Reputation is in the Eye of the Beholder

BY ROBERT FLYNN

They call it the ‘Beautiful Game’, an epithet attributed to the game of football, owing to spectators’ fluctuating emotional states over the course of a 90-minute game.

The real beauty behind the game itself, with its origins dating back three-thousand years, is that anyone can play; field to favela, beach to back alley. Wider societal issues may be cast aside, pre-conceived notions of reputation postponed, all the while wrapped up in the elation of a last-minute winner, each player equal in their own right.

Beauty however, is indeed in the eye of the beholder. Thankfully no one is beyond reproach in a sport that prides itself on equality. And no one will be more aware of this than Ireland’s governing authority on football, the FAI.

Revelations of a bridging loan made to the organisation shone a light on the depths of mismanagement that existed internally, which had been hitherto unheard of.

In the wake of the controversy, the FAI appeared before the Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport, culminating in Delaney and two board members deciding to step down.

An independent Governance Review Group has since been set-up by the FAI, chaired by Aidan Horan of the Institute of Public Affairs, and is currently in the midst of assessing the controls within the organisation and to review what level of change is necessary to put it back on track.

The reputational damage sustained and compounded in the aftermath of this controversy has not yet been measured from the perspective of key stakeholders. Thankfully, however, reputation as well as beauty, lies in the eye of the beholder; with the FAI since recognising the value of an authentic positive reputation.

Unlike beauty, however, an organisation’s reputation is one that is best earned. In fact, there is no other way. Assuming a reputational approach to governance should be one of the FAI’s first steps in order to address the current issues they are facing.

So, what next for the FAI? We outline some practical first steps the organisation can take which can help them get back on track.

Practical Steps

Sport Ireland, the organisation which directs the development of sport in the Republic defines good governance as “an attitude of mind”. An organisation that employs good governance, they say, is transparent, responsible, accountable, and participates actively with all stakeholders.

These are, of course, the operational mechanisms many well-respected organisations strive to achieve, but they do not appear overnight.

By adopting a governance approach that places reputation at the heart of everything it does, the FAI can begin to strategically change the culture within the organisation.

A number of ways they can do this are as follows:

Accountability

They say to keep spring bloomers flowering vigorously, the non-performing shoots must be removed all the way to the ground, allowing younger stems to grown and bloom. Like gardening, good reputational governance revolves around issues and risk management.

In order to achieve best practice, checks and balances must exist within the organisation to first and foremost, meet the business objectives of the organisation.

If a position becomes unsustainable in the event of an oversight, procedures must be set in place where relevant members of the organisation can be held accountable, otherwise reputation will be jeopardised in the eyes of key stakeholders.

Grassroots Approach

While the FAI is not a public body, it does receive public funds. There is an expectation from stakeholders of more stringent standards when public money is under scrutiny. Where stakeholders see an organisation governed to a high standard, it promotes confidence; embedding reputation as a key driver leads to better decision-making, while also helping to meet legislative responsibilities.

With the advent of social media and its public nature, the perception of key stakeholders has evolved to become the stimulus to which good governance now responds and in time, grows. The FAI must position key stakeholders such as sponsors, clubs and those at community and grassroots level as the guiding lights, as central to the development of the organisation for that blossoming to occur.

Organisations are only as strong as their reputations and transparency for stakeholders is now the whetstone to which a company’s reputation is measured.

Taking a look at communication channels to and from the board of the FAI should be a key priority in order to strengthen the roots of reputation within the football family – and as we know in football, roots run deep.

Establish Reputation Committee

By putting reputation at the heart of good governance, there must now be someone to lead on this initiative, someone to prune and pluck, preen and plant. As well as this, creating reputational radar, a focus on the importance of reputation internally, lead from the top down, can prove invaluable in highlighting reputational awareness and creating a reputational culture throughout the organisation.

Along with the setting up of an independent review group, as was necessary in this instance, internal procedures must also be put in place to review ongoing issues and risks occurring internally and externally.

A Reputation Issues Committee may be set up internally, whereby an appointed Reputation ‘ombudsman’ may be tasked with co-ordinating reputational issues and risks, developing a reputational radar, and most importantly, reporting to the board. Creating actionable targets, guided by positive reputation alignment and engagement, the FAI can start to rebuild reputation.

It is incumbent upon the FAI to restore confidence with key stakeholders, already aided by the resignation of a number of central board members and the overseeing of an independent review group currently underway.

Irrespective of what recommendations the group make, if meaningful change is to be implemented, and stakeholders’ view of the organisation is to be earned, acknowledging the role reputation plays in the eye of the beholder is paramount to achieving this.

A reputation by any other name would smell as sweet.

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