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Malcolm Cole
Director - Media and Communications

This blog is not about rugby league. And it’s especially not about a recent jersey controversy featuring the Manly Sea Eagles. Because I’m a bit sick of hearing about it, and you might be as well.

This is just a general column about the importance of engaging with stakeholders who are going to be involved in a major change in your organisation, or even what might not seem a major change to you but perhaps does to them.

If this were a reference to the Sea Eagles’ jersey controversy, it would say that – regardless of the rights or wrongs of the initiative – it makes sense to talk with your staff (the players) about their new uniforms before launching them.

This is a basic step that most organisations would take when debuting a new uniform, or some other change that would directly impact them, even if the workplace considered it a positive change. Whether business or government, the best organisations would talk with their staff first, not let them read about it in the paper.

Textbook stakeholder engagement can take a number of forms, the most basic being to “inform” affected parties. It ranges through various stages – “consult”, “involve” and “collaborate”, and the highest level of engagement is where stakeholders are “empowered” to make their own decisions.

If this were a blog about the Sea Eagles, it would conclude that the organisation did not even reach the first level – “inform”.  And it would speculate that the players would, at the start of each season, be shown their jersey as part of normal events, just as workers in other organisations would be shown their new uniforms before the public.

If this were a blog about the Sea Eagles, it would commend the club for its efforts to clean up the situation. Rather than marginalising and ostracising the players who did not want to wear the pride jersey, the coach and captain fronted the media and apologised for the hurt that had been caused to everyone involved – both the community they were aiming to support and those who were not consulted.

Unlike the at-times hysterical debate that has raged around them, the club was conciliatory to all parties in retrospect and admitted it had made a mistake that resulted in precisely the opposite outcome to what it was aiming for.

Rather than using the big stick of contracts and fines to bring the reluctant players to heel, the club has instead acknowledged that tolerance and freedom of expression is a two-way street.  Belatedly, it arrived at “empower” on the engagement spectrum.

And it has replaced those players with a group of ready and willing young men who will grasp the opportunity with both hands.

For some of them, it may be a watershed moment in their careers. For the club, it may be one of the best PR turnaround efforts in Australian sport.

If this were a column about the jersey issue, it would conclude that Manly had gotten its communications spectacularly wrong in the first instance, then spectacularly right at its second attempt.

But it’s not.  Because I’m sick of hearing about it!

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