Lessons employers can learn from the Donald Sterling incident

Have you ever wondered if your business has any personnel problems you don’t know about, just lurking in the workplace and ready to spring out at the worst possible time?  I’ll bet the coaches, players and hundreds of employees who work for the Los Angeles clippers had no real idea that a guy who had purposefully immersed himself in a primarily African American industry for thirty-three years had such repugnant and inexplicable views.  But there you are.

While the public outing of unmitigated racism by your CEO is not (thankfully) an everyday occurrence for most businesses, the Clippers’ calamity should serve as a wake up call for employers everywhere.  Any workplace, no matter how high profile or diverse, can have serious problems that emerge in painful and unanticipated ways.

Sometimes the problems emanate from the corner office, with devastating results for the business – and more to the point of this post – for the employees left in its wake.

In the Clippers organization, employees were left to field furious calls from fans, had to deal with their own reactions as well as the astonishment and anger of friends and family, and were called racists (the white employees) and sellouts (the minority employees) by those who imposed guilt by association on those left manning the phones.  All of this, with no guidance and support from management.

Senior VP for the Clips, Doc Rivers, got an earful when he met with employees on May 2nd.  “Rivers wasn’t prepared for what he would hear and see from the employees, some of whom were already in tears before he spoke. ‘It was really hard to see them,’ Rivers said. ‘I didn’t realize. Ticket people and marketing people, they’re sitting there crying and I felt so bad for them. I was thinking, ‘My gosh, we’ve been in this thing as players and as coaches but you forget these are the people that are on the front line.’ They work for the organization, too. You just felt so bad for them today. You’re sitting there and they were sharing some of the calls they had. They didn’t know the story was breaking and when it broke, like we said, there’s no playbook for this.’”  [“Doc meets with Clips’ employees,” Arash Markazi, ESPN.com 5/2/14]

So what do you do?  Well to start with, you need a playbook!  If your business confronts this kind of disaster, you need to come up with an action plan and get out ahead of the situation.  This week, Candice Gottlieb-Clark of Los Angeles based Mediating Solutions wrote a great piece, laying out some answers for just this kind of situation.  Check it out!  And if your business finds itself in a thorny thicket, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.  We are standing by to help.