Category Archives: Organizational Management

Can The NFL Learn?

We’ve now reached the second month of the National Football League’s 2015-16 season in the United States. Are you curious about how Commissioner Roger Goodell’s embarrassingly flawed (and eventually overturned) suspension of superstar quarterback Tom Brady is affecting the popularity of the sport?

Surprisingly, not at all. The NFL’s television ratings remain at an all-time peak, and three different teams are clamoring for the opportunity to enter Los Angeles, the second largest city and business market in the United States.

But it would be a mistake to simply conclude that Goodell’s botched investigation and disciplinary action left no scars. The Commissioner continues to be excoriated for his mismanaged investigation of an on-field controversy that affected the outcome of a playoff game.

Interestingly, although all professional leagues face similar challenges, other sports have adopted far different operational strategies to address them. Last week, for instance, Major League Baseball investigated a controversially violent slide by a Los Angeles Dodger that badly injured an infielder of the New York Mets and led to a victory by the aggressor’s team.

MLB investigated the slide after the conclusion of the game and suspended the Dodger player. The Mets went on to win the series, and the brief controversy ended with no lingering criticism of the review process.

This outcome is particularly striking because, during the game, the baseball umpires initially determined that the Dodger had done nothing wrong. Thus, the MLB felt compelled to overturn the determination of its own on-field umpires. The NFL, in comparison, simply upheld the initial ruling of its on-field referees during the Brady investigation.

So how did MLB resolve its on-field controversy so quickly and so effectively? In comparison to the NFL, which permitted its own Brady investigation to linger for months and then to be overturned on an appeal in federal court?

The answers to these questions may reside in the individual who led the baseball investigation and announced its findings. Joe Torre, the Hall of Famer whose on-field career included eighteen years as an all-star player and an astounding thirty years as a championship manager, serves as MLB’s full time Executive Vice President for Baseball Operations.

In other words, MLB utilizes one of its most respected and experienced on-field veterans to handle investigations of player controversies. It relies on that veteran to function as the public face of the sport when it determines and then announces the punishments of active players.

The NFL, on the other hand, asks its Commissioner to perform those tasks. Its Commissioner, Roger Goodell, is a life-long businessman who has never worn a sports uniform as a player, as a manager, or as a coach at the professional or college level.

To be fair, a dearth of on-field experience certainly doesn’t disqualify one from exercising sound judgment during punitive deliberations. But it does tend to embolden and enable critics who will inevitably leap to excoriate one’s punitive decisions.

So can the NFL learn to operate more effectively by adopting the organizational structure of MLB? If the employment of an experienced sportsman can help preserve MLB’s credibility when it overturns the decisions of its own on-field umpires, it might likewise enhance the trust that the public places in the NFL when it undertakes similar deliberations.

Corporations Are People At Starbucks

Starbucks, the corporation, is still catching a fair amount of grief over its recently terminated Race Together campaign. Conceived in the aftermath of American racial strife in locations like Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York, the campaign encouraged Starbucks baristas to place Race Together stickers on paper coffee cups, and to write the slogan on various customer products.

Race Together? What does that mean? Well, according to CEO Howard Schultz, the corporation introduced that phrase because it wanted to make a public statement in support of racial diversity and equality. The campaign extended a number of internal human resource initiatives to promote dialogue that raises racial consciousness within the firm.

Perhaps predictably, the Race Together campaign drew a fair amount of ridicule from critics who asserted that corporations should refrain from engaging in the types of social conversations that human beings share with each other, and should focus instead on selling products and services to customers. But such critics may not have noticed the continuing evolution of the American corporation.

Starbucks, after all, has been engaging in discussions about social issues since its inception. Beginning in 1988, long before the Affordable Care Act required businesses to offer health insurance to full time employees, Starbucks has provided medical coverage to both part time and full time workers. And the firm has always conceptualized its coffee bars as a “third place” for social gatherings, joining the home and the work place.

More recently, the Supreme Court of the United States has declared that corporations like Hobby Lobby possess the human right of religious freedom, and organizations like Citizens United possess the individual right of free speech. That’s why, during a 2012 Presidential election campaign appearance, Republican candidate Mitt Romney famously exclaimed, “Corporations are people, my friend.”

Those court findings haven’t stopped cynics from making light of the Race Together campaign. And perhaps they have a point; after all, it’s possible that serious issues like racial strife cannot be effectively reduced to slogans on coffee cups.

Nevertheless, people who criticize firms for engaging in such discussions may wish to reconsider their presumptions about corporate behavior. After all, just as artificial robotic entities are increasingly engaging in human interactions, legal corporate entities are increasingly doing so as well.

UConn: Strength From Isolation?

What more can be said about the University of Connecticut’s magnificent run through the annual NCAA basketball championship series of the 21st century? Since the year 2000, the men’s and women’s teams have combined to win a total of ten national championships in fifteen years.

Many commentators have noted that UConn has sustained its track record of success in spite of the challenges of attracting star athletes to its isolated main campus in rural northeastern Connecticut. Even Hartford, the closest city, is approximately thirty miles away from the campus in the so-called “Quiet Corner” of the Nutmeg State.

But Malcolm Gladwell, the author of Outliers and David and Goliath, may have been on to something when he hypothesized that success is often a function of one’s environment, and that so-called “underdogs” can gain tremendous advantages from their disadvantages. It is indeed possible that UConn’s very geographic isolation eliminates the distractions that can interfere with the development of athletic teams.

This phenomenon often emerges in the business world as well. Skype, for instance, emerged from the hinterlands of Estonia to become the world’s leading web based communication system. And second tier cities like Kansas City, Missouri and Provo, Utah are developing into world class technology hubs with the support of Google’s contribution of fiber networks.

So it may not come as any surprise that a college basketball dynasty has now emerged from the cow pastures of Storrs, Connecticut. In fact, the very isolation of the campus may be contributing to the development of the championship teams.

If you were Susan Herbst, the President of the University of Connecticut, would you place more emphasis on the growth of UConn’s centrally located urban campuses in Hartford, Stamford, and Waterbury, or on the development of its remote Storrs campus?