The hashtag #bartomedudimiteya is trending on Twitter, the kind of hashtag activism we see all the time. It gets a topic trending, but rarely has the effect that the people who ginned it up have, which is to effect meaningful change.
Bartomeu leave now. But why should he? There are legitimate reasons to desire a board change, but from this chair, all of them have to do with basic management tenets, including that being a successful manager is about dealing with peoople and their problems. The FC Barcelona football team has all the looks of unhappy employees — making the same mistakes, unusual moments of lethargy, at times working like there is a lack of dedication.
If any of my employees evinced those behavior patterns, it would be time to find out why, and fix the problems. Happy workers don’t leave a manager any worries about their quality. It is always high because they are happy. In looking at the Barça teams over time, the biggest quality about the Guardiola sides, even the Rijkaard sides before they started finding new ways to lose, was the joy with which they played. The same was true of the treble season under Luis Enrique. The team played like happy workers — selfless, composed, understanding their role in the success matrix of the whole and how to keep that success going.
People are screaming about the signing of Paulinho, and what it represents. Very few of them have seen him play. His principal sins are that he is 29 years old, cost 40m, same price as a desired player, and comes from the Chinese Super League. That’s it. Paulinho is more than a signing, if you will, just as the errors are more than simple errors.
And a hashtag is born.
— Viagogo ticketing boondoggles
— Fiscal shenanigans
— Conga line of court appearances related to a shady transfer
That is just a few of the legitimately disturbing things that involve the club, vs the team, even as people conflate the two. All of them are more worthy of generating hashtags than grabbing a 29-year-old Brazilian. But no.
Barça is a company being managed by people who have their own way of doing things, and a way that, from this chair, is damaging the product. When you stop managing humans, problems arise and you get unhappy workers. Is Neymar an example? What did he want? More money. Could the club have given that to him? Unlikely. Not the same money as Messi, nor should it have. But what else could the club have given him to make him happy? Did anyone try to find out? What might have kept Thiago? People poing to this or that signing, but what was it, really? What could it have been?
Dani Alves left on a free, surfing a sea of rancor. And whatever else you want to say about him in the wake of his depature, his words, that the board doesn’t know how to treat people, is underscored by the image of a weeping Abidal sitting at a table alongside Rosell. It is also underscored by the club telling Sergi Samper that there isn’t a place for him in the first team, and trying to send him on loan. Again. That Samper is or isn’t good enough for the first team at this time is immaterial — Barça is his boyhood club. There is a better way to handle that situation, just as there were better ways to handle Alves and Neymar. Happy employees don’t mind taking a bit less money for a fantastic work environment, because work is joyful.
But when money managers run a place where humans work, the atmosphere changes. People start feeling like they aren’t valued and begin to speak the language that money managers know — more money. Alves wanted security and money because he no longer had joy? Neymar wanted more money because what else was there? Sergo Roberto is rumored to want to leave because he believes that Paulinho is going to affect his playing time and team status. Okay. That happens in business all the time. But a happy employee never leaves a company they are happy at.
What this board has done is successfully managed the club to a point where this season there were record revenues. And that is fantastic. But have they neglected the human side to the extent that people are now unhappy? For all of Laporta’s dubious actions, from spying on board members to his Great Uzbek Adventure, he and his board were able to create an atmosphere of joy. That feeling is what people remember, a feeling that came more from how people were treated, like humans, rather than names on a balance sheet, parts of an equation.
It’s silly to stomp around talking about how Bartomeu and his board are destroying La Masia, or signing “old” Brazilians because there is a bigger picture here — people and their problems. “Does the check cash? Good.” isn’t the way to treat workers. Busquets’ plea for signings was very clear. The players want to be best equipped to fight the battles that they need to fight, and the first leg of that SuperCopa match showed that they aren’t. Why are some clubs better at transfers than others? Could it have something to do with how the people in question approach business? If you stomp into a city, saying, “We’re Barça and we’re here to sign your best player, so stand back,” what will happen. How do money managers approach a negotiation, vs human managers. Barça right now is a club being fiscally well run, but is bankrupt in the tender that people understand and desire as much as money: humanity.
But it’s business, right? Barça is now a global superclub. Under Laporta, for all of its success, it was still getting there. Now that it is there, how was the clinb to that lofty perch managed? In using the backs of the workers to climb to an exaltet status, did anyone pat those backs? Football is passion and we love it. It’s also business. The trick is to balance the two and employees will respond to how you do that.
Masia talents are leaving the club, and few are asking about their ultimate quality because of how they are leaving. “You. Out. You aren’t good enough.” One person found out they weren’t being kept on Twitter. There is rage and outrage because basic human tasks aren’t being tended to, and that’s the problem, a much bigger problem than a dubious Brazilian signing. The Selecao coach, Tite, has made Paulinho one of the featured players. He might actually not suck. But that ship has sailed, because Paulinho represents everything about the club that people don’t like. And that is wrong. The signing is mystifying, confusing and extremely odd. In this day and age, whenever there is a signing viewed as bogus, people start ranting about money laundering and illegal activity, which is absurd. What is the context. Why is the money being laundered and who for? Who stands to benefit? Those are all questions that would start any proper investigation into burdens of proof in any proper newsroom.
But on social media, all they need is someone to Tweet them, and someone else to say “Yeah!”
I have no idea if anything is shady, illegal or eyebrow-raising, other than the way that humans are being managed, and that has a price. Being so busy building a revenue model that can exist independent of sporting success, a desired result of this board, can bring about the “Be careful what you wish for” reality if the humans aren’t tended to.
Again, it’s everything all at once, that all points to the stuff that any manager learns on the first day of proper training: if the people aren’t happy, your enterprise, whatever it is, isn’t going to succeed. Hashtag activism doesn’t work. People who have the power to effect meaningful change does. Some 18k socis will have to affix their names to a petition that will then set in motion new elections. And then tens of thousands of socis will have to vote for their next president. It’s as simple as that. The Twitter arrogance that socis don’t know what is going on is precisely that. But different socis have different needs from the club. There are many who are more thrilled by 700m revenues than any signing. They vote, too. The club’s health is more crucial than trebles for them. Others want a sense of something, a feeling. Still others want sporting success.
These different reasons are why hashtag activism rarely works, even when it is trending on Twitter. Because people know what they know, and don’t care about the rest of the stuff. And at the end of it all, it comes down to people — whether those people are players or socis or fans. How the Barcelona board manages this firestorm will show a lot, even as it has already failed in its most significant chore of creating a space in which joyful work, high-quality work, can thrive at the feet of happy humams.