The IOF leadership performed at world class level handling the Fair Play Issue. Having spent two decades advising companies, small and large, to handle complex situations, I have to admire the use of modern management techniques by the IOF. We shall hope that on the General Assembly this week (8 and 10 July) member federations will also recognise this achievement.
I believe that this brilliance has to be documented as a case study also for the benefit of the general orienteering public. Orienteering athletes often study for a professional career or work in managerial and professional positions. They can benefit a lot from studying how the IOF leadership avoided to deal with the very difficult problem of Fair Play, while taking control of the situation.
Critics may point out that that the focus of the IOF management was not on solving the Fair Play Problem in orienteering. There was no sign of any specific investigation or even data collection to understand how widespread the problem is beyond the Unfortunate Events in China, there was no problem analysis, there were no objectives set, no success criteria or boundary conditions defined for any potential solution. There was no sign of a structured approach to understand the problem, despite the fact that the results of the broad based survey conducted by the IOF on Fair Play attitudes, and practical observations suggest that Fair Play violation is more widespread than we would like to admit.
These critics completely miss the point. These days the mainstream management focus, both for public and business administration, is not on solving problems, but on controlling communication and giving the impression that the issue is handled. The problem is swept under the carpet for the time being with the hope it will not come back while current management is in office. This was done brilliantly by the IOF leadership.
Solving complex problems is not easy, because they do not have objectively correct solutions like high-school maths problems. Every possible solution is a compromise. Evaluating and syndicating multidimensional compromises is difficult and prone to failure. It is a high effort, high risk approach – if one wants to do it well.
No wonder that kicking down the can on the road – the best alternative to solving the problem – has become so popular up to the highest level of politics and the corporate world.
The IOF management deployed the best course of action one can advise these days to management keen to avoid dealing with the problem itself:
- Defuse the situation through delaying tactics
(e.g. delegating investigation to a committee, launching broad general surveys)
- Focus attention on the usual suspects, don’t admit that the problem is widespread
(blacks, migrants, muslims, uncivilised “new” nations are good picks these days)
- Promise non-committing initiatives with no specific objectives
(educational programs, future reviews, etc)
- Avoid analysing the problem, the depth and breadth of it, or its root causes
(it would just keep inconvenient discussion alive)
The IOF leadership has meticulously followed this textbook approach. Analysis that would have shown the links between the Fair Play Problem and IOF strategy was avoided. No meaningful debate can be launched by the public, because there is “work in progress”. No success/failure question can be raised for the lack of clear objectives and success criteria.
Below are a couple of interesting details that both budding managers may find educational, and future academics may find useful when writing up this case study as teaching material for the best schools of public and business administration.