The Organisation

I cringe with embarrassment as I watch Sepp Blatter declare to the rest of world that he wants to clean things up at FIFA, as if he wasn’t the organisation’s president for the past 18-odd years. 

With FIFA in mind and the recent re-election of Sepp Blatter as president for a fifth term, I appeal to any well-respected business school to write a case study about FIFA. What we are witnessing is an organisation that is in desperate need of leadership renewal and a litany of what not to do as an organisation. 

I cringe with embarrassment as I watch Sepp Blatter declare to the rest of world that he wants to clean things up at FIFA, as if he wasn’t the organisation’s president for the past 18-odd years. 

In business-management we are indoctrinated to assume that the organisation is the most efficient and effective way of getting a group of people together to achieve a mission. Whilst there are different types of organisations (e.g. profit-making vs. non-profit making) and organisational structures (organisation by function, by product, by process, etc) the basic building blocks of a (mainstream) organisation tend to be: the existence of some form of a hierarchy with a leader at the top, a clear chain of command (power and authority cascades down), a compelling mission, a clear strategy, a set of values, the delegation of responsibilities and (arguably the most important) clear lines of accountability.

In addition to this one also needs to have governance rules, the periodic reporting of pertinent information and external auditing, an effective method of electing or appointing leaders, a separation of executive powers (shareholders vs. board of directors vs. top management) and a host of other stuff.

My point is that we have as human beings and over time, found organisations (in their various forms) to be in principle the most effective way to achieve progress and growth and that there are certain basic elements that need to be in place for this to happen. 

In the FIFA fiasco (and again I cringe with embarrassment the more I think about it) what we are seeing are the symptoms of a leadership that has not renewed itself and certain key individuals putting their own personal interests above that of the organisation. Put another way, when things start to go pear shape along the magnitude which we are witnessing at FIFA, it is ultimately the fault of the leadership. 

If we believe Blatter that he didn’t know about how rampant and extensive bribery and corruption is within his organisation (he recently said: ‘I cannot monitor everyone, all the time’), he should resign since this proves that he is completely detached from the reality of the organisation.

If, on the other hand, he knew what was going on and closed an eye to it, or even worse he was in some way involved, he should resign immediately.  

Organisations exist because they are meant ‘…to get stuff done – stuff that we can’t get done on our own or pay others to take care of on our behalf’ (Source: The ORG by Fishman and Sullivan). Yet the minute an organisation becomes dysfunctional (e.g. FIFA), its members disillusioned (e.g. nearly half of FIFA’s existing members) and its leader(s) are incompetent (e.g. FIFA again) is the time radical and immediate action is necessary. 

Looking from the outside in, it is so obvious to me that FIFA needs a radical change and the change starts with new leadership. 

Business organisations tend to be a lot more ruthless in ‘getting rid of’ underperforming leaders and managers but some unfortunately still hang on to them for too long. Normally, this happens when leaders and managers have been hugely successful and as a result they seem to cumulate goodwill or benefit from the ‘halo effect’.

The result being that the powers that be tend to be very weary of challenging a leader with a big reputation and a good track record. Yet challenge they must, for the good of the organisation, since the interests of the organisation are supreme.

This having been said, I don’t necessarily agree with fixing a time period for business leaders’ and managers’ tenure in office (e.g. Warren Buffet has been CEO of Berkshire Hathaway for more than 40 years), since it really depends on a lot factors, but when an organisation starts to become like FIFA and assume a Sepp Blatter type of consistency, you know the writing is on the wall for your organisation. 

My advice to any organisation, but particularly business organisations, is to constantly ask yourself: Are we serving the interests of our key stakeholders? Do our leaders inspire us (particularly our customers and employees)? Are our best (most promising) employees staying with the organisation or leaving it? Does the organisation’s mission and strategy make business sense in today’s (and tomorrow’s) world? How do our leaders react to constructive criticism about the organisation and how it can be improved? 

God forbid that your organisation resembles FIFA but then again no organisation is perfect. You must challenge yourself and the organisation, asking (sometimes) awkward questions and placing a huge importance to transparency, fairness and honesty. What is going on at FIFA is anything but honest, fair or transparent. 

If you are still in doubt and this article has failed to serve its purpose, or you think Sepp Blatter should stay, may I quote you the  ‘Serenity Prayer’: 

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

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