Leafland is all agog over today’s firing of Leafs General Manager Brian Burke, who looked all but inviolate until the announcement was made. Whatever the real story turns out to be, the discussion has been fascinating, especially because it’s uncovered some similarities between the hockey word and the marketing world.
1) When you hire, don’t hire based on perception.
As friend of the blog mf37 wrote well before Burke was hired, when you actually looked at his track record, it was nowhere near as great as most people (including me) believed. Look at the candidates without the rose-coloured glasses. Sure, their personality matters, but it’s no substitute for their decisions and their results. You’d think this was common sense, but the continuing popularity in Toronto of Burke’s “big personality” and “energy” shows that it’s not so common. Saviours rarely turn out to actually save you.
The situation reminded me that marketing people, like hockey people, like to rely on deciding factors like perception and “cool” when hiring, especially creatives. They have a vague idea that a candidate comes from a hot shop (like Burke from Stanley Cup-winning Anaheim) and want to grab them. Few of us have the patience to try to discover the reality of the work. It never ends well.
2) If you’re the boss and you have to fire someone, stand up and take the crap.
At today’s presser, the board of MLSE, the ultimate decision makers in all this, were completely absent, preferring to hide behind their CEO and new GM – neither of whom were terribly convincing. (For instance, the CEO sighed continually during the radio interviews I heard.)
Sports franchises feed on energy and hope – the energy of the players, as well as that of the fans and media. Unanswered questions about teams tend to fester, and lead to negativity. It’s completely foreseeable that media and fan negativity about the Leafs and their ownership will only grow during the season ahead – especially if the team loses a few games early on. The board’s lack of accountability will be an ongoing story.
Agencies also feed on energy and hope. And when the decision maker doesn’t take responsibility, doesn’t stand up and say why a move has happened, people at an agency notice and remember. Yes, unanswered questions lead to speculation and rumour. But worse than that, you’re draining the reservoir of trust you have with staff. If you stand up and take the hostility toward your decision, you show people that you respect their feelings. That way, you’ve got a fighting chance of keeping some trust, or at least being able to restore it.
MLSE reminds me of a senior agency person many years ago who didn’t stand up and tell his staff that a firing had happened. Instead, for whatever reason, he left it to the replacement person to make the announcement. The result was a permanent weakening of the senior person’s leadership, and how staff would work for him. When he himself left a year later, there was no mourning.
Respect for your people is a sign of how much you respect yourself.