Incentives – Picking One Player From The Scrum

Shell Netherlands CEO Frans Everts is an interesting guy.  Clearly he’s  professionally very successful – he’s the CEO of a global oil company’s Netherlands operations.  Well done Frans, genuinely impressive.  But Frans has a bone to pick with activists, and he shares his perspectives in a story in the NL Times today.  Let’s come back to that.

It seems clear that Frans is not a hockey fan.  And while I’m certainly not criticizing him for that – the Dutch are not known for their nationwide embrace of the game – if he were a hockey fan he would certainly appreciate the value of assigning uneven penalties.  Let me explain.

Hockey is of course a physical sport, and it can be particularly rough in the corners and in front of the net.  Sometimes, this can lead to some pushing and shoving; sometimes even a punch or a face wash (Google it).  And often all that stands between the resumption of play and total chaos are the referees and linespeople.  Now in the good old days, the refs would give offsetting penalties when a scrum occurred.  Each player would go to the penalty box and serve their time, and neither team would have to play shorthanded.  Then the league decided to employ some psychology to keep the game moving along – if the ref picked one player in the scrum and gave only them a penalty (letting the other combatant off), players would be less likely to get themselves involved in scrums.  Why?  Because if you’re the guy assigned the penalty, putting your team in a hole (particularly if the other team scored on their power play), your coach would have a few things to say to you when you returned to the bench.  You may even be “riding the pine” the rest of the game for your lack of discipline.

Why am I explaining all of this?  Lets go back to Frans, Shell Netherlands and the NL Times story.  The article describes the argument Frans uses to discourage activists from targeting his company with a unilateral climate campaign.  You may see where I’m heading with this.  In the article, Frans  suggests that such an approach solves nothing, and in fact will only “damage the business climate in the Netherlands.”  Unintended pun aside, Frans clearly does not appreciate the nuanced benefit of picking a player out of a scrum.  Incentives (and disincentives) matter – if you are the player the ref chooses to make an example of, your coach (or your Board, shareholders, employees, or customers) may not be too pleased.

It’s lonely in the penalty box, Frans.  But trust me, it’s much worse when you return to the bench.

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