Whether or not you are a soccer fan, you’ve likely heard about the scandal at FIFA (the world body that oversees the sport). The long and short of it is that executives in the organization, leaders in some country soccer committees, and sports marketing companies are accused of accepting bribes. They alleged payments were made to FIFA to ensure that tournaments were played in specific locations, including perhaps for votes for the site of the World Cup (the international soccer championship held every 4 years).

Things like this can happen for two reasons: Lack of transparency/poor governance and support by the organization’s culture. The latter comes from the top executives, which is why the President of FIFA resigned yesterday. Many feel that he jumped before being pushed by sponsors (it always comes down to the money) or the FBI. This culture he established led the organization to be arrogant and be closed to scrutiny.

How does one change a culture which is damaging to the brand? There is not any good science behind this, but one train of thought is that a sick patient cannot heal itself. In the link above, it’s suggested that there be a mea culpa through a truth commission so that all of the dirty laundry can be aired. Another thought is to have the bylaws and governance policies be rewritten by an outside organization. Both of these remedies would perhaps satisfy (to an extent) outside observers, but they also paint those who remain (and didn’t participate in unethical activities) with a brush of suspicion. This could lead to the exodus of top talent. However, in a sport as large as soccer, I have to believe that there are talented people outside of FIFA who could run it well.

I believe that a commitment from a top executive to change may help a culture shift in some cases. I’ve been working with a client on their team building. One barrier to them moving forward is a terrible mistake made by the president last year. It genuinely affected the trust between her and her team an among the team members.

When presented with this before a planned offsite, her first reaction was surprise that people were still bothered by it as she had previously apologized. At the time I thought this attitude would be a significant barrier in improving the team’s performance. Something must have clicked in her mind because at the beginning of the offsite she addressed the issue head-on. She took ownership of the error and for being the reason for the break in trust. Without being defensive, she outlined a path forward and what she would be doing to win back the trust. Her statement lifted a dark cloud and allowed the group to make progress during the session.

Does culture change in a day? Of course not. But this leader had the courage to shift it and, just as importantly, modeled accountability and humbleness to her staff. It’s a good beginning.

For more thoughts and insights into organizational change and employee engagement, contact Warren Bobrow.