not just as a reference for business but because sports is a business. No question that actions speak larger than words. And no question that there needs to be a much higher order of leadership on the field and off the field of any sport with few exceptions.

What i do question is that change starts at the top. It used to. When the top is so out of touch with middle and bottom, change will start where it can be implemented. After that one can only hope that the 'leadership at the top' knows what to follow. It is a start and many good things have happened from grass roots leadership. In government it is grass roots beaucrats that make things happen. Then when things get wobbly, senior bureacrats and politicians hammer on them for taking risk and in the same breath spend training dollars on leadership. Without some kind of risk taking, there is a lot of moaning and groaning about who should do what and not much done about anything.

Dawna Jones Vancouver, Canada

Good points Dawna. You're right, change can and should start anywhere, and your examples of grass roots politics are very valid. I guess that a key difference here is that the change that is being introduced by the 'powers that be' is being forced on the grass roots level and not at the 'top end'. The 'grass roots' are not driving this themselves as they might in politics. I still feel that it's 'do as I say, not as I do', and I'm not convinced it will work. Let's hope that the 'grass roots' do embrace it with a passion and drive it through Soccer at every level. If the FA have anything about them they will 'champion their champions', highlight any role models that emerge, and publically acknowledge and support those who make the change happen. Unfortunately their track record of 'leadership' is not a particularly good one.

Andy Hanselman