Brand leadership and the responsibility of upholding values - and what happens when it fails

We talk a lot about establishing brand values as the core of company culture, and how important it is to have this foundation to be successful. Just last week Faraday Grid reviewed its own core value set with the whole team to ensure we are all aligned in embracing these values. It is critical as we move ahead with a new round of recruitment to grow successfully, strong in our culture of aspiration, respect, reliability, open-mindedness, and candour.

Companies who become truly successful are the leaders in their field and icons of industry that command significant followership. They do not only carry the responsibility of representing their own brand but they also have an impact on the reputation of their whole sector. Accordingly, true leaders face far-reaching implications if the fundamentals of their culture fail.

There are some mistakes that your stakeholders will forgive. They add texture to your brand story as long as they are dealt with genuinely, with a sense of working hard to get back on course. There are some mistakes however that cause the greatest distress in your customer base, and they are always based on a deviation from the understood foundation brand values. These are the heart of who you have committed to be to all those you engage with. They are the agreed code of conduct that engenders trust, support and loyalty. When this is breached, the fallout is not limited to your direct relationships.

A poignant example of this is Australia’s cricket Captain and his actions in their game against South Africa last week. The Captain was complicit in the attempt to tamper with the ball - to cheat, in a game where fair play is considered paramount. In this thoughtless action, the Captain not only went against the code of conduct of the game, but also against the Australian value set that holds sports teams, especially the national cricket team in the highest regard for fair play - to the degree that three Captains have been named Australian of the Year in the last few decades. This is a particularly painful example because Faraday Grid’s four original founders are Australian, and share the sentiment of Australians, feeling it keenly in the UK, a land of long-time rivalry.

The cricket team’s actions have caused serious damage to the Australian cricket brand, but have also tarnished every sportsperson representing Australia, and no less, in the lead up to the Commonwealth Games to be hosted in Australia. Timing couldn’t be worse. At a follower level, there is an acute sense of betrayal, and the big question: Why?

A letter by Tracey Holmes, senior sport reporter at ABC radio, summed up the situation perfectly:

“When politics turns ugly we turn to our sports teams. More than anything else in our culture it is our sports teams that bring us together.
Today there is a collective sense of embarrassment, anger, shame and disbelief. All of us are tarnished in the eyes of the world for what you and your leadership team did.
I've never seen such emotion and anguish on a national scale. Are you starting to understand the impact of what you've done?” [1]

This was further emphasised with the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s comments:

“We all woke up this morning shocked and bitterly disappointed by the news from South Africa….It seemed completely beyond belief that the Australian cricket team had been involved in cheating.
After all, our cricketers are role models and cricket is synonymous with fair play. How can our team by engaged in cheating like this? It beggars belief.
…I have to say the whole nation who holds those who wear the baggy green up on a pedestal - about as high as you can get in Australia…” [2]

This is not like losing the Ashes, which would be a great disappointment, but there’s always time to rally and regroup for next season. It’s not like dropping the perfect catch or being outed on a golden duck. Although losing can cause a moment of letdown, it is an inherent part of adhering to the values of sport – it happens if you play by the rules. The mistake the Captain made has caused ripples beyond the game, across generations.

To correct the mistake requires the broader efforts of the Australian sporting community. Now, the responsibility lies, not just with the Australian Cricket team, but with every junior cricket coach, to instil the values that we believe in – fair play, supporting your team mates, calling the shots as they are, owning up to mistakes, and working hard to do better next time. It lies with every junior cricketer learning the importance of these values and carrying them forward as they grow to become the new generation of Australian cricketers.

This is the authenticity that engenders a committed following and support base who rally when things get really tough. This is the story that your audience live by. It’s a code between brand custodians and supporters that deserves full attention and adherence every step of the way.

Otherwise, it’s just not cricket.