“Imagine if change wasn’t an event, a transaction, a moment in time… What if it was a mindset you chose – a seed you could grow and sustain?” Kotter
As I sat down to write this I came across a few quotes on change, one of which went along the lines of “Change is painful, but nothing is a painful as staying somewhere you don’t belong”. It got me thinking, having again reflected in puzzled wonder at just how shite Celtic were last night, on the comments post match and specifically the commentary from Lenny on changing culture. Change and Culture are two areas I’ve studied and have a keen interest in. I’ve worked in both fields as well and would be of a similar vintage to Lenny. He’s a few years more than me on the clock and admittedly a much better footballer. I’ve been lucky to work in high performing organisations and equally lucky to go into organisations which were culturally a busted flush with a remit and the authority to turn it around. Every day of the week I’d choose the former over the latter however the sense of achievement in shifting an organisation and team culture for the better ranks among possibly the best career achievement I’ve had. It was hard hard yards though, dealing with egos resistant to change, snakes, charlatans and people who just couldn’t change. If we’re at a point of a new cycle with Celtic then change is needed but I get a sense that we’re witnessing the end of a cycle of not just players, but management and structure. And, if it’s a cultural issue, we have much greater deep rooted problems that won’t fix overnight.
Culture, eh? “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” as Peter Drucker, an expert in the field of management consultancy is oft quoted. Culture is the tacit social order of an organisation: it shapes attitudes and behaviours in wide-ranging and durable ways. Cultural norms define what is encouraged, discouraged, accepted, or rejected within a group. When properly aligned with personal values, drives, and needs, culture can unleash tremendous amounts of energy toward a shared purpose and foster an organisation’s capacity to thrive. When a new leader takes the helm in a senior position in an organisation, behaviour and cultural norm is typically the first tangible thing the group will evaluate in buying-in to the new leaders vision. When changing culture you need clarity of purpose, vision, scope and most importantly of all, buy-in. And you must – absolutely must – live and breathe the very norms you’re espousing. When it works, wow. Invincible Treble. Dominance. Entertainment. Players exhibiting superhuman trait, walking on air. But when it breaks down, it gets really really ugly. Moussa. AEK. Valencia. Regression. Shved. Exit as a rat. I fear what we witnessed last night was a poster child for a culture that is rapidly breaking down.
We talked recently at eTims towers about identity. It may have been in the annual cross dressing challenge for Scottish Independence Zoom call that Gaudd chairs or in a WhatsApp but either way, my take on it was/is that we are a team that lacks identity. Culture needs identity and vice versa. We’re not cloggers, tiki-taka artisans, hoof ball merchants, sophisticats, all-out attack, hammer throwers, street wise, park the bus merchants or any of those things. There’s an argument that a team needs to be in parts all of the above. But one dominant trait should clarify identity. I can’t for the life of me see it anymore.
Under Rodgers it was ball retention, possession and tactical awareness coupled with risk and a belief in the system, even when getting a 7-0 cuffing. Lenny took over post-rat event and stuck with it. Success. Lenny then tweaks in season two and we start well, fade, he tweaks again and success. 9IAR. On the cusp of another treble. Quadruple treble on the cards. Then the event, whatever it was, kicks in. I contend that in letting Sinclair, Gordon and Hayes and others go we made a monumental error of judgement. In Duff leaving we were just victims of circumstance. But that these combined ripped identity straight out of culture. All three “got” Celtic. All three “got” the pressure and potential of 10IAR. Ripping that out leaves Lennon’s culture exposed.
In Rodgers we had a top class Irish manager in the British game, who whether you believe him or not, also “got” Celtic. His staff all were either used to the operation of football outfits at the highest European level (Davies, Congerton et al) or player at the highest level (Toure and subsequently Duff). While Congerton’s value is debatable, the environment appeared to be one where the players were united, enjoying their days learning and a coach and staff who gave them safety and order. In Rodgers, the new leader came with a philosophy, methodology, gravitas and a willing bunch of players who had lilted somewhat under Deila. Rodgers in football terms literally made them invincible. The staff bought in, players, even the fans. We had unity of purpose. In Lenny we have a successful Irish manager in the British game who not only “gets” Celtic and where we are, but has been there and done it. But is he top level? I don’t think so but I’d trade successful and knows how to get it done over played nice football in mid-table EPL and won fcuk all every day of the week. What we have shifted to is a culture where the player is measured on results, empowered to take his own decisions and supported by a manager who offers purpose and cover (caring). Lenny’s style in high performance culture is the exact opposite to Rodgers.
What Lenny is facing now is a crisis I’m not sure that anything other than a top class manager – or, and I hate saying it – a change in management can fix. We moved from tutelage under Rodgers with a willing and attentive classroom, all with personal development plans and a charming, attentive headmaster, into a culture of High Performance where the player is giving his syllabus, his tools and told to get out there and do his job. There’s no tickling yer baws, late night heart to hearts with the manager, ‘you’re the best’ flattering, what there is is direct man management, trust from the manager to his team and an expectation of reciprocity which doesn’t appear to be there. Call it a breakdown in discipline or players abusing the empowerment, either way I think this is the chasm we now see. The players either can’t convert, won’t convert or, more dangerously, are now subverting the manager. If that’s the case, we’re collectively fcuked in the short term but it is redeemable.
Another management guru named John Kotter has a model for implementing change in organisations. It’s tried and tested and grounded in decades of research. It applies as much to the local under-10’s as it does a multi-national. Whether or not we redeem this with Lenny, or whether a change comes, we’ll see soon enough. He’s played his card now and called out the culture of the organisation as the problem. We can’t say he hasn’t flagged it. Lenny called out players who didn’t want to be there at the start of the season. He questioned their desire for success. He identified a leak and the notion that we were “killing ourselves from within” to paraphrase. We seem to have fixed the leak of the team in the short term, but how and through whom is for internal machinations only.
We now have our Kotter sense of urgency, in Brown et al we have a reduced numbers but willing guiding coalition, the strategic vision is clear, the volunteer army (one for the armchair rebs there) is in place but I think we’re stuttering to remove the barriers. If the barriers are ability or trust or belief in the coaching or methodology then we go right back to square one, needing another sense of urgency. That record can only replay so long till the players chuck it. Whatever breakthrough we need needs to happen soon.
I’ve said it before and nothing has changed. Neil Lennon has my 100% backing and I believe he should have yours too. Whatever plays out he at least deserves that.