Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Boarding the Shuttle

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
-- Albert Einstein

They have tried meetings involving the principals.  They have tried meetings involving seconds.  They have tried meetings involving principals and the seconds.  They have tried meetings involving no principals and just seconds with owners and players.  They tried bringing in the face of the league to participate in meetings, reported to have met with his agent and owner to try to figure out what might work.

And yet, here we are…Day 87 of the Great Lockout of 2012.

You see a pattern here?

Having people who clearly do not trust, like, or respect one another in the same room, expecting that something wonderful will bloom, might not be a working strategy here.  Perhaps it is time for something else.

“Shuttle Diplomacy”

Simply put, shuttle diplomacy introduces the notion of an “honest broker” to serve as an intermediary between two contentious parties, shuttling between them communicating offers and divining and documenting common ground between them.  It allows the parties to avoid, at least to some extent, the aspect of personality that in this instance seems to have poisoned the process.  The players don’t trust NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.  The owners don’t like NHL Players Association Executive Director Donald Fehr.  One might opine that the principals themselves have a professional distance between them, but the relationship looks like something else that is fitting for this time of year – frosty.

This process might benefit from having a third party – that “honest broker” – communicate offers and proposals between the parties and document where the sides are in agreement.  One might argue that the principals are savvy veterans of labor wars, and it would be a fair comment.  That argues for a party with stature and an impeccable reputation for integrity and honesty, a party that both sides, including rank and file players and owners not on the NHL’s negotiating committee, would have faith in as a trustworthy and discrete arbiter while having no agenda in the outcome.

Thinking out loud, the sort of candidate one would prefer to assume this role would be someone who has experience both on the rink and in the front office.  It would be someone whose credentials as a spokesperson for the game are impeccable and who also has a familiarity with the business of sports management.  One would prefer that this individual have experience in high-stakes negotiation and that he or she has the skill to distill issues to their essential elements. 

The principals have not been able to do this for themselves.  Maybe they can do a better job of finding that person who can broker an agreement both sides can live with.

Get on with it.