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Turnaround for Sports Direct?

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So it looks like TMP’s old mate Mike Ashley is finally waking up to the fact that Sports Direct is a public relations nightmare and he’s trying to turn things around. As I type those words I can’t seem to get the image of a stricken Titanic out of my mind…But stranger things have happened.Like Brexit. But let’s start with the good news – and it deserves a fanfare, so please make suitable noises. Sports Direct have abandoned their particularly special brand of zero hours contracts which didn’t even pay employees the minimum wage. Finally! Who in the company watched this particular bad news story unfolding and decided to sit on it for a year? You know, really let it fester and then escalate to catastrophic proportions.
 

This national pantomime baddie has also given up on its notorious ‘six strikes’ policy, where workers could receive a black mark for such heinous crimes as spending too long in the toilet and taking time off work due to illness – how very dare they? Six of those bad boys and you were out. Wowzers. The thing is, once you’ve been so gloriously outed as an abuser of worker’s rights, can you change your image – and more to the point, get your share prices moving in the right direction again?

It really is the hardest word.

Sorry, that is. Mr Ashley did eventually manage to spit it out – well, probably got someone to write it for him instead – in a letter to his employees. And only after a damning report was published stating that the company had ‘not done enough’ to support staff. But apologise Mike did – “on behalf of (himself) and The Board for the shortcomings that have occurred in our working practices.” Humble pie all round then, as long as said pie doesn’t arrive more than five minutes late. And doesn’t want to take a break half way through the board meeting.

Unfortunately, this repentant Ashley was absent from a packed meeting where he lashed out at a union rep, blaming Unite for his company’s problems and saying “it’s probably your fault that we’re in this mess.” Excellent work, Mike. So has Mike “friend of the workforce” Ashley hired a great writer, or genuinely suffered a change of heart?

Will the real Mike Ashley please stand up?

Demonstrating the much-talked about security system at SD’s Shirebrook warehouse, Mike had to empty his pockets – and pulled out the biggest wad of £50 notes I’ve seen in a long while. Now, considering at that very moment he was surrounded by employees who weren’t even taking home the national minimum wage, this is bad enough. But then he opened his mouth to say “I’ve just been to the casino…..No, don’t please write that.” Well I just did. Keith Bishop, of Keith Bishop Associates – handler of SD’s PR – must have spent the afternoon silently weeping.

But Mike wasn’t far from tears either. Speaking to the press and trying to defend the position of the other silently weeping Keith in all of this – Hellawell, chairman of the board – Ashley’s voice apparently broke as he pleaded; “We’re going to fix it. Please give us 12 months to fix it. What difference is 12 months? We’ve done some good work in 90 days – let’s do some fantastic work in 12 months.”

And suddenly I feel for him. Now admittedly, I’ve always had a bit of obsession with Mike – for all the wrong reasons – but maybe he’s finally realised that he’s not untouchable? I’m not saying that the Sports Direct story would make a good blockbuster, but there’s nothing quite like a redemption arc to have us rooting for the bad guy. Who turns out to be a good guy after all.

Life lessons for us all.

We all have moments in life when we have to admit that we’ve monumentally messed up – and have to make amends for our actions. Business is no different. In this age of litigation and blame, it can be hard to admit you’re in the wrong, but sometimes we need to be the big grown up and take it on the chin.

I’ve had clients here at The Monachie Project who don’t like what our emotive user experience research has shown them and have tried to ignore the findings, but they can’t do it forever. Their businesses keep sliding down the snakes and missing all the ladders – and I keep reminding them of why they hired the best in the first place – until finally the penny drops. It’s uncomfortable but then change often is, even when it’s for the best.

It’s taken a while for Mike’s penny to drop – and the notes to start moving in the direction of his employees –  but maybe we’re really about to see some changes at Sports Direct? Fairtrade awards by 2020? OK, maybe that’s pushing it a bit far…

Who’s in your corner?

Who can you rely on to tell you a few home truths when needed? Now come on, don’t kid yourself with this one – we’re talking about someone who can lay it all on the line without fear of losing their job, missing out on promotion or having to live with a grumpy bear for a week if they say something you don’t like. Mr Ashley and the board at Sports Direct could have done with one of those people – or maybe they had one but didn’t listen.

An honest friend – with the knowledge and insight required to understand your business – can be hard to come by. But you’re OK, because you’re one of my TMP Faithful. You don’t need to put friendships on the line to turn your business frown upside down – you just need to get in touch with The Monachie Project to find out how your customers really see you – the good, the bad and hopefully not too much downright ugly.

But if there is ugly we can deal with that, no problem. I’m not suggesting that TMP could have saved the Titanic, but our unique customer insights can have your business sailing in more fruitful seas before you know it.

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