Four-Game Suspension…One-Million Dollar Fine…Two Draft Picks Lost. Did the NFL do the right thing with their response to Tom Brady and Deflategate? Some say they were too harsh and some say they didn’t go far enough. I don’t have the answer, but I do have a question that begs asking? Will the punishment change behavior?
You may be interested in this story because you love football and think Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback to live or because you despise Tom Brady and want this to be forever tied to his legacy. Or, like me, you are interested in how this defines an organization’s culture and drives employee’s (or player’s) behaviors.
The NFL is trying to balance a fine line as they want to show their fans (a.k.a. customers) that they are taking this issue seriously. But they also don’t want to lose one of the best players in the league for too long. Tom Brady means money and the NFL is a business just like Wal-Mart, Disney, or Apple.
Cheating is not new to sport, or business for that matter, as it has gone on since the first time two competitors went face to face. However, the stakes are higher now. As in billions of dollars higher. The NFL isn’t alone. Look at cycling.
The International Cycling Federation (UCI) has known for years that doping was prevalent in the sport. They are famous for ignoring it, banning riders for short timeframes, or shutting down a team only to have it start up under a different name the next season. Drugs are part of the cycling culture. While publicly the UCI has said drugs should not be part of the sport, their actions haven’t coincided with their words.
I don’t fully blame the athletes as they are rewarded for taking risks. Heck, Lance Armstrong isn’t sorry he used drugs. He’s sorry he got caught and has said it is “impossible to win the Tour de France without doping.” And, he’s probably right. Of the 21 riders who stood upon the podium during his 7 year reign (before it was erased), ALL have been accused of using drugs with two-thirds either admitting or testing positive for its use. This is a ‘systemic issue.’ If the cycling federations wanted to stop drug use, they would have had more harsh penalties and lifetime bans. But, Lance Armstrong was creating millions of dollars for cycling and sports-related companies. He is credited for the spike in bicycle sales throughout the 1990’s. No sponsor wanted to see him go down.
I’m sure your company has a ‘conduct policy’ or “value statement” that intends to drive a desired behavior. And most have “integrity” or some derivative of it in that statement. The NFL’s says all persons associated with the NFL are to avoid “conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the NFL.” It is hard to know exactly what that means until it is tested in different scenarios. Where does drug use fall? Petty theft? Hitting your spouse? Drunk driving? Videotaping your opponent? Culture is defined, in part, by how an organization responds to these issues.
Leaders set the culture by reinforcing desirable behavior and stopping undesirable behavior. They reinforce it through promotions, terminations, suspensions, reward systems, fines, responses during difficult times and every interaction with a customer, employer or stakeholder. While fancy posters and laminated cards are pretty and value statements and conduct codes are nice, they don’t change behavior. Just look at Enron which had “Respect” and “Integrity” on their posters. If you have systemic bad behavior, look at the leadership or system that rewards or ignores that behavior. Then, change it.
When the cost for deceit is greater than its reward, the behavior will decrease. This issue isn’t isolated to sport. It happens in business every day but often in a less public forum. I’m sure you have seen, or heard of that top sales manager doing something grossly inappropriate at the Annual Sales President’s Club that would have gotten other people fired. Are they treated differently because of the millions of dollars they bring into the company? Would the NFL have taken a more serious position if this was a 7th round draft pick in his first year who kept the bench warm most of the season? Only the NFL Commissioner knows the answer.
So the question becomes, will a four-game suspension, one million-dollar fine, and two draft choice reduction change behavior? If the answer is YES, then it was likely the right amount — or a start. If the answer is NO, then it wasn’t. Or it wasn’t enough to create a culture consistent with their words. This all assumes the NFL is serious about building a culture consistent with their words.
What do you think?