What lessons can you share about engaging people through a crisis?
It’s a great question. Put to me by a colleague in the last 24 hours.
The economic downturn has thrown up plenty of businesses lurching from one crisis to another. Where the very survival of the organisation is in question. Anyone following the dire events surrounding Rangers Football Club will recognise this. This is an institution which is nearly 150 years old and part of the fabric of Scottish society. In many ways it is far more than a business – for many it represents a sense of identity, of shared heritage, relecting a huge community within Scotland and Northern Ireland. For transparency’s sake I should point out that my allegiances are with the other big Glasgow club. But I have watched with a sense of wonder as a decade of financial mis-management catches up with Rangers. Mis-management is perhaps generous. Terms like tax avoidance, cheating or financial doping have been (more appropriately) used.
In any event it is the supporters who are paying for it now.
As someone with no real emotional involvement I have wondered how Rangers players, staff and supporters would react to what has been a particularly grim and relentless stream of bad news. It has been a mixed picture.
Some have howled at the moon. Denying the very facts being put in front of them. Refusing to accept the reality – lashing out at the authorities who have simply tried to apply the rules in very difficult circumstances. In some instances disgracefully threatening individuals and their families.
Some supporters have gamely tried to raise money to plug the holes in the finances. Yet the estimated £134m liability make any attempts in this regard feel pathetically futile.
And yet others have responded with incredible dignity. Most notably the players - who have accepted draconian short-term pay cuts in order to see the club through to the end of the season. While I will never have more than a grudging respect for Rangers, I have been impressed by how some of the players have carried themselves, and indeed, how they have performed at a time of incredible adversity. What more evidence do you need that engagement is about far more than money?
And so the future of Rangers remains in doubt. The much criticised mainstream media in Scotland have tried hard to paint a variety of positive pictures on the future of the club. None have stuck. None have had any credibility. So far… (perhaps this latest news will be different).
So in answer to the original question – I think many lessons can be drawn from this crisis. Without a powerful, shared vision for the future, without strong leaders, without the ongoing engagement of the players who have so loyally stuck to their task, and indeed without any money, it is hard to see what future the club has. Whatever happens the reputation of this veritable institution has been altered for good.
Indeed it is hard to assess whether we are witnessing the reputation of Rangers Football Club at its lowest ebb. Or watching the unfolding of a painful, slow, lingering death.