On February 20, 2018, Sports Illustrated published a report detailing the Dallas Mavericks’ culture of misogyny and sexual harassment. The team then hired an independent law firm to conduct an independent investigation into the Mark Cuban-owned Mavericks organization, and a 43-page report detailing the findings was released seven months later.
Cuban addressed the allegations with great regret, pleading ignorance of the culture that had developed, but profusely apologized for it and took full accountability. He then moved aggressively to fix the problem.
And what a difference a year and a half makes.
The Dallas News updated the story on September 18, the year anniversary of the report being published and 18 months after the SI story broke. I reached out to the Dallas Mavericks’ press team for comment, but did not immediately hear back.
Still, it was a glowing progress report. Here are the main elements of what has driven the turnaround, presented as principles for a playbook of fixing a culture in crisis.
Act fast and aim high.
Shortly after the SI story first broke, Cuban hired former AT&T chief diversity officer Cynthia Marshall, whom he named CEO, and whom he profusely praises and gives credit to for the turnaround. Marshall is clearly a driving force and has been working closely with Cuban.
Marshall showed up with a 100-day plan to clean up the organization. She set a sky-high goal, to go from the NBA example of the #MeToo movement to, in her words, “becoming the standard, leading the way in inclusion and diversity.” Marshall ushered in huge staffing changes, taking the Mavericks from having no business-side employees that were women or people of color to 50 percent women and 43 percent people of color.
Marshall and Cuban implemented a 25 percent increase in overall staff size, including more employees in HR, to help the turnaround effort. Marshall hired lawyers, created an ethics and compliance office, established an employee complaint process and instituted employee ethics, compliance, and unconscious bias training as an ongoing requirement. Additionally, the team is involved in broad community efforts for inclusion, diversity, and caring.
I’ve had to come in and turn around a toxic environment before, and I can tell you that fast and obvious action is required to show you’re taking it seriously. You need to institute real change quickly, not just window, dressing changes and you have to aggressively set goals that will position the environment as the polar opposite of what it has been.
To drive the right change, first ask “What are we about?”
I guarantee, no organization steps back and says, “We’re about being a toxic environment to work in.” Stepping back to consider what your organization is about forces you to have a vision and casts much needed light on the gaps you have to close to get where you want to be. You can’t begin to fix a toxic work environment until you’re clear on the severity and nature of the problem, and until your clear on what you want to become.
Cuban and Marshall decided they wanted to be about the best experience in sports for fans and employees. The organization most certainly was not that one year ago. But having a clear vision makes glaring outages all that more glaring–and inherently prompts action.
Ask what it takes to change the spirit of the place.
You can change people, roles, organizational structure and many other things to fix a toxic work environment. But to create lasting change, you have to change the spirit of the place.
People have to want to change, lead the change, believe in the change and where it’s taking them. They have to demonstrate and change daily behaviors. They have to believe it when leaders like Marshall says things like, “At the Mavs, we make things better! At the Mavs, we touch lives! At the Mavs, we are MAD: we Make A Difference!”
The spirit of the Dallas Mavericks work environment has changed. Ask what it takes to change the spirit of your culture. Then do it. Toxic culture requires an aggressive plan. Start with these three elements and don’t let up until it’s fixed. Your employees deserve nothing less.