Like most people (unless you support England) I’m pleased the Cricket Australia / Australian Cricketers Association dispute is over. As the dust settles there are some lessons we can draw.
A core issue in the dispute was about trust – how it is earned (and lost), and about misunderstanding the trust perceptions of employees.
It looks as though Cricket Australia misunderstood:-
- How the players felt about Cricket Australia – their employer. It appears the players had more confidence and faith in the Cricketer’s Association, than they had in Cricket Australia – a worrying sign for any employer who wants direct relationships, and a state of mind any union strives to maintain.
- The senior players to whom it offered improved salaries, assuming they would break ranks and take the money rather than stay solid with their colleagues. In a team sport where players live and work together for 9-10 months a year how likely was this?
- The importance of giving a consistent message – why did Cricket Australia make conciliatory comments that the dispute was close to settlement on the same day the Chairman made provocative and hardline comments in the media?
- The public, who see the players as highly paid but world class. In the current debate in Australia about CEO and executive salaries most people would see easier targets to point to than popular and successful athletes.
The background in Rio Tinto of the CA Chairman and others was raised in the media as the underlying strategy behind CA’s process. But CA’s approach looks very different to Rio Tinto’s successful direct engagement approach in the 1990s.
Rio Tinto demonstrated to its employees that they could best be trusted with respect to safety, pay, employee welfare, communication and business performance. And that it was safe to deal directly with them – because they were trusted. This wasn’t done by picking fights but by deliberate and consistent demonstration that the leaders and business could be trusted.
So what are the lessons from the Cricket Australia dispute?
- As former US Secretary of State George Schulz said “trust is the coin of the realm”. You must build it and maintain it through the behaviour and actions of leaders, and by the symbols and work processes in place, that employees experience. This is how trust is built and maintained (or squandered by unthinking leadership).
- Understand the perceptions that employees hold (positive and negative) and what created them, and act decisively to maintain or change the causes of those perceptions. There is a lot of work ahead of Cricket Australia to change the way their most important employees perceive them.
Cricket Australia has a lot of work ahead of it. Beating England this summer may be the least of their worries.