Correction: Due to an error by managing editor Anne K. McMillan, the headline and abstract of this blog post incorrectly identified the owner of the L.A. Clippers. His name is Donald Sterling.
There are three key Work Matters lessons that GCs can glean from the lifetime professional basketball ban imposed on L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver as a result of Sterling’s racist comments.
Lesson No. 1: Address a problem when it surfaces. Mitch Lawrence, a columnist for the New York Daily News, wrote an interesting piece on April 29 titled “Before praising Adam Silver and NBA, realize that Donald Sterling’s racist behavior has been habitual for years.” Lawrence wrote that Sterling was well-known in the league for racist conduct, but the NBA did zilch to investigate or stop it.
It’s critical to handle a problem when it pops up instead of letting it continue. Doing so is always less painful than waiting.
Sometimes clients tell me that they can’t fire an employee because he is too valuable a revenue producer (think of rainmakers in law firms) or because she would be too hard to replace (that’s putting the needs of the company second and the laziness of the manager first).
Lesson No. 2: Ask the right questions. When deciding whether to impose a penalty and, if so, how severe it should be, think about these two questions: “What is a proportionate response to the person’s conduct or statement?” and “Are there any mitigating factors to be considered?”
I tell clients that terminating an employee is, in effect, imposing capital punishment. Are you willing to do so?
Sometimes the answer is yes. But asking these questions is what brings needed decision-making clarity.
Here, the commish got it right. As Lawrence wrote, in the Sterling matter, we’re not talking about an isolated incident taken out of context.
Lesson No. 3: Moments of crisis matter. Ben W. Heineman Jr. is the former GC of GE. He wrote a useful book, “High Performance with High Integrity (Memo to the CEO).”
When an organization confronts a crisis, Heineman wrote, there is one thing the GC should say ASAP: “We will be judged by what we do from this moment on.”
It sounds like the NBA got just that advice.