Don’t amputate your fist – what the UCI need to learn about culture change

This is the second post I have dedicated to the UCI in light of the Lance Armostrong affair. In terms of an organization and a total culture needing change, I’m not sure there is a better example right now – and certainly not one getting the press scrutiny of the UCI. It’s a fascinating case to look at.

Pat McQuaid

On Monday, the UCI accepted the USADA’s case against Lance Armstrong and stripped him of his seven Tour de France titles. This might be seen as a big positive in the fight against doping in cycling, and a sign that Pat McQuaid, the organisation’s embattled President is moving in the right direction. And yet, that is far from the case. It has been easy to “throw Lance Armstrong under a bus” in the current climate. What is far harder to do, and where McQuaid has been totally unconvincing is in taking accountability for the UCI’s own role in the fiasco.

In January of this year, Pat McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen (former President of the UCI) announced their intention to sue Paul Kimmage – a well known cycling journalist and anti-doping campaigner. Kimmage famously opened Pandora’s box on the Lance Armstrong affair when he completed a seven hour interview with Floyd Landis, a former team mate of Armstrong who made a number of direct allegations about doping. McQuaid and Verbruggen are suing Kimmage claiming their “reputations have been seriously damaged” by the article and citing their “annoyance”. Interestingly, they chose to sue Kimmage (currently unemployed) personally, rather than the publications that ran the interview, (L’Equipe and The Sunday Times). Kimmage has explained his thinking for why they have done this:

“Clearly they don’t want this addressed properly in court, because if they did, they would have addressed their letter to L’Equipe… L’Equipe would have sent along their finest barristers and presented a defence of this. They would also have brought all of the witnesses that you would need to defend it.

“Clearly they [McQuaid and Verbruggen] don’t want that to happen, which is why they have targeted me rather than the newspapers. That would be my reading of it.”

Why is this relevant? Because this type of reaction has typified McQuaid’s handling of the entire Lance Armstrong affair: Bullish and defensive when challenged personally. And because the UCI has enabled the culture of doping and secrecy that has brought professional cycling to this juncture. The point is presciently made by Landis in his interview with Kimmage:

Kimmage:              How many of the decisions you made after that (Landis’ assertion that the UCI covered up Armstrong’s positive doping result) were coloured by this experience you’ve had with the UCI and their relationship with Lance? How big a factor was that in the decision you made to dope?

Landis:                   That’s all of it. If I had any reason to believe that the people running the sport really want to fix it, I may have actually said ‘If I wait long enough I’ll have the chance to win without doing this (doping) but there was no scenario in my mind where in my lifetime I was going to get a chance to race the Tour and win clean. So, all of it had that as a backdrop.

 

Talking about organizational change, Martin Bauer of LSE argues that resistance is very much like pain in the body; uncomfortable to deal with, but a valuable signaling mechanism. We may not enjoy it, but pain is essential for our survival, and its value to us should not be underrated. Kimmage’s criticism is a vital part of the cycling community. Rather than trying to understand what actions the UCI have taken that have caused this criticism and doing something about it, McQuaid is trying to ostracise and silence him; a bit like amputating your fist because you hurt it punching a wall.

Kimmage continues to act as a thorn in the side of the cycling hierarchy, giving this stinging radio interview on Monday. More to the point, he has recently asked difficult questions of this year’s Tour winner, Bradley Wiggins and Team Sky. While some would argue he is sucking the joy out of British cycling at its finest hour, if the last few weeks have shown us anything, it is that organized cycling needs the cynical eye and honest questioning of Kimmage and others like never before.

And this is the key point. Cycling needs a massive culture change and core to this is cultivating a new set of behaviours – discipline, measured cynicism and brutal transparency. In vilifying the type of behavior that cycling desperately needs to catalyse, McQuaid is choking this change to death before it has a chance to take root. Kimmage himself sums up the cultural implications best:

“We talk about omerta all the time in the sport. This is how they enforce it. Is this what they would say is part of the fight against doping? I don’t think so. This is all about the omerta, and enforcing the omerta.”

It is a leader’s job to manage meaning, to put words to a new positive vision of the future and to demonstrate integrity by following these words with meaningful action. Only one of these two men is acting as a leader for cycling at the moment, and it’s not Pat McQuaid.

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A book-burning-library? Stoking controversy and changing conversations

Loving this story about successfully changing a conversation. It highlights the hidden power of language in how we think about the world. On the face of it, this conversation is about both saving a library and increasing taxes. It should be possible for people to hold both of those concepts in their head at the same time when discussing the topic. The reality though, is that by focusing on only one aspect of it (taxes) the other aspect (saving a library) can be occluded, even made invisible.

One of the key principles of Appreciative Inquiry is that the first question asked in any change is fateful; the question you ask, the issues you focus on and the stories you generate fundamentally shape the direction of conversation and the change that will follow.

Language and thought are more tightly coupled than we often think, and choosing a focus for conversation, and specific words to bring that conversation to life are far more important in change than we often give them credit for.

How to be a Woman (and an inclusive feminist)

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“The best thing to do is to choose what you think is right and then just make it look cool… With writing a book about feminism, I was like ‘I could write a real ball aching book and just go ‘you must believe women are equal to men because it’s like a fact of science’, or, I could just write a funny book where women go ‘oh, I’m having fun reading this. It’s making me happier about myself and now I’m just going to buy myself a more comfortable pair of pants’.”

Caitlin Moran on how focusing on the positive (and humorous) can be a much more fruitful approach to engagement and change than acting righteous or having a rant. From a male perspective, I find her disarmingly funny, articulate, passionate and very intelligent. There is something about her style that makes me feel included as a feminist, rather than adversarial as a man. I suspect this comment about her positive focus goes a long way to explaining why. Her book, “How to be a Woman” has (as of July 2012) sold over 400,000 copies in 16 countries. For more funny, articulate, disarming feminism (including how to teach your children to pity Rhianna despite her beauty, wealth and power), listen to her interview with Tim Minchin 

Crisis and the UCI’s Road to Redemption

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It has been a bittersweet week for cycling. I will say up front, it is my opinion that Lance Armstrong doped. Having followed the case with a mild obsession for the last five years, it is very hard to come to any other conclusion. In that sense, it has been a good week. The cycling world has obtained some closure on one of the most controversial and painful chapters of its history. And yet, a good week is not the same as a happy week. I still remember the awe with which I watched Armstrong destroy Marco Pantani and the entire peleton at Lourdes Hautacam in 2000. It is hard
for anyone who had a similar experience to feel happiness about the confirmation of a former idol’s fall from grace.

Armstrong apart, there are plenty of interesting insights on governance and change that arise from the case. It has been a massively difficult experience for the UCI (cycling’s governing body) and they have some way to go yet to rebuild. While the Armstrong case may never see the light of day, the air is thick with accusations of cover ups and complicity. Pat McQuaid’s posturing over who has jurisdiction to charge Armstrong is factually fair, but politically pathetic. The UCI is heavily implicated in the case, and their impartiality in prosecuting it could not be trusted. They should welcome the USADA’s offer to handle it.

While the last thing McQuaid and the UCI will want is for the case to drag out, any accusations of a cover up need to be fully investigated. If ever an organisation needed to demonstrate a resolve and capability to ask difficult questions of itself, then this is it. Cycling’s credibility is shot in the eyes of many fans. While a full investigation would undoubtedly be painful, it is absolutely essential to rebuild the reputation of the UCI.

That’s the great thing about a crisis: It offers an opportunity for a complete change of direction. Outcomes become possible in a crisis that were unthinkable in happier times. And people are very forgiving of individuals and organisations that acknowledge their mistakes and demonstrate sincere effort to change their ways. The UCI need look no further than David Millar. A former disgraced drug cheat, Millar is now one of the most widely respected riders in the peleton thanks to honesty with which he dealt with his mistakes, and the firm anti-doping stance he has taken since his return. So well has he re-established his reputation that the British Olympic Association, an organisation renowned for their anti-doping stance, welcomed him back for London 2012.

There is hope for the UCI, but they must act quickly and courageously. While this case must feel like the worst thing that could have happened, it is in fact a lifeline for an organisation that lost the public’s trust a long time ago.

Competing with Competition and the Wisdom of Starlings

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Photograph from Flickr. See the incredible original gallery here

Once upon a time, in a land not-so-far-away, a gaggle of economists thought very hard about the best way to bring the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people. They came up with some pretty smart answers: Among other things, in an attempt to increase the level of innovation, they identified competition as a useful spur and set up a system that legally protected competition, and rewarded those that won.

Except – as with all economic models – the idea is based on an approximation of reality. And while that approximation might be quite close at one point in time, the longer the model stands, the further from reality the model is likely to go. And more than that, the longer a model stands, the more likely people are to treat means as ends in themselves. In this case, competition was identified as a way of bringing about the greatest happiness for the greatest number, not as a goal to be pursued for its own sake. This is exactly what Christopher Meyer and Julia Kirby argued earlier this year in the Harvard Business Review.

With all the focus on competition, policy makers and organisations have forgotten, or overlooked the value of collaboration. In his excellent TED talk, Don Tapscott outlines his vision for an open society, based on collaboration, sharing, transparency and empowerment.

While the potential benefits for business are massive (as Tapscott’s Gold Corp example demonstrates), there is a lot of work for businesses to do to get to a place where they can make a difference. Rick Lash has argued that businesses produce the behaviours they reward; and at the moment, they reward employees who work in silos and will turn the world upside down to achieve the objective they have been set. Lash argues that a totally different competence is needed to build a collaborative organisation – one that rewards teams forsaking their own objectives for the sake of the broader organisation. He offers the example of how Apple were able to develop the i pod far more quickly than Sony developed their MP3 Walkman, because they recognised the potential of the product for the company as a whole far outweighed the projects they were working on in individual functions. Beyond that, a collaborative organisation might genuinely commit time to crowd-sourcing and incentivise employees for proactively look to connect disparate strengths in the organisation. Most importantly, organisations would put their best ideas and their biggest problems in the public domain, acting as a focal point and moderator, rather than a secretive, cannibalising black box.

The shift in mindset is massive, the legal infrastructure for it to work is nearly non-existant; but it looks to be the right model – the means to our ends for our time. And it’s on its way (see the UK government’s brave decision to make all scientific papers free to view)! If we can build half the enthusiasm for collaboration that we have had for competition over the last century, the possibilities are massive.

Sachs on business

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“I deal with a number of businesses that I admire because they are better diplomats than the state department as they are actually doing things rather than talking about them. They are getting real things done.
“The other face of businesses is that they are too powerful in our societies. They write the rules, they pay the politicians, sometimes illegally and sometimes, via what is called legal, which is financing their campaigns or massive lobbying.
“Billions of dollars are spent and this is horrendous because if business writes the rules, it is not true their shareholder value is their value to society. It can reflect highly destructive practices which the politicians turn their eyes away from because of the political power companies hold. This has got completely out of control and is leading to the breakdown of modern democracy.”

– Jeffry Sachs

A concise summary of the potential and barriers to business’ current role in society. Its pertinence is highlighted by Barack Obama’s current messaging about his fundraising. The quote comes from an interesting article by Jo Confino in the Guardian. Whether you love or hate Jeffry Sachs, its worth a read.

The Empathic Civilisation

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The above video triggered some interesting thoughts for me on the links between empathy and organisational change: Rifkin suggests here that “Empathy is our ability to show solidarity with each other” and that is it “grounded in our rooting for each other to flourish and be.”
There is a wealth of research in the field of evolutionary psychology suggesting empathy exists because it helps those that have it to survive. It is easy to imagine how an ability to put ourselves in each others’ shoes and root for each other has helped us to co-ordinate our interests, collaborate and organise. And it is easy to take this a step further and imagine how organised, collaborating, empathetic individuals gave themselves a load of advantages over others.

How does empathy work? By listening to each other, we can better understand each others motivations. This allows us to create knowledge, understanding and meaning that enables co-ordination of our actions. In other words, empathetic dialogue is all about historical/hermeneutic knowledge.

This is nothing new in itself. Iban Mayo was championing the idea of listening to employees and allowing them to engage in the change process as far back as the 1930s. The issue is that much recent literature still relies on Taylorist notions of rational managers identifying the correct path for change and overcoming resistance from employees who are attached to the status quo. There is an unspoken fear on the part of managers that allowing employees to design their own change will lead to off-the-wall suggestions, founded on employees’ rational pursuit of laziness and self interest.

But thinking of ourselves as empathetic first and rational second suggests there is a lot more give in the system. It suggests that in the face of external change, we are not inclined to steadfastly pursue our own self-interest, but that we are “soft-wired” to find a new way of working together.

So, assuming collaboration is still sensible in changed circumstances, people are pre-disposed to find a way to make it work. Facilitating an empathetic discussion will enable people to make sense of the change and build the hermeneutic knowledge they need to give their best in the new environment.

Letting go is always frightening for a manager, but thinking of employees as empathetic human beings is a very helpful first step.