The Utah Jazz this season and last season have infamously been holding injury timeframes when it comes to their players. There have been the usual suspects defending Utah’s decision to withhold information from the press and the fans citing how it’s a good strategic to keep opposing teams in the dark. While it may be good on the court strategy, it’s a PR no-no. I’ll leave the on the court strategy to others more qualified, but I’ll speak to the business communications side of it
It’s the Christmas season, so let me show you through a Christmas Story of mine.
There is one Christmas that sticks out in my childhood memory. It’s known in our household as the “The Christmas dad forgot to charge the battery.” My father had a tradition of filming the entire family waking up and seeing what Santa had brought them. Unfortunately, he forgot to charge the camcorder battery. In order to keep tradition, my father said that no one could see what Santa brought them until the battery charged.
When asked how long that could be my father replied, “Whenever it’s done.” Thus we waited. When my brother and I remember the story, we remember that we didn’t start opening presents until the afternoon. The wait was excruciating as a kid. There wasn’t a starting time to look forward to; our friends were calling us throughout the morning telling us what Santa got them. But the truth is we only started opening presents an hour later than our normally scheduled time of 8:00AM. We only waited an hour later, but that lack of a time frame pushed our perception of time forward.
Here are their last five press releases when it comes to an injury. See if you can spot the pattern.
Further updates will be provided when appropriate.
In the absence of providing a timeframe, the Utah Jazz have said, “Further updates will be provided when appropriate.” The problem is there are not many further updates, and what justifies appropriate? It’s been almost month, November 16th was when Derrick Favors hit the injured list, and there hasn’t been an update. I’d say a month is enough time to provide an update. Alec Burks last update was November 1st, when is it prudent for the Utah Jazz to give an update? The only update fans and media received for Gordon Hayward, Boris Diaw, and Quincy Ford was when they were announced ready to play or released.
The lack of accountability in between fits the under “wait and see” strategy. We see this strategy employed ad nauseam by the Utah Jazz. This whole “wait and see” strategy of communication is more commonly known as “under-promising and over-delivering.” The theory is if the receiver of the information is given the absolute minimum of expectations then their total experience will be much better by the exceeding of expectations. By setting a bar low enough, no one can be disappointed at the end.
But does giving yourself a bar low enough for Kevin Hart to clear and jumping over it earn you the praise of your customers? Not really. This theory that you’ll hear over and over again in business circles is an old wive’s tale. A study from UC San Diego designed by Nicholas Epley put this theory on blast. Here’s the premise of that case study (emphasis added):
In one of the experiments, for example, researchers asked participants to recall three promises: one broken, one kept, and one exceeded. They then asked them to rate how happy they were with the promise-maker's behavior.
While participants valued keeping a promise much more highly than breaking one, exceeding the promise conferred virtually no additional happiness with the promise-maker, as published today in Social Psychological and Personality Science. Additionally, in a follow-up experiment, participants said that exceeding a promise did not require expending significantly more effort.
In another experiment, researchers paired participants, making one the promise-maker and one the promise-receiver. The promise-receiver needed to solve 40 puzzles, being paid for each puzzle solved. The promise-maker promised to help in solving 10 puzzles. The experimenter then instructed the promise-makers to solve either the 10 puzzles (as promised), only 5, or 15.
Although exceeding the promise by solving 15 puzzles clearly required more effort, the promise- receivers did not value that extra work any more than just keeping to the 10 puzzles promised: They valued promise keeping and exceeding equally.
"I was surprised that exceeding a promise produced so little meaningful increase in gratitude or appreciation. I had anticipated a modest positive effect," Epley says, but "what we actually found was almost no gain from exceeding a promise whatsoever."
There is no reward for rewarding a minimum value. In fact, like a purchase, you only get what you put in. If you promise really low that promise acts as a contract with a minimal return. You get nothing in return for going above and beyond. Case in point, when Gordon Hayward went down at the beginning of the season the Jazz provided this as their contract with their fanbase and media:
Following the examination, Jazz physicians Dr. Travis Maak and Dr. Douglas Hutchinson determined that Hayward suffered a fracture of the fourth finger on his left hand.
Hayward will undergo additional evaluation by the Jazz medical staff and further updates will be provided when appropriate.
What is the promise of the Utah Jazz? They will provide updates when appropriate. The contract is ambiguous. So what does any logical person do when the terms of the contract is ambiguous? They try to interpret the data. So instantly fans and media identified that the fracture part of this statement and googled “How long does it take to heal from a fracture of the fourth finger?” Guess what that yields? The new terms of the contract, but the implicit terms, not explicit:
But the problem with implicit terms of this agreement is they don’t yield the Utah Jazz any extra value in their deal. In other words, you don’t get brownie points if you didn’t explain the terms. So when Gordon Hayward returned 4 weeks later on November 6th, no one said, “Just like that Jazz said.” They said, “Just like I thought.” The Utah Jazz then are seen as a hindrance to information because the Google machine told the casual fan and media more than the team that held the information.
So what do people reward? Keeping promises. The only promise the Utah Jazz make to fans is that they’ll provide updates when appropriate. But what’s appropriate? And appropriate for whom? Again this is ambiguous. The Utah Jazz provide no contract for the fans and media.
Let’s return to my analogy at the very beginning. My dad provided no timeframe. I may have lied a bit when I said “We waited.” We didn’t wait, we badgered my father every minute for the next hour. Asking if it was time? How long? Is it charged yet? Can we just look at the presents then act surprised again? We badgered him for so long that he rushed his timetable. We didn’t wait until the battery was fully charged. We waited until it was charged just enough to film us rushing up the stairs to see what Santa brought us—albeit, very pissed. The camcorder died 10 minutes into it, we opened presents, and we still feel to this day that we had to wait until the afternoon. The lack of a time contract changed my brother and I’s perception of time.
The Utah Jazz’s “I’ll tell you when they’re ready” approach only serves to patronize their fans acting as though they cannot interpret the injury information if given to them in plain terms. It emboldens media members to go around PR and find sources about injuries instead of being able to get a precise answer from those in charge thus making good relationships with the team toxic. It’s not transparent and it’s childish. Hopefully, the Utah Jazz change this mindset now and open up their Circle of Trust to the fans and media when announcing injuries—and updates to those injuries—in the future.