What Gary Lineker teaches us about Consequence Management

Watching the BBC dive into crisis over Gary Lineker’s tweet about the UK Government’s immigration policy underlined the importance of consequence management – a topic in two post-grad classes I’ve been teaching recently.

For those not familiar with the players, Gary Lineker is a football (soccer) pundit in England, the BBC’s highest-paid contractor and pretty much a legend given his sporting accomplishments, which include the not so small matter of a World Cup Golden Boot from 1986.

But this post isn’t about sports or even about the government’s immigration policy. It’s about why all organizations need to understand consequence management before they jump in and start handing out consequences, because these have a nasty habit of back-firing when you haven’t thought about them in advance. Last week Lineker tweeted about what he sees as horrific language from the UK government about its immigration policy.  The BBC, which is essentially an agency under Government supervision, promptly decided he had breached their internal guidelines which are intended to limit political bias in its reporting and suspended him from his sports presenting duties.  What happened next was a mass mutiny as other commentators, pundits and announcers all refused to accept the sanction handed out to their colleague. The BBCs flagship and perhaps most venerable sports highlight program (Match of the Day) ended up being broadcast without commentary or analysis and cut to a mere 20 minutes total running time. I can’t resist suggesting this was an avoidable own-goal that diminished the reputation of the broadcaster which ultimately has bowed to public pressure and backed down completely so the highlights show will now presumably run this upcoming weekend.

This is the sort of outcome you can expect when an organization either fails to consider in advance why it might have different levels of sanction or to explain to employees and freelance contractors (like Lineker) what its standards mean.  Some consequences need to be severe because of the criticality of the matter.  A financial service provider cannot tolerate people in its ranks who steal assets or information, for example.  Some consequences are too severe because the circumstances don’t suggest harm, intent or impact on the business and are instead opportunities for people to learn but do not merit suspension, firing or other serious consequences.  Sometimes, an organization may need to be more strict if, for example, it is trying to change a practice.  but all of these need to be thought through and intentionally managed.  Especially the communications.  No matter how obvious you think it is, people often do not know what you consider to be a serious matter and it is not always clear why.  If you don’t address this, thoughtfully and openly, you lose the opportunity to manage behaviors.  Then, let the outcomes unfold…

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