Right before the Atlanta Falcons last game of the season, a game that had they won, they would be playing this weekend in the playoffs, Arthur Blank let it be known that he had hired a firm to look for a new head coach. Guess what? They lost that game in resounding loser fashion. Did that knowledge affect the outcome? Of course it did. So why did he do it?
Arthur Blank may have thought that this scare tactic would motivate the team to play even harder for their coach. I think it did the opposite and let it be known that they were on a sinking ship. That their play up to that moment had already been deemed a failure. We can argue that they are professionals who make a lot of money playing a kids’ game and should behave accordingly. But, that doesn’t account for the human element.
For those of us who’ve experienced this in the work environment, we know that the first reaction is not to do better work, but to become lackluster. There’s nothing that defeats and tramples on your motivation than feeling like you’ve been judged and deemed a failure. When you’re in a management position and told that you’ll no longer have that position and the change will take place in the upcoming weeks, it can be both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it can be a blessing in that it gives you time to search for another position elsewhere and plan for your transition. On the other hand, if you don’t have the resources to quit immediately, it can be the most frustrating and depressing weeks of your work life. You’re stuck in limbo hell.
The latter is what happened to the Falcons. Because this isn’t the NBA or MLB and the season is short, they didn’t have time to process what surely felt like a lost cause. Their performance and motivation suffered because Arthur Blank blanked up.
Management Lesson: Executive management should never usurp the power of middle management. Doing so is a demotivation tool that hinders performance and breeds distrust.