We Need To Talk About Luis

Posted on 4th July, 2014 in Delivery

Having committed to increase my blog rate, business as usual has put some pressure on that intent, however recent events in Brazil have fired me into action, in particular the curious case of the striker who bit in the game.  For any readers who live in a place with no news media (self-evidently unlikely if you’re reading this), we are talking here about Luis Suarez, the Uruguayan footballer, recently banned for biting an opposition player.  Suarez is a family man from a humble background, a world-class footballer and a serial nibbler (3 major bans now).  What would YOU do about him?  If you’re FIFA, it’s kind of easy.  If you believe that the evidence indicates that he felt a bit low on protein during the game, and helped himself to the nearest nice shoulder joint, then he pretty clearly appears to have brought the game into disrepute and there must be a consequence; the only variable is the punishment.

However, what about if he works for you?  And who does he work for?  Uruguay?  Liverpool?  Himself?  Would you sign him?  This is an interesting case which cuts to the heart of performance vs values for a manager or organisation.  If Suarez was a star trader in the City but was found guilty of a major transgression (not enough space here for all the recent examples), his organisation would also be held accountable for his actions and no other public company would touch him with a bargepole.  As it is, Uruguay claim to have been discriminated against by the nasty Europeans jealous of his Latin talents, whilst Liverpool, a club with a strong values-based history, have been strangely silent on the subject of their peckish striker (did I mention that Suarez was pivotal in securing a Champions League place and almost winning the Premier League for Liverpool?), and Barcelona are queuing up to sign Suarez in their bid to devour the opposition.  There is also a bit of a cultural issue at play.  Wholly unacceptable behaviour through one lens might be regarded as part of the ‘rough and tumble’ of competition through another.  Who has the monopoly on cultural standards?

So what would you do?

There is no doubt that as an individual he is deserving of support and help, the same as anyone with some sort of anger management problem or eating disorder.  One would hope that the organisation(s) he works for would provide that.  But do you continue to just employ him in the same role as if nothing has happened?  This is a serial offender.  If you are his manager, what does it say about your beliefs and values?  Football is not necessarily the first port of call when searching for great examples of (positive) values in action and is littered with flawed geniuses and sad stories of decline (Paul Gascoigne, George Best…).  How do you manage creative genius packaged in a difficult personality (John Galliano, Kevin Peterson…)?  Often the individual is actually highly committed to the team game and so is not directly introducing dysfunction in the context of the team dynamic (Peterson perhaps aside), but his/her behaviours ultimately do have a negative performance impact on the team (it is interesting to contrast the reaction of Uruguayan media and fans – wholly supportive despite the impact – with that in the UK when Beckham got himself sent off in a World Cup – rather less so).  Whilst individuals who break the rules in public companies tend to be rather more consistently vilified, is that because of strong organisational values, or regulatory accountability and public outcry?

There is a moral high ground here which is pretty easy to assume.  However what would you do with a star performer who is openly disloyal (regularly talks publicly about moving), is a serial rule breaker (in a way which is actually rather unpleasant), but is the most talented person on your team and the biggest contributor to the team’s success, upon which your own success and reward is largely measured?  We need to talk about Luis…

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