Does the beautiful game need a moral compass?

A compass
Jessica Ennis-Hill

Jessica Ennis-Hill was strongly against Sheffield United’s relationship with Ched Evans.

Since football player Ched Evans was first reported training with Sheffield United in November 2014 there has been a fierce public debate about the ethics of giving convicted sex offenders a second chance. The ethical dilemma has escalated since Sheffield United withdrew their offer to let the player use their training facilities and the player has since been linked with Hibernians of Malta and Oldham Athletic. The furor has not added anything positive to the image of English Football or the reputations of the clubs involved. Doctors and Lawyers would get struck off their professional register in a similar situation but the professional body for football players has not provided any clear policy direction on this issue. 

I was invited by BBC Radio Sheffield on November 14th 2014 to discuss the implications for the Sheffield United FC brand following recent events surrounding the appearance of Ched Evans training with the club.  This is the radio interview with Howard Pressman.

Who are you and what do you stand for? Being clear on what we stand for and believe in may be instinctive and heartfelt but are you certain that the organisation you work for has a clear ethos that is shared by your colleagues and external audiences? The national reaction to the events surrounding the Evans case demonstrated that the beautiful game is out of touch with the general public’s code of values and it would appear that the management teams are not on the same page as their core audience.

Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill made her own feelings about Sheffield United and the Ched Evans situation very clear when she asked to have her name removed from the club’s stadium if the club did not end its relationship with the player. The Olympic heptathlon champion said: “I believe being a role model to young people is a huge honour and those in positions of influence in communities should respect the role they play in young people’s lives and set a good example. If Evans was to be re-signed by the club it would completely contradict these beliefs.” The brands that threatened to retract their lucrative sponsorship contracts made it very clear that expectations of the Sheffield United brand had been compromised and that the events were not aligned to their own ethical code. If the club had deeply entrenched values that were practiced by its management team it would have immediately known which was the right path to take.  

Football Clubs are brands and some of the UK premier league Clubs have a very high global recognition. Players occupy a high profile in the media and are widely admired as role models. These admired sporting brands and players are able to attract further income from sponsorship and lucrative sales of branded merchandise to their fans. When commercial businesses sponsor football clubs to gain exposure for their brands they are endorsing the chosen team and aligning themselves with their values. When that club starts to behave in a way that could be viewed as contradictory to these values any continued sponsorship by corporates may be viewed as condoning the behaviour. When the complicated extramarital affairs of the celebrated golf player Tiger Woods became public knowledge many of the high profile companies that used him to endorse their products and services terminated their association with the player. Accenture, AT&T, Gatorade and General Motors ended their sponsorship contracts and Gillette and TAG Heuer stopped their advertising campaigns that featured him. No laws had been broken but the revelations about his private life fueled a media storm and commercial sponsors were quick to make their opinion clear. A loss of reputation can have serious financial implications and consequences for all concerned.

Ethical conduct or the lack of it, was at the root of the credit crunch and ensuing financial crises. The strength of the culture delivering your corporate brand is so important that Christine Lagarde, the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, made it the focus of her address on ‘inclusive capitalism’ last May in London and tweeted, “We need investors and financial leaders taking values as seriously as valuation, culture as seriously as capital.” 

The recent study, ‘Understanding a misunderstood generation’, published in November 2014 by the INSEAD Emerging Markets Institute, The Head Foundation and Universum, revealed that the millennial generation, (people born between 1984 and 1996), expect the private sector to have the most influence on society today. New graduates have high expectations that their future employer will have a clear purpose that makes the world a better place to live, work and prosper. The evidence is clear that the best talent wants to work for ethical businesses.

If you are part of an established organisation with a legacy of values, it could be time to re-evaluate their effectiveness. Choose a ‘Values Focus Group’ from across the organisation including; Senior Management, Marketing, Human Resources and Line Managers. Ask the group if these existing values are capable of delivering a unique customer and employee experience or a generic one? If the legacy values are of the generic ‘me too’ variety they will add nothing to the personality of the brand. Too many values can be as ineffective as no values at all. If your employees have trouble recalling your values, it is better to keep them short and succinct and limited to a core number of five.  

Considerations for choosing Brand Values:

  1. Are the values sincere and memorable?
  2. Do these values help to differentiate the brand?
  3. Are the values relevant to the brand experience?
  4. Can employees realistically live up to these values?
  5. Do the values provoke measurable behaviours that will enhance or transform the brand’s performance?

It may take several days to arrive at your new values system, but they will have a long lasting and positive effect, so it is worth every effort to get it right. The publication of the new values will directly influence decisions for hiring employees, measuring their performance and awarding rewards.

Appoint Values Ambassadors from all levels of the organisation to disseminate the values across the workforce. Ensure that every employee is within reach of these Values Ambassadors, from Senior Management to temporary staff. Values are best shared and practiced ‘face to face’  you cannot expect them to thrive if they are buried away in a document.

What can you do to ensure a strong ethical culture?

  1. Create an employee experience that is just as unique as the customer experience.
  2. Recruit employees for the right attitude and cultural fit.
  3. Strengthen the interaction between staff and customers with appropriate incentives.
  4. Bring the brand to life with innovative and relevant training.
  5. Do not put up with those employees who refuse to practice the brands values.

If you would like to learn more about Core Values and Employer Branding, please join me for my next brand workshops with Symposium.

Brand Experience and Human Resources – How a healthy brand culture delivers the strongest touchpoints, January 22, London.

Brand Strategy and Human Resources – Building the Employer Brand, January 29, London. 

Core Values and Human Resources – How values support a healthy organisational culture, March 5, London.

About Paul Hitchens

Speaker, author and branding guru, Paul Hitchens, will share his key insights into how your employer brands can be managed and enhanced at this workshop

Paul Hitchens is the Author of ‘Create the Perfect Brand’, a ‘Teach Yourself’ guidebook to branding. He has extensive experience in branding, including manufacturing and service brands. He has created and implemented many brands for new business ventures, start-ups and established organisations. Following a successful agency career that included an award-winning recruitment campaign at the PA Consulting Group and Automotive Branding at Wolf-Olins, he became a founding partner of the Brand Consultancy Verve Interactive Ltd.

Paul is a course director with the Chartered Institute of Marketing and has lectured at The Henley Business School, presenting the brand module for the MSc in Strategic Marketing Leadership. He has contributed articles on branding to business journals including Management Today and Start Your Business Magazine and has been interviewed on both Television and Radio regarding brands.

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