Three Wrongs Don’t Make it Right – Leadership Needs to Step-up in the Face of Adversity

Pivotal Resources Blog - Leadership Needs to Step-up in the Face of Adversity

In a previous blog, “Highly Respected Brands: Customers First – Not Flawed Policies and Processes”, we discussed an epic football game and final play incident that occurred Monday, September 24, 2012 when the Green Bay Packers were playing in Seattle against the Seahawks.  So, what can all of us learn from this NFL football game?  How does this incident apply to organization process, policies, change management, and leadership?

For sure, the “NFL’s replacement referee system“, was deemed flawed by a large majority.  The final outcome of the game did not reflect the true situation of what actually happened.  It did reveal many process and policy flaws that were in place which if corrected could have prevented the final flawed outcome. However, this is contrary to what NFL management officially stated.  So there clearly was a gap between management (NFL) and it’s employees (Players/Coaches), business sub-contractors (Media/Advertisers), and customers (Fans) that needed to be addressed.  If everyone says that you have an inferior product/service and they care enough  that they want it corrected, but Management does not acknowledge it – there is a problem!

I recall a similar issue when Apple released the iPhone 4 which turned out to have antenna signal reception problems in certain situations.  Apple initially denied that there was a problem, but after public and media outcry, they realized that the better customer action was to provide a free solution, and permanently fix the issue with newly manufactured versions.  Apple took a relatively small hit to their bottom line because of a new change in their policy, but cleared a major hurdle that re-set them on a path to new levels in the months and years to come.  It could have been much worse if a stubborn management did not act accordingly.  The brand essentially had to be ‘dusted-off’, but by eventually admitting to failure and correcting it, their brand ultimately became ‘very shiny, bright, and delicious’ to new customers and investors.

So lets take a look at the sequence of key events and decisions that were made at this football game – based on the facts and keeping in mind the NFL systems, processes, and policies in place.  We will then gain insight on how this applies to most organizations with a few principles to remember.

1.)  First Wrong

  • An incorrect judgement provides wrong data for subsequent analysis.
    • At the end of the football game, at the very same time, the Side Judge Official calls a touchdown (TD), the Back Judge Official calls “end of play time” (not a TD).

2.) Second Wrong

  • Wrong data from 1.) was processed too quickly, and leads to an incorrect “final decision”.
    • After the play and discussion, the Referee called the play as a TD, however he did not discuss the judgements long enough with the Officials.  Additionally he may not have had enough information about a perceived “simultaneous catch”.  According to the NFL Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Item 5 – “It is not a simultaneous catch if a player gains control first and an opponent subsequently gains joint control.”

3.)  Third Wrong

  • The Video Replay Official had a chance to over-rule everyone and confirm the ‘reality of the play’ – interception, not a simultaneous catch, no TD, game-over, Green Bay wins NOT Seattle (BTW – the author is NOT a fan of Green Bay).
    • Instead, the Replay Official bases a decision on what process outcome he can and can NOT make, via the policy rules and what was called on the field.


Situation Analysis and Organization Principles to Remember

Football officials can be partly thought of as employees of the organization AND they can be thought of the organization’s vehicles of process for the football game (product/service).  One of the key issues raised around this incident was the lack of competence of the replacement game officials. In fact this is the issue that had been raised beforehand, regardless of this particular game incident.  If there were better officials with more experience in place (hence re-instating the locked-out officials by NFL management AND which is now in place), the premise is that they would have made the correct call on the field in the first place (and presumedly the blatant pass-interference by the offense that happened just before the catch – err, interception, which would have made this  particular incident – moot).


Principle A: In general the notion of competence applies to all employees/management and processes in our organizations.  The more training, practice, guidance, experience, and better improving process procedures – the more accurate and better results.

To be fair 1.) and 2.) could have happened with the NFL professional officials as well.  These are instant judgement calls that happen in real time.  It takes lots of practice at a high level to get these calls correct, and sometimes the best get it wrong too.  This is why (or should be why) video review has been implemented within the NFL game – to confirm a call or reverse a wrong and make it right. Officially, NFL judgement calls by themselves are not reviewable, since the entire game could be full of those (that’s why one hopes that the officials are very good at what they do).  But in some certain, very important situations, such as a score, a turnover, or a final play with all of those in question, these are thankfully reviewable.

So now we come to 3.)  In NFL football, video review should be a process in place to better see and make a final decision of what actually happened – especially in game changing events.  The game is so fast that even with advanced, high-tech, slow-motion video, sometimes you don’t have “conclusive evidence” to change a call one-way or the other.  This was NOT one of those cases.  There were many video angles presented, and 99% of the public came to, “it was an interception” conclusion – including reluctant Seattle fans.  However, because of ‘black and white rules’ or NFL policy set forth, the video official did not overturn the call.  He based his judgement that there was no “conclusive” evidence to overturn the call from what the on-field officials called.  Then why did 99% of the public feel there was conclusive evidence?  Because they are basing their decision on what they actually saw, not on what was presented by a sequence of a “three-wrongs” process and policy rules to follow.  This is how reality was distorted by the NFL – policy and process flaws.

 Principle B:  What is the purpose of having, and following policies and processes that have major flaws, only for them to tarnish the trust, brand value, and integrity of the organization?

This is also where change and leadership, from many, is required.  A true, un-biased leader would have realized that an injustice of outcome was in the balance. That reality is more important than process rules and technicalities.  The video official could have made a contrary call and probably would have been reprimanded later.  But he was just following rules.  However, is this situation really different than employee empowerment for customer satisfaction issues?  Policies in place, that leading service companies such as Zappos and Nordstrom preach to their employees.  You know – “its better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission” when you do the right thing.

Most people wouldn’t expect a person to defy process rules, take accountability, and establish a leadership moment without the authority to do so.  However, imagine how that video official person would have been received after the media found out that he decided to come up with a contrary decision and how he would have ‘saved face’ for the NFL.  You know – doing the right thing!

 Principle C:  Most people do expect Management to admit and correct a wrong, if there is a flaw in their systems and policies when everyone else believes it to be true.  This is what leaders with authority, accountability, and responsibility do in the face of adversity. Empowering employees with ‘do the right thing’ policies is also effective.

In conclusion, no matter how efficient a process strives to be – there are defects or inherent mistakes embedded.  Lean and Six Sigma based processes help to improve on these situations. Policies should be proven to govern processes that deliver excellence day-after-day.  However, organizations should also be flexible enough to realize that not all policies can be written or followed in ways that always produce accurate or ‘best outcomes’.  Leadership and Management need to understand when change and improvement need to take place.  Sometimes circumstances will dictate this (reactive), other times forethought (proactive) is necessary.

Epilog:  NFL Management later ‘stepped-up quickly’ and admitted the need for quality change with new policies.  However this possibly only addresses the events of 1.) and 2.) above, NOT 3.)


About Pivotal Staff

Pivotal Resources makes change easier – and more productive – for your organization. We're specialists in helping leaders, managers, and front-line staff through transformations – both big and small.
This entry was posted in Best Practice, change execution, change management, leadership improvement, Pivotal Resources, portfolio & process management and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.