Anker & Marsh

Author Bio ▼

Dr Tim Marsh PhD, MSc, CFIOSH, CPsychol, SFIIRSM is MD of Anker and Marsh. Visiting Professor at Plymouth University he is considered a world authority on the subject of behavioural safety, safety leadership and organisational culture.As well as many of the world's most recognisable industrial names Tim has worked with diverse organisations such as the European Space Agency, the BBC, Sky TV, the RNLI and the National Theatre in his 25 year plus consultancy career.He has key noted and chaired dozens of conferences around the world including the closing key note at the Campbell Institutes inaugural International Thoughts Leaders event in 2014. He has written several best-selling books including Affective Safety Management, Talking Safety, Total Safety Culture, the Definitive Guide to Behavioural Safety and Organised Wellbeing. Previously he led Manchester Universities ground-breaking research team into behavioural safety methodologies in the 1990s.
January 17, 2023

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Tim Marsh is kicking off

Tim Marsh on football hooliganism, behavioural nudges and the perception of Just Culture.

CREDIT: Wayne Perry/Alamy Stock Photo

Researching some of the older material on behavioural nudges and culture creation this winter break I came across a simple but fascinating example of how (even unreasonably) subjective perception can totally transform the culture of a situation or organisation – see almost any paper on the vital importance of choice, control and volition.

It reminded me of the fact that frequently, whether talking about safety or mental health we’ve agreed with clients, that it’s not the people in the front rows we need to reach and influence – it’s the ones in the back rows with their arms crossed.

Now, some employees have bloody good reasons to be sceptical and cynical of their management – but a small number of others can make sceptics and cynics of us all. We still need to influence them though. So, I’d like to kick off the new year with an interesting case study about people prone to positively loutish behaviour – football hooligans.

Blowing the whistle

Following Euro 2000 (where some 1000 plus English football fans were arrested despite all sorts of, at a glance, thorough and appropriate preparations made by the Belgian authorities), the organisers of Euro 2004 in Portugal were so alarmed they turned – controversially at times – to the groundbreaking work of Clifford Stott of Liverpool University. Stott made a raft of suggestions which fell under the banner of defusing hooliganism by not treating (potential) hooligans as hooligans – although in truth, of course, McGregor’s theory X and theory Y about the self-fulfilling nature of interpersonal dynamics is as old as the hills.

Riot shields and other visual ‘you might well prove to be a hooligan so we’re ready for you’ signals were hidden around the corner, riot gear replaced with nicely coloured shirts and big tough cops replaced with socially skilled ones trained in the art of ‘banter’.

One eye-catching technique Stott suggests highlights just how powerful the perception of,  ‘Well, fair play, I suppose,’ is in determining behaviour – we haven’t time to get into the perceptions and practises of Just Culture but clearly, they are hugely relevant. What Stott noticed was that many incidents were triggered by fans’ boorish habit of exuberantly playing football in crowded places – with the ball, for example, landing on someone’s café table. This moving the event from boorish and annoying to positively enraging. Land the ball on the wrong table and it could, of course, instantly get a bit ‘William and Harry’.

Can I have my ball back?

The traditional approach was for the police to seek out such boorish behaviour then wade in and confiscate the ball proactively. This saved beers, coffees and crockery but often the crowd got to finish their drinks and watch it all get a bit fruity and unpleasant between (now) indignant fans and police. Two-footed tackles and red cards everywhere!

So, Stott’s genius suggestion was to warn the fans that they really shouldn’t be playing football here but then wait for the players to lose control of the ball and only then confiscate it. (In my mind’s eye I have visions of decent amateur goalies stationed in the midst of the tables to pluck balls from the air but was unable able to verify!)

Instead of, ‘How dare you?’ (or words to that effect), the confiscation was as Stott predicted, met largely with, ‘Damn, but fair enough.’ Arrests of English fans at Euro 2004 was just the one in areas that used this approach. That’s certainly a decent step change down from 1000 plus no matter how many other variables might have been at play.

Influencing

It reminds me of the many, many managers over the years who have said, ‘But it’s part of their job description. We shouldn’t be making allowances and soft-soaping the buggers we should just bloody well insist.’ (Just like confiscating footballs from boorish fans is perfectly reasonable in many important respects and even entirely appropriate in certain circumstances).

But, as a blanket rule, ‘reasonable’ or not, it’s often not necessarily very effective or free of unintended consequences and therefore often proves some distance from any sort of excellence. This is because excellence often necessarily means influencing the behaviour and mindset of the boorish, unreasonable and subjective as well as the positive and reasonable. To do this effectively has always required much skill, nuance and clever psychology.

Sometimes, because of experience, history and/or charisma the ‘awkward squad’ at the back are by far the most important people in the room.

A free book to the first reader who can name the very appropriately titled (fictional) England World Cup song from the hugely funny mockumentary about the “Brazil 2002” World Cup.

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Glen Gardiner
Glen Gardiner
1 year ago

On me head son?

Paul C
Paul C
1 year ago
Reply to  Glen Gardiner

Yes, I think it’s On Me Head Son. That was way harder to find than you would think.
Good read as usual Tim

tim
tim
1 year ago
Reply to  Glen Gardiner

Indeed Glen – very well done – “It’s on me head son not off me head son” from ‘Mike Bassett’ by Keith (1990 WC song) Allen (allegedly!). Please mail your address to [email protected]

Glen Gardiner
Glen Gardiner
1 year ago
Reply to  tim

Ha! That’s awesome, thanks Tim. Great article and email incoming.

Kevan Barraclough
Kevan Barraclough
1 year ago

we’re on the ball

Phil Mitchell
Phil Mitchell
1 year ago

‘On me head, Son’ from Mike Bassett: England manager

tim
tim
1 year ago
Reply to  Phil Mitchell

Indeed Phil but Glen beat you too it i think!

Mark Glover - SHP Editor
Admin
Mark Glover - SHP Editor
1 year ago

Liking the footy puns guys!
Am sure we could include, ‘It’s a game of two halves’??

Kevin Franklin
Kevin Franklin
1 year ago

On me head son

Tim
Tim
1 year ago
Reply to  Kevin Franklin

Not off me head son … correct Kevin … but sadly not quickly enough! Thanks for chipping in though .,.. 🙂