When it's just not cricket: Culture review's global impact can't be ignored by directors

Posted on 15 Nov 2018

By Matthew Schulz, journalist, Our Community

The explosive review that picked over the toxic culture linked to Australian cricket's shameful ball tampering affair has laid bare the risks for leaders who think, "It can't happen to us".

Cricket Australia, the country's governing body, ordered the review after Australian player Cameron Bancroft rubbed sandpaper on a ball during a match in South Africa in March, forcing the resignations of both captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner.

The subsequent brutally honest examination by Our Community board member and Ethics Centre executive director Simon Longstaff, Australian Cricket: A Matter of Balance, found the ball tampering scandal was a symptom of the prevailing culture in Australian men's cricket, described as "arrogant", "bullying" and "dictatorial".

The 145-page report, partially redacted by Cricket Australia, has gained global media attention and triggered the departures of coach Darren Lehmann, CEO James Sutherland, chair David Peever, high-performance manager Pat Howard, and fellow board member and former Australian captain Mark Taylor.

Of course, cricketing fans, and particularly Australia's rivals in Great Britain, the sub-continent, South Africa and the Caribbean are taking the closest interest, but the implications have spread much wider.

Despite being a cricket fan and one-time wicketkeeper himself, Dr Longstaff has been surprised by the extent of the reaction: his review sparked thousands of reports across sports sites, mainstream outlets and even financial publications.

"I have been astounded by the attention paid to the report. It even rated an editorial in the Financial Times, which argued that the report contains lessons for banks and others."

First AUS
The custodians of Australian cricket are proving slow to change their bad habits. Pictured: the first Australian team to tour England, 1878.

The report drew on a vast trove of data, including detailed interviews with players (or at least the ones who agreed to take part), focus groups with staff, leaders, umpires and ex-players over several months, a survey of internal and external stakeholders, and an "ecosystem" assessment which examined Cricket Australia documents related to strategy, performance, management, risk, planning, discipline and behavior.

All of this was examined through the "Everest Process", a prism of ethics analysis developed by The Ethics Centre over 25 years.

It entails looking at how the organisation's "values and principles are embedded and expressed in day-to-day activities".

Dr Longstaff is in no doubt that the report's lessons are highly relevant to community organisations and their leaders.

"No matter how noble your purpose, you must exercise ethical restraint in the means you employ to realise your ends. It's just too easy to be swept away by good intentions and to let 'outcomes' become the sole measure of your achievement," Dr Longstaff says.

ICDA executive director Patrick Moriarty believes the responses to survey questions are the key to understanding the study, saying "that's the element that helps discover whether staff and players are operating truly to values".

He says culture-based failures can affect not-for-profits in areas such as burnout, sexual harassment, child abuse, fraud and leaking.

He also says a close examination of the report is worthwhile for organisations keen to understand what methods are available to leaders who want to stress-test their values.

The Ethical Framework model on page 17 of the report can help leaders to delegate authority and maintain organisational integrity.

It is part of a focus on strategically aligning governance practice and Ethical Frameworks, which for many will make them reassess their sense of "fiduciary duty".

Asked who should shoulder the blame for a poor culture at a community organisation, Dr Longstaff says leaders should look to themselves.

"In the end, it is always the leadership team - and often an individual - who must accept responsibility. Most leaders volunteer for the role. You have to go in with your eyes open and know that in the end, the quality of an organisation's culture is the responsibility of those who lead."

The strong reaction to the Cricket Australia study is possibly in part a reflection of the growing interest in the importance of organisational culture, not least as a result of royal commissions into financial services and institutional child abuse.

Dr Longstaff stressed that the tough lessons in this report should not dissuade the leaders of organisations from "looking into the mirror".

"I think that people have come to realise that compliance frameworks are necessary, but they are not sufficient.

"A far more effective way to manage risk and encourage performance is to ensure that everyone in the organisation is connected to its underlying purpose and guided by a common set of values and principles.

"These are the foundation stones on which cultures are built - ensuring that what emerges has integrity, and that the culture is what it claims to be."

Despite some of the shocks in the Cricket Australia report, Dr Longstaff is happy with the results.

"The response is a credit to all of those involved in the report's preparation, a dedicated team of people at The Ethics Centre whom I am proud to lead."

Some clients of The Ethics Centre choose not to allow the reports they commission to go public, so community directors should seize the opportunity to take a close look at this contemporary, warts-and-all study of organisational culture and ethics.

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