HR lessons from the Australian cricket axings

by Stephanie Zillman13 Mar 2013

"Part of achieving excellence is that employees know when there’s an assignment to do, and you’re asked to do something – you must do that. And if you don’t, well you don’t work here anymore. It’s that simple.” - Dr Mary Casey

Australian Test captain Michael Clarke said yesterday that axing four key players from tomorrow’s third test in India was a necessary disciplinary action, and due to a slide in attitude.

All players in the side were asked to complete a task in which they were to present ways they could help turn around Australia's poor performance in India, and were given five days to do so. The suspended quartet of players, including deputy Shane Watson, were axed from the test after failing to comply with head coach Mickey Arthur’s request.

Clarke emphasised that the stand down was not just about one incident, but the culmination of a series of issues. “There have been a number of issues on this tour where I don't think we have been hitting our standards, we have not been doing what is required for this Australian cricket team to have the success we want it to have,” Clarke said, adding that the players’ failure to complete the task showed a lack of respect for Arthur, and for the team.

The issue shares many parallels with discipline in the workplace, and HC spoke to psychologist and author of How to Deal with Master Manipulators, Dr Mary Casey, who said the importance of effectively communicating likely consequences for poor performance, cannot be overstated. “[HR] have to be highly skilled and effective communication needs to be learnt. But it’s a skill that people in HR, people who are at the forefront of the team, need to really hone. And good communication is easy once you learn it,” Dr Casey said.

Navigating the path of communicating consequences can be done without seeming tyrannical. Whether it’s communicated in an informal setting, or spelt out in a written statement, the expectation that tasks will be completed on-time, and to a high level, need to flow from the top down. “The leaders are always the reason for disharmony among the group or team. And so if there’s disharmony, or if things aren’t working, you always have to look to the person at the top. They’re not doing their job properly. Whether it’s the people underneath them, their general managers, or whatever their structure is – you’ve got to have very good people in place at the top, everyone has to know your expectations, and everyone has to know how you operate, and that you’re serious about excellence,” Dr Casey said. “And part of achieving excellence is that employees know when there’s an assignment to do, and you’re asked to do something – you must do that. And if you don’t, well you don’t work here anymore. It’s that simple.”

Inviting input is also an integral aspect of effective communication, Dr Casey said.

"Asking for input, and communicating how important it is, sets the tone that the organisation is committed to excellence. With that, HR needs to communicate that a task has been set; perhaps once upon a time it wouldn’t have followed it up, but now we will be. And lastly, emphasise that it’s really important to receive the team’s input in order for the organisation to become better and stronger. So you can put that across in a nice way, and a big part of it is actually inviting input, and making them feel like they’re part of the process, and that they actually want to do the task you’ve asked.”


  • by kevin 13/03/2013 5:17:52 PM

    One week we are sacking miners for daring to have a few minutes fun dancing during a tea break.
    Next week we are standing down key personnel because they did not do their homework.
    By comparison we have massive corruption being exposed in the previous NSW labour government, massive overspending by the current federal government, union power going beyond anything previously seen and yet all these people keep their jobs. The world truly has gone mad. Relativity is dead. I feel for the miners and the cricketers.

  • by Leanne Faraday-Brash 13/03/2013 5:27:10 PM

    I agree with Mary that setting the tone for what's acceptable and what's not is critical to establishing good cultural norms and a robust feedback culture is essential, in elite sport as in other workplaces. A few points though...
    Sidelining non-compliers is reasonable as long as the punishment fits the crime. The punishment sends a message but is it proportional? Michael Clarke should not judge the appropriateness of the punishment by what the media think or former players who played in a different era and with a "win at all costs mentality". That's the same as keeping on the top salesperson even if they're a bully or a sexual harasser. Clarke should judge the suitability of a consequence by the culture he wants to instil and by being consistent with stated goals and standards.
    If this transgression was used as a pretext to send a wakeup call and these players were scapegoated for other laxness in the team, that's not fair. Whatever we do or don't sends a message. But never punish just to send a message. I suspect in the wake of publicity about AFL players, cycling and our Oz swimming team, the time was ripe to shake up cricket and this was a good reason to do it. I hope they are as strict about other "off field antics" as these players are high profile and represent their country.
    Not handing in one's homework might seem on this occasion to have attracted a detention and might seem old school but we get the behaviour we deserve. We get the culture we're prepared to tolerate.

  • by Dr Tim Baker 13/03/2013 5:27:17 PM

    I think the HR lessons from the Australian cricket team situation recently are lessons of what not to do.

    The appropriate thing for the coach to have done is to have a team meeting and to encourage the individual players to share their thoughts and ideas on 'where to from here'. Asking the players to do this individually seems like a very strange approach.

    I'm not sure - as the article implies - whether the coach explained the consequences of not completing the set task. Had he done so, I think most - if not all - would have done the task, albeit grudgingly. The whole thing was done very poorly.

    Had the coach pointed out some of these lapses in standards earlier, perhaps he would not have had to resort to the drastic measures he took.

    Now he will really have to demonstrate mastery of communication to bring what's left of the team together.

    Definitely lessons that should not be applied in the workplace, I would have thought.

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