Gunnersaurus - the importance of cultural cornerstones and the core values that money can't buy.
Why core values matter and their correlation to the performance of organisations
Like most football fans in the UK, I was incredulous and insensed at the announcement of the European Super League. Given the huge furore it caused amongst all fans, it made me wonder how could the actions of the owners of these6 UK clubs be so ridiculously out of sync with the desires of its fans, the lifeblood of the clubs? The reason is clear - the core values of the owners are totally different from the fans. Their actions resulted in disharmony on a large and emotional scale and led to a complete disintegration of trust between the fans and the owners.
What are core values?
Core values are ingrained principles that govern our daily behaviour and play a fundamental role in giving our lives purpose and meaning. In times of crises or pivotal moments, they give you a reference point for decision making. Core values within businesses and organisations often reflect those of their owners and the culture within an organisation is a reflection of those values.
I would like to use this blog to highlight how important core values are for every organisation - even football clubs and what the implications are when those values become muddled and confused.
Everyone who works for Arsenal Football Club understands that we will fulfil our goal of making fans proud by being together, always moving forward and doing things the Arsenal way. This final element is a key ingredient of who we are. It’s about thinking about others, getting the detail right and going above and beyond expectations.
The Arsenal Way - values from Arsenal.com
I'm a fan of Arsenal football club, following them since 1970 and have been dismayed and disappointed at what has been happening to my club over the last decade - in fact since the club was bought by Stan Kroenke of Kroenke Sports Enterprises (KSE) in 2007. Arsenal has a reputation of being a club with strong values and a reputation for doing things the "right" way, i.e. with fairness and with consideration for others. I have highlighted the main values above. However, it has become clear that these values are not shared by the Kroenke owners. Their principal core value appears to be; profit is at the heart of everything we do. Their vision is to create a hugely profitable club which, in turn, means a significant return on their investment. Well, if they spent £731million buying Arsenal, what's wrong in pursuing profit and making a return on their investment?
"I’m transparent, we’re transparent, we don’t have anything to hide. We all want the same thing and we’re all trying aggressively to make it happen."
"But I’m not in this business to make friends, I’m in it to win. If anyone is ever going to question anything about our ownership – which I view as a custodianship, the supporters trust us to be a custodian of the values — that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to win whilst also respecting the values and traditions of the club."
If there is total transparency, then this objective would be disappointing but at least all the fans know what the game plan is for the Kroenkes in relation to their acquisition of Arsenal football club and helps us, as fans, manage our expectations. But what has become very clear is that the owners are not being transparent and that their behaviours always seem to be rooted in profit - what they say and what they do very rarely coincide.
The above quotes are from the son of Stan Kroenke - Josh Kroenke who is a key player within KSE. At face value, they seem to indicate a good sense of understanding of the importance of fan sentiment and also the importance of being honest with the fans. However, actions are the best indicator of true intentions and values.
A powerful example of this relates to the sacking and then re-appointment of the club mascot, Gunnersaurus last year as a cost-saving measure due to the havoc caused to the club's finances due to COVID19. As Kroenke is worth £8.9 billion, it is unfathomable why the sacking of such an instrumental and much-loved symbol of the club could be justified. In fact, it shows a fundamental lack of understanding and any sense of loyalty with the club's fans. It breaches all the values I have highlighted above taken from Arsenal's website representing the core values of the club. The furore created by the mascot's sacking resulted in the owners having to make a humiliating U-turn and reinstate the mascot. But the damage had already been done to the reputation of the club's owners. Their actions merely provided extra ammunition to the fans who did not trust the intentions of the Kroenke family.
These actions show the core values of the Kroenke family are totally divergent to those of the club's values and those of the fans of Arsenal football club. But what does this mean for the players and what bearing, if any, does it have on the performance on the pitch?
Relationship of core values to performance
I believe the players at Arsenal are affected; they sense the tension and friction amongst the fans and probably also feel uneasy at the behaviours of the owners. It would be rather surprising if the players were not affected; after all, they are not robots and are not immune to the actions of the owners. Year after year from the date of the Kroenke ownership, the results show a deterioration in the results of the club. This season has been the worst for 26 years, the team has lost 12 matches in the Premier League and the season is not over.
To perform at your peak, and to be inspired and motivated you need to have belief and trust in the leadership of the organisation - it is fundamental and critical - and there are NO exceptions! Congruence in values amongst the stakeholders creates harmony and a high level of positivity as well as a total commitment to the activities you are involved in. Just look at your own career and think about the times in your life where you have had the highest levels of motivation and commitment - what were the common factors?
Characteristics of effective core values
Regarding Arsenal Football club, if it had meaningful and well thought out core values, I would expect to see clarity and consistency in:
Behaviour at the club from the owners to each member of staff - playing and non-playing
Congruence in objectives between the owners, fans, managers and players
Highly motivated and committed players and staff
A reward system that is partly based on adherence to those core values
Recruitment of players and staff who are able to adhere to those values
Ability to deal with adversity and show resilience when things get tough
What do I see? I see a toxic culture pervasive at the club, insidious values seeping from the pores of the owners affecting and polluting a great club, damaging its traditions and harming its future. I see confusion and doubt - epitomised by so many inconsistent performances on the pitch by players and managers. There is a lack of resilience when times get tough - not enough belief and spirit. I see a lack of effective and meaningful leadership.
I would be interested to hear how well your organisation has done in creating its core values and what impact they have on staff and stakeholders.
Also, if you want to know more about how to create core values for yourself or your business, please email me at info@XtraClarity.com