Heera Training & Management Consultants

eNewsletter November 2007

Dear Everyone,
Hi! And how are you all? October was a quiet month from a training perspective but busy from a social/sports perspective. From the social perspective, I had a really great time during the Hari Raya holidays, visiting all my Muslim friends and tucking in at all the ‘open houses’ especially the kuah kacang, nasi impit, lemang and the inevitable rendang. I most certainly have put on at least 2 kilograms in terms of weight. From a sports perspective, I had some really late nights watching matches from the rugby world cup and also the European football championship qualifying matches, in particular the England/Russia game, which England sadly lost.   

And this is what I would like to talk to you about i.e. the differences in culture and philosophy between football and rugby currently and how it relates to corporate organizations. 

One of the things that fascinated me about the rugby world cup is that I was so thankful that the game continues to be played by ‘gentlemen’ (rugby is sometimes defined as a ruffians game played by gentlemen). What I mean is that although rugby is an aggressive game, the players in the world cup still showed respect for each other, the referee and played in the ‘spirit of the game’. Win or lose, they were clear that the game was bigger than any team or individual. There were very few unpleasant events and generally, the whole tournament was distinguished for its fair play and its share of exciting games especially in the quarter finals. Football on the other hand has sadly gone astray. In any of the high profile football games today players will usually indulge in the following unsavory activities:

a.    ‘Dive’, to get a foul especially in the opponent’s penalty box.
b.   Feign injury at the slightest touch by rolling over a few times on the pitch as if they were hit by a train. I have yet to see a rugby player do this even after being rammed aggressively by two or more players.
c.    Argue unnecessarily and provocatively with the referee when the decision goes against their team.
d.   Provoking opponents verbally and through malicious actions into doing something reckless so that they will be sent off.

It is really sad as these ungentlemanly acts spoil the ‘beautiful game’ of football.  Worse still it is now accepted as ‘part of the game’. Looking back at videos of the great football games before the 80’s, I can’t see any of these activities being carried out. So why is it like this today?

The reason I believe is that these unsavory activities ‘crept’ slowly into the game and the people in charge i.e. in football’s highest governing bodies tolerated and hence never did anything about it. Now sadly, it has become part of the culture of football. I would not be surprised in the least if the art of ‘diving’ is taught as part of the skills of football by coaches all over the world.   

Looking at this situation from a management perspective, this is also how ‘bad culture’ seeps into organizations. When wrong behaviors and activities are practiced, they usually do not happen all at once. They start slowly. The point is that if they are not ‘nipped in the bud’ they then become part of the culture. And as we know, once a behavior or activity becomes embedded in organizational culture, it is very, very difficult to change it. For example, in a large corporate organization that I know, they pay approximately 40% of total salary costs in overtime every month. Everyone in management knows that this is way too much, and that a considerable portion of this amount is ‘unnecessary overtime’. The problem however is that it is so deeply embedded in the organizational couture that any attempt to bring this figure down is met with very strong opposition, inclusive threats of violence by lower level staff who are benefiting from this practice. 

The main point being made here is that leaders in organizations must have the moral courage to immediately stamp out any unsavory activities or behavior by practicing a ‘nipping in the bud’ principle. Tolerating and hence tacit approval will only serve to inculcate these negative behaviors and practices into the organizational culture to the long term detriment of the organization. As Tom Peters and Robert Waterman wrote in their classic book, ‘In Search of Excellence’, “one of the most distinguishable factors that differentiated the excellent companies from the others was the fact that they had excellent organizational cultures.”

Thank you very much for taking the time to read this. I really do hope that I have in a small way added to your management knowledge. Until my next newsletter, take care and I do hope you will all have a great month ahead.

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Heera Singh
Principal Consultant
HEERA Training and Management Consultancy
HP 0126083708