Management using a soccer refs thought process

Around a month ago, I was speaking with Mike McCarthy (Associate Dean of the Marshall University Medical School) and he was talking about a problem he dealt with recently involving some personnel.

Mike explained how he uses the same logic at work as he does on a soccer field as a referee. As much as I hate to admit it, this made a great deal of sense (I hate acknowledging Mike is ever correct).

In a soccer game, if the ref feels a player is a bit out of control, his first step is to go over and give the player a verbal warning. The idea is to speak with the player calmly, explain that the behavior exhibited is not acceptable and to diffuse the situation. If, after this verbal warning is given, the player continues with this inappropriate behavior, the next step is the yellow card. The yellow card is the official written warning letting the player know this is unacceptable and there is now a record of this behavior in case this happens again. If, after the yellow card is given, the player modifies their behavior and doesn’t cause any more problems, everything is fine. If, after the yellow card is given, the player continues to misbehave, the next step is the red card, which means automatic dismissal (and subsequent penalties of missing the next game as well, at a minimum).

In business, if we used this same type of process, things would run much smoother. Too often, a problem happens, the management isn’t sure how to handle it so they do nothing. Because nothing is done a small problem becomes a big problem and everything blows up. Instead, a simple verbal warning could make a big difference. If that doesn’t work, following up with a written warning (that stays in their permanent files) will let the employee know this is now serious and will be dealt with severely, if it continues to occur. Then, if this inappropriate behavior does continue, dismissal is the next step.

If management and employees know the process that will be followed, there will be no surprises.

Following the simple process of verbal warning, written warning and then dismissal will help stop a lot of problems before they occur and when they do occur, will allow everyone to know the process to follow

I could have asked Mike to write this for me but anyone who knows him knows he would write this much more eloquently than me,but it would also involve 100’s of pages and none of us have that kind of time!

Have a great day!


6 Replies to “Management using a soccer refs thought process”

  1. I have worked for companies that have similar policies and procedures in the employee handbook, although rarely have I ever seen these procedures carried through. I worked for a large hospital chain and it was stated in the manual 1)verbal warning 2) written warning and 3) dismissal. But for some reason, supervisors and human resources do not seem to follow procedure and in the end, things get ugly. Why is that? Why not just follow the rule book?

  2. Company rules and policies are frequently written and never looked at again. The reality is these type of manuals should either be written, updated, monitored and reviewed on a regular basis, or never done in the first place.

    One problem many organizations make is they make so many rules that some get broken because certain variables were never taken into consideration, Once rules are broken the first time, it’s easy to continue to break that rule and others, just because the precedent has already been set. This is the reason I believe organizations should take a great deal of thought before setting rules they aren’t prepared to enforce since once ignored, it’s easy to ignore forever


  3. Okay, that makes sense. But I think sometimes the problem is related to the size of the company and the lack of clarity of who gives the yellow cards. Going back to my hospital days, I worked under three supervisors. Although their titles were different, the duties were almost the same and employees would go to any one of them when there was a problem. In situations like this, the water is murky. If I’m not doing my job, each supervisor is going to expect the other to hand me my yellow card… unless it is spelled out in the “rules” as Lawrence pointed out. But don’t you agree it would be easier to fly under the radar of “in coming yellow cards” in a big company than in a smaller company where infractions are more likely to be detected?

  4. You make a good point but realize while it’s easier to “fly under the radar” in a small company, there are many advantages of disadvantages to both big and small.

  5. As the “Mike” referenced in Lawrence’s blog entry, I wanted to add something. I’ll try to keep it brief (Lawrence is now thinking: “Doubt it.”).

    To extend the analogy, soccer referees are trained to manage players proactively and without resorting to cards when possible. Indeed, we hope that the image of the stern and dour referee is anachronistic.

    First, as managers of players, we need to be genuinely happy to be on the field (i.e., you need to love doing your job), and we need to display that happiness in our contenance and demeanor (i.e., smile — a positive affect will improve your own attitude).

    Second, we need to feel the game as the players do (i.e., empathize with a player who may be frustrated at her or his own performance, worried about her or his role among the team, etc., and hence misbehaving).

    Third, we’re told that the conversation that we have with the player when showing the yellow card is more important than showing the card itself. As a matter of fact, we referees are encouraged to enlist the aid of players whom we’ve cautioned rather than address them with finger-wagging or threats. A preferred response would be something like “you’ve received a yellow card, but I’m going to try to keep you in the game. Here’s where I need your help. . . .” This demonstrates some cooperation, and yet puts the responsibility for modifying the behavior directly on the player.

    All of these player management techniques, however, depend upon that ultimate authority to dismiss a player from the game — even if that authority is never exercised. Without such recourse, other, less exteme methods may not prove as successful.

    (Ok, so that wasn’t so brief after all. Perhaps Lawrence has a point about my writing style. . . .)


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