The NFL robbed the Green Bay Packers of a win this week. They did it in the name of money.
Commissioner Roger Goodell, acting on behalf of the owners of the 32 teams, allowed incompetent replacement referees to run the game, rather than paying a few dollars more to the league’s professional refs. For now, the Packers are the primary victims of the league’s misguided attempt at profit maximization. But if you listen to and read the thoughts from analysts and fans, even those of the Seahawks who benefited, it is apparent that they feel victimized by the NFL’s shortsightedness as well.
The reputation of the league has been severely damaged.
It did not have to be so. A couple of years ago, I did a compliance and reputation risk assessment for one of the few professional leagues that can be mentioned in the same breath as the NFL. Fun stuff. Here were the top three risks:
- Player behavior could jeopardize the brand of the league. This extended to behavior not related to an actual game.
- Actions by officials and others could damage the integrity of the game, particularly in perceptions of bias and gambling.
- The safety and security of fans and players.
For those of you who are ethics and compliance professionals, it is important to note that none of these are in the “standard” risk assessment templates that many organizations rely upon. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all risk assessment.
For the rest of us, it is the second risk that stands out. The league I worked for—with its emphatic recognition of the role of officials in maintaining the integrity of the game—would not risk damaging their reputation with third rate referees.
The lessons from the NFL fiasco, as it is now being called, go far beyond a poor understanding of risks. They go to the tragic flaw underlying most of our corporations.
In tragedies from the Greeks to Shakespeare one’s tragic flaw was the dark side of one’s defining attribute. In our age, the defining attribute of the corporation is the relentless drive to improve profitability.
Most of the time, this leads to tremendous innovation. But sometimes, usually when arrogance overcomes prudence, people and companies do stupid things in the name of profitability. They take shortcuts with quality. They provide underwhelming customer service. They forget that their right to do business as an ongoing enterprise depends on the trust of regulators, suppliers, customers and the public.
The NFL is facing such a moment now.
You don’t want your organization to be in the same situation. I have worked with many companies whose employees hide the logos on their briefcases following a breach of trust. Not good for anybody.
So I leave you with three questions to ask yourself to reduce the likelihood you will face an NFL fiasco moment:
- Do we have a true understanding of what our real compliance and reputational risks are?
- Do we include cultural risks—like arrogance, failure to listen, profit only orientation—in our analysis of and response to risks?
- Do we have executives who will raise hard truths—like “this may appear to be a profit maximizing move, but when you consider the long term implications for our brand…”
When it’s all about the money, even the money is lost.
About the Author
Steve Priest is an independent consultant who works with boards, senior leaders and ethics and compliance professionals to strengthen cultures of integrity. He is a renowned speaker and trainer, and has consulted in 49 countries with almost half of the Fortune 200. Steve can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about his work, visit Steve’s CCI author page.