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Sport Governance Principles - The Gameplan

This is a Sport Australia podcast production.

Kate Corkery Hello and welcome to Sport Governance podcast series. My name is Kate Corkery and I am the Director of Sport Governance and Strategy at Sport Australia. Over this series we will take a deep dive into the Sport Governance Principles and how they come to life in practice.  Each podcast will focus on an individual Principle with a special guest joining me to share their experiences and practical advice with respect to that Principle.

Kate Corkery In today's episode, we're focusing on principle three - The Game Plan, a clear vision that informs strategy. Principle three highlights that the board is responsible for overseeing the organisation's vision and strategy, as well as determining what success looks like. To discuss the Game Plan, we are privileged to be joined by Rob Scott, Chair of Rowing Australia and Managing Director and Chief Executive of Wesfarmers. Rob holds a master of applied finance degree from Macquarie University and a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the Australian National University. He has a graduate diploma in Applied Finance and Investments and is a qualified Chartered Accountant. He is a dual Olympian in rowing and a silver medallist from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, as well as Chair of Rowing Australia, he is a member of the University of Western Australia's Business School Advisory Board. Rob is a past President and Director of the Insurance Council of Australia. Rob, thank you for joining me to discuss the Game Plan.

Rob Scott Thanks, Kate.

Kate Corkery This Principle starts with vision and purpose and then sharpens focus on the role of strategy in connecting the object's purpose and vision of an organisation. How important is a national sporting organisations vision in so far as its capacity to unite all sections of a sport beyond the NSO itself?

Rob Scott Well, look, I think it's really important. The reality is that the health and sustainability of a sport is dependent on vibrancy in all areas. And I guess if you think about a lot of NSOs often the focus might have been very much at the high performance level. Certainly a sport like rowing historically has been like that. But the reality is that for us to be successful in the high performance area, we need to have a really strong base. We need to be strong and relevant at a grass roots level. We need to engage all areas of the sport to be successful. And I think that's increasingly important as sports continue to promote their relevance in the Olympic Games, for example. You need to show that your participation rates, your engagement is relevant so for us, this has been really important. One of the lessons for us as a sport, if I go back about five or six years ago, there was this sense that we were a very Canberra centric organisation. The team was based in Canberra, predominantly focused on the high performance aspects of the sport. Some in our sport referred to Rowing Australia as "Fortress Canberra". So we've tried to make a real effort in recent years to engage more deeply across the states, across the country, to really tap into a lot of the fantastic and passionate people that we have in the sport of rowing.

Kate Corkery Indeed and the vision itself has that discussion and has that hard look at "Fortress Canberra", and the perception within the sport that it was very centralised to Canbera, by having a hard look at that reflection and that perception, were you able to harness and sharpen the vision to be more broadly focused on rowing nationally?

Rob Scott Well, it's interesting. We spent a bit of time really reflecting on what is it that binds us all together? What is the common vision or purpose? And if you think about the different participants in our sport, you've got people in the national team, you've got veteran rowers, masters rowers, you've got school rowers, you've got volunteers, you've got people involved in community rowing. So what is it that binds us all together? We were really fortunate that one of our alumni just happens to be the CEO of an international advertising and brand agency. So we tapped into Marty O'Halloran's expertise from DDB Worldwide and he came up with this phenomenal piece of work following really detailed stakeholder interviews. It really kind of came back to this sense of what brings us all together in the sport of rowing is this common theme around excellence, always striving to be better at what we do, no matter whether we are a school rower, a veteran rower or an Olympic rower, and really bringing together some of the imagery and the aspects of our sport that bring us all together and make us all very passionate about it. So that was a really powerful way for us to, I guess, unify the purpose and bring people together in the sport of rowing.

Kate Corkery So spring boarding off that concept of excellence within an environment such as sport, which has really limited resources. How significant is it to ensure that all parts of the sport have aligned strategic plans?

Rob Scott Well, yeah, look very important. I think there's various reasons why it's important, I'd say first of all given that we have limited resources, if we are aligned and leveraging capabilities, then we can reduce costs. So there's a lot of administrative aspects that we're all subject to that through better streamlining and alignment we can just simply save money, save cost and then invest that money into more value adding things. The other reason why it's so important to be aligned is that a lot of sports rely very heavily on volunteers, very heavily on the discretionary effort of many people, including the board of directors, I guess, given that we're not in paid roles. So the more that we can have alignment, then the more we can be working together and mobilising and inspiring that discretionary effort of volunteers. So that's really important. Look, I think another another really important thing to remember is that there's a lot of passion and a lot of emotion in sport. That can be a really powerful part of the success of sport if you can tap into that passion and emotion. But sometimes that passion and emotion can not be constructive, particularly if it is around individuals trying to preserve vested interests or personal perspectives. So that's why it's really important as a sport that we really face into what are we trying to achieve as a sport and then put in place the settings to ensure that we're giving people the tools they need to be successful but we're all ultimately working together for a common goal.

Kate Corkery Indeed. And you've really highlighted there the incredible efforts of volunteers at all levels of sport and the opportunity we've got across national and state levels in sport to bring to life the vision. How can a sport develop a strategic plan that does engage those volunteers, that does engage and leverage the states and the NSO to ensure that they are aligned to the organisation's strategy?

Rob Scott Well, I think you touch on an important point and that's within all sports it's really important that we recognise the very distinct roles and responsibilities of the national body, state bodies and in different sports club, club entities. The reality is that most national sports organisations simply don't have the capacity, nor are they well equipped to really manage a lot of the 'on the ground' issues at a state level. So if I take a sport like rowing, we rely very heavily on our state associations to do things such as manage local rowing regattas. To do that effectively, they need to engage with local councils and authorities. They need to mobilise the volunteer base at a local level. So I think what's really important when you go about setting your strategy, setting your strategic plan as a sport is to acknowledge those differences because although alignment and in some cases centralisation can be positives for sport, they can also be distinct negatives. Sometimes sports try and centralise too much power in the central unit and then lose sight of the fact that the people that bring the sport to life on the ground are actually located out in the regions. So I think being really clear about what roles and responsibilities are and then stepping back and thinking about as a national body, how can we provide the governance, the tools, the support, the facilities to help our states and our clubs be successful? How can we give our states and clubs a sense of empowerment, that they have a sense of accountability to make things happen on the ground? And that is just so critically important, because I think to really engage and mobilise volunteers, you need to make sure that you're doing that in local areas where you can be very connected and hands on with those groups of people.

Kate Corkery And what's the role of the Board in embedding and communicating the organisation's vision and strategy across the sport and down to that grassroots level? And do you have any examples of where you've seen this done really well?

Rob Scott Well, I guess when I think about strategy and vision, I'd say the role of the Board is very much to help set the strategy and then monitor the implementation of strategy. I think you need to be realistic as a board of directors in terms of how much of a role can you have in communicating and embedding strategy? So in many ways, the boards rely on management to to embed strategy and communicate strategy. So that means that boards need to make sure they, number 1  have the right management team in place. So the decisions they make about the leadership of the sport are critically important. But then make sure they have the right monitoring systems in place to monitor how how well things are going. I guess at a board level, there is still a still the role of a board to be connected and visible. And that does go to communicating and embedding strategy. One area that we're focussed on is to try and make sure that our board is representative of the different areas of our sport, the different regions of our sport, so that we have a board that is by definition more connected with the sport. We've also tried to make sure that this was pre covered. We're looking forward to bringing it back, that getting our board out into the regions, out into the states, so that we move around the board meetings and after board meetings, organised sessions where we bring people in from the from the state or the regions to spend time with the board so we can hear directly with them. So those things, I think, are really important ways for the board to communicate and embed strategy. But ultimately, we rely very heavily on management and that means we need to have good processes in place to monitor how management are going so that the question of monitoring is a really interesting one and I guess one that boards to do struggle with it.

Kate Corkery So you go through the post process of consulting and developing the strategy and within it the sort of objectives. How do you set up the performance measures that the board is clear about what it's going to be measuring and who's accountable for that?

Rob Scott Yes, it looks another very good question. And I'd say I think in rowing, we're still on the journey to try and get that set up the right way. You know, we're working through a strategic planning process at the moment. And this year, we've agreed as a board and with the management team that we're going to pay far more attention to once we set the whole sport of plan we want the management team to come back to us with a very clear plan around how the organisational structure, the leadership roles are set up to deliver on that plan and also face into the realities of resourcing. We have limited resourcing. We want to do a lot of things. So being realistic about whether we have a resourcing plan to support the strategy that we want to deliver. So I'd say it's very much a work in progress within our sport. I guess the other observation I've taken from business is sometimes if you let consultants take over your planning process, you end up with about 50 KPIs that you're really focused on in terms of managing the effectiveness of the delivery of your plan. Sometimes I think you can go overboard with the granularity that you measure those outcomes. I think it's really important as a board to step back and ask yourself what are the handful of outcomes? What are the what are the small number of things that we really need to pay close attention to that are really going to drive or determine the success of our plan? And I guess in that regard, I'd say there's the 'what' and the 'how'. The 'what' might be well, what do we want to achieve? We want to win gold medals at the Olympics. We want to increase the participation levels in our sport. We want to increase non-government funding sources. Like those are pretty easy things to measure but the things that we're spending more time thinking about is the 'how'. And that is how we're going about building up a more sustainable future for our sport. So it's all very well to win medals at the Olympic Games but how are we going with developing out the pipeline to future champions? What are we doing to ensure that we're building a high performance system that is long term and sustainable? So are we are we focusing enough effort on the other parts of our athletes lives that are going to be critical if we are going to keep them engaged in the sport for longer? So I think we still have some work to do on measuring the how. And I guess these are, I think, the lead indicators that are all about long term sustainable success in the sport rather than some of the short term measures, such as medals at the Olympics, commercial funding of participation, which are easier to measure.

Kate Corkery So if if you're talking about the 'what' and the board is then looking at its decisions, which really create a lot of the 'how', how can a board ensure that its decisions and the operations of the organisation are aligned to that strategy? And what are the risks if the board starts making decisions that aren't aligned to the strategy?

Rob Scott Yeah, well, look, I think it's important as a board to have really good feedback loops in place. The reality is that as a board, despite your best efforts, you don't have real time visibility of everything happening. So you need to make sure that you have an organisational culture that is very open such that and I know the way that we describe it in our company and it's the same as how we talk about it in rowing, that an open culture is one where bad news travels faster than good news. So we want to if there is a problem, if there's a problem lurking around, then we want to hear about it immediately. Once an issue or a problem has been identified, then we can all work on it together rather than these problems lingering and festering and then becoming bigger and bigger problems. So, look, often when you step back and think about the effectiveness of the organisation, your effectiveness at delivering on the strategy, you need to recognise that not everything's going to work all the time. So it's really having good feedback systems in place that you identify when issues are arising and then it lets you diagnose. The problem is, is there a problem because there's misalignment in objectives? Is there a problem because there's a lack of resources? Are there other problems that are arising? And really, you just need to be very open and transparent about that. So having those feedback mechanisms in place are important, having really and it does come back to monitoring strategic plans, and that is the responsibility of the board, it is having really good reporting and good reporting doesn't mean the loss of reporting. It means really clear and coherent reporting that gets to the heart of the issues. So some of the things that we always look at, which I think once again, are lead indicators on how well the organisation's going is some of the personnel cultural measures within the organisation, what's happening with turnover, what's happening with absenteeism, what's happening with safety, what they're always good measures, the financial discipline within the organisation. How we tracking around following up on action items that have been identified through the board meetings? You just need to make sure you keep on top of these issues and if you've got those good reporting mechanisms in place, it lets you identify when things start to go off the rails.

Kate Corkery So you've really touched on there are a lot of issues around the organisational culture, and that's a key theme that modern good governance is anchoring into more than ever before and it comes up quite repetitively in the Sports Governance Principles. What is the impact that a strong strategy or an aligned strategy across a sport can have on the sports culture?

Rob Scott Well, look I think it's absolutely critical and I think at the end of the day, at the end of the day, as a board, as I said earlier, you need to be realistic about what the board's role is with respect to culture. You know, I do believe that boards have a very important role to play. It is very much, I think about setting the expectations of the organisation. It is monitoring progress to ensure that we are delivering the outcomes in a way that are consistent with the culture we want to live. But we need to also recognise who really embeds and brings the culture to life. Well, it's not the board that meets six to eight times a year. It is the management. It is the athletes. It is the broader participants within the sport. So I think that is really important. So then just comes back to, have we have we set a vision for the sport that aligns everyone that, you know. Is that authentic? Is it meaningful? Have we tackled into the issues where there are roadblocks or tension points within the sport? And look, there are always tension points within all organisations that I think the way you face into those are really important around culture. The way that you act when things don't go go right or you go well, I think is really, really important for organisational culture. So, I think what if I kind of reflect back on my time with the Rowing Australia board I'd say one of the key things that we can do as a board is that when issues aren't when something's going wrong, then face into it really quickly and communicate effectively, bring people together. Don't allow the Chinese whispers to occur really just try and bring people together and have a more open discussion about the issues. I think that's one of my learnings within within sport. And I think it's it's certainly equally relevant in most organisations.

Kate Corkery Excellent advice. Thank you for that. So if there's directors listening to our discussion thinking I don't know where to start with strategy where do I begin? Where do I look? Do you have any advice on that?

Rob Scott Well, look, I think there are lots of different approaches to strategy development, and I won't necessarily go through all of those but I think initially just starting often and trying to be clear about what you're trying to achieve as a sport. Something that we have found really powerful in in our organisation is to just keep reminding ourself that our reason for being, as a sport, is for the participants in our sport. So really focusing in on the rower, the athlete. We are not here as a sporting organisation for the benefit of the administrators. Right. The sport of rowing and success of rowing is not about our success as individuals on the board. It is about the success of all the people out there rowing. So be really clear about who your stakeholders are and who you're there to serve and we are there to serve rowers across all spectrums of the community, across all ages. So there's an accountability for us to our national team that represent our country at world championships and Olympic Games. We also have a role to play for social and community rowers at a junior level, at a senior level, at a masters level. We have rowers rowing into their 90s. And then there are all those volunteers that we talked about as well that also feel a deep connection to the sport. So being really clear about, well, what are the things that we're doing as a sport to help these people? That's what it's all about and I think where you touched on Kate at the start is, making sure you have a strategy that unites all aspects of the sport. Often I think organised companies or sports, they think about strategy in terms of there's a whole lot of trade-offs either in sport either we're going to focus on the high performance area or we're going to focus on the community and participation area. I think part of the problem is strategy development is organisations get themselves all confused. We are either going to be one or the other and that they're competing against each other? In some ways that's analogous to how some companies think. Some companies think I'm either going to try and deliver a profit and return to shareholders or I'm going to focus on all these things that are good for the community and the environment. Well, that's not the way I think about it at all. The more experience I've had in business in sport, the more I think that these things are inextricably linked. So in a company, at my company Wesfarmers, we are very focused on delivering superior returns for our shareholders. And we know that if we do the right thing by our team members, our customers, the communities in which we operate and the environment in which we operate, then we will ultimately, over the long term, deliver better outcomes for our shareholders. I think the analogy with sport would be ok we know in the sport of rowing we want to win a lot of medals at the Olympic Games and I think over the long term, we'll be even more successful at delivering on that if we have a very vibrant rowing community across Australia. If we're deeply engaged and connected, if we're leveraging the phenomenal capability and ingenuity of our alumni and volunteers. So they are the things I think that boards should be reflecting on in the context of strategy development.

Kate Corkery Really interesting observations. And thank you for joining me and your valuable insights into Principle 3. The Game Plan.

Rob Scott Thanks, Kate.

Kate Corkery If you'd like to access a copy of the Sport Governance Principles, you'll find them at the SportAUS website If you have any feedback or questions, please email us at My name is Kate Corkery and I look forward to you joining me for the next podcast in the Sport Governance Series

Sport Governance Principles - The Team

This is a Sport Australia podcast production.

Hello and welcome to the Sport Governance Podcast series. My name is Kate Corkery and I am the director of Sport Governance and Strategy at Sport Australia. Over this series we will take a deep dive into the sport governance principles and how they come to life in practice. Each podcast will focus on an individual principle with a special guest joining me to share their experience and practical advice with respect to that principle.

In today's episode, we are focusing on principle two - the team, aligned sport through collaborative governance. This principle highlights that across a sport, boards benefit from working together to govern collaboratively and create alignment to maximise efficient use of resources and implement whole of sport plans. To talk with me about the Team, I'm joined by Ben Houston. Ben is the Chief Executive of Sailing Australia and President of the Commonwealth Games Association. Ben has also been the President of Triathlon Australia. Ben, welcome to the team. And thank you for joining me today.

Thanks Kate.

Australian Sailing is one of the leading examples of collaborative governance in Australian sports. Can you tell us how collaborative governance has strengthened the sport of sailing in Australia?

Yes, certainly. And I might start by talking about our One Sailing model. So in 2016, Australian Sailing and our state and territory associations agreed to a new national operating model, which we refer to as One Sailing. And this shared commitment was based on three principles. A strong national governance mechanism, a more efficient management of resources - so specifically around centralising the finance function, the people function and our I.T. functions and taking a more consistent and efficient approach to delivering services to our clubs, developing and delivering programs, and also providing and delivering national policies for our clubs. And this has allowed us to reduce the inefficiencies and costs associated with managing multiple organisations and those organisations employing staff and by centralising the staff under one organization, we can ensure that we've got the capability and the capacity in the organisation to meet our strategic priorities.

So in terms of the opportunities through those three key pillars, what aligned and integrated systems, processes and people have you undertaken?

Good question. And look, as part of moving to that One Sailing model, we agreed to implementation agreements with each association. And those documents regulate the roles and responsibilities of Australian sailing and the associations that are then underpinned by our Constitution. But as that name suggests, that's really only been the starting point for One Sailing. And now we're reviewing those agreements to ensure that they are fit for purpose as we move into a more collaborative approach, both with our boards, our state association boards, but also our state advisory committees as we look at deregistering those state bodies. And we engage with the associations in a number of ways, both in terms of the deregistration and what that means, but also as part of a key driver in maintaining relationships and building those relationships with the boards and the state advisory committees.

So you've spoken about the importance of the implementation plan and evolving that implementation plan going forward as the Australian sailing model is more mature and more formal, and its collaborative essence. What are the tools and techniques of Australian sailing used to build and maintain those relationships across all the boards in the country?

I think the key is that we're building trust through communication, engagement and the Australian Sailing Board doing that in a number of ways. Following each Australian sailing board meeting, the President, Daniel Belcher meets with each of the presidents. So has a call with them that provides a forum both in terms of transparency around the decisions that have been made by the Australian Sailing Board, but also allows a discussion on matters affecting the sport or changes that require the approval of those state presidents and their board? And this has been particularly important as we've navigated changes and decisions around the COVID crisis. The other way that the board is doing is doing that, is in ensuring that we're collaborating on the development and implementation of our sport’s strategy. And the presidents and their boards are key stakeholders in working with the Australian Sailing Board to both develop our strategy, but also that group meets annually to discuss the strategy and our ongoing plans to implement the strategic priorities.

So with respect of the issue of strategy and cohesive vision, how important has that been to One Sailing?

It's critical and it's critical to have an aligned whole of sport vision. And that informs both the national strategy, how the national strategy is developed, but also the regional execution of that strategy. And again, the board is very conscious of developing the national strategy in conjunction with the association. And then they charge the executive team to develop the operational plans to allow the staff to execute on that strategy. And therefore, it's essential that everyone in the organisation and across the sport understands, both the strategy and the vision. And that's critically important for the staff. So that not-withstanding where the staff are in offices around the country, they know that what they are doing is helping to achieve the strategic priorities for the organisation.

You just raised the issue of ‘across the country’. So how do you recognise and embrace the diversity of geography and ultimately different priorities in those geographies across the sport?

Again, I think communication is the key and Australian Sailing, we've done that in a number of ways. I think principally the fact that a number of the Australian Sailing Board have been past presidents of state associations provides the board with an opportunity to look at the strategic priorities and the implementation of those strategic priorities through a regional lens. And I think that it also provides us with an opportunity to inform how we're delivering a broader plan across the country. And as I say, having staff that up until 2016 were employed by state associations means that having a whole of sport plan, being very clear about a ‘member centric’ approach to delivery of our strategic priorities, is critical to ensure that we’re both recognising and embracing the diversity that we have across our sport and across the country. The other thing I'd probably flag is in moving to a One Sailing model, we've got to recognise that, you know, we are a national body that takes a leadership role in terms of the sport but the state associations still play a critical role in informing, both the strategy and how that national plan is developed and employed within each state and territory.

Yes, certainly states continue to play critical roles, no matter the structure set up in the sport at any one time.

What benefits has Australian sailing realised since One Sailing been complete or through its transition?

And we are still very much through that transition process Kate. I think, look, there's a couple of things. In terms of the benefits we have one voice for our sport. We can take a ‘top to bottom’ approach to pursuing the vision for our sport. Our strategic plan is stronger through engagement with the state and territory boards. And we have alignment and we have a more efficient model for our staff, structures and processes.

And have there been financial benefits associated with the transition?

Yeah, absolutely, because apart from anything else, we've reduced a lot of the duplication associated with delivery. We no longer have additional costs associated with managing multiple staff through multiple organisations. So there is an efficiency gain in terms of ‘one management’, but more than that. It provides alignment in terms of the delivery both the development and delivery of our strategic plan.

So what would you say the key lessons have been throughout the alignment process?

I think for me, the importance of communication with the state and territory presidents and their boards to ensure that we all continue to share the one aligned vision for our sport is critical. And that's certainly a key learning. I think we also need to ensure that we have alignment across our sport to ensure that we continue to take a member-centric approach to delivery of everything that we do in our sport and that we continue to work on engagement with all of our external stakeholders and with our state and territory boards to ensure that they remain aligned with our plan and vision for our sport.

Thank you, Ben, for your time and your insights on the Team and aligning sport through collaborative governance.

You're more than welcome. Thanks, Kate.

Thank you for joining me today. If you'd like to access a copy of the Sport Governance Principles, you'll find them at the SportAUS website. If you have any feedback or questions, please email us at

My name is Kate Corkery and I look forward to you joining me for the next podcast in the Sport Governance Series.

Sport Governance Principles - The Spirit of the Game

This is a Sport Australia podcast production.

Hello and welcome to the Sport Governance Podcast series. My name is Kate Corkery and I am the director of Sport Governance and Strategy at Sport Australia.

Over this series, we will take a deep dive into the sport governance principles and how they come to life in practice. Each podcast will focus on an individual principle with a special guest joining me to share their experiences and practical advice with respect to that principle.

In today's episode, we are focusing on Principle One - the spirit of the game — values, driven culture and behaviour.

This principle highlights that an organisation's culture and behaviours should be underpinned by values which are demonstrated by the board and embedded in decisions and actions of the board, its directors, members and the senior executive. Joining me today to talk about the spirit of the game is Petria Thomas, a superstar of the pool during her career, Petria won three Olympic gold medals, three world championships, nine Commonwealth Games gold medals, 13 Australian championships and three Pan-Pacific gold medals. Petria has been appointed as the Commonwealth Games team chef de mission for Birmingham, following three games as athlete services manager and her Gold Coast role as general manager of team services. Petria has also led the Australian team at three editions of the Commonwealth Youth Games. Well-known to issues of culture and behaviour. Thank you for joining me today, Petria.

Thank you. Pleasure to be here.

Culture can be a challenging subject for sporting organisations due to its abstract nature. How would you define or describe culture?

I think culture is really the accepted behaviour and the standards that the organisation has, it is a hard one to define, but generally it is about what people expect. That level of behaviour that I suppose is acceptable to everyone and is acceptable in today's society.

In terms of your career and your time in the pool. Did you have experiences of positive culture or negative culture?

Oh, yeah, definitely. I think, you know, all of us throughout our lives have experienced both positive and negative culture in various circumstances that we've been in. And definitely, you know, as an athlete, I had that experience as well, both positive and negative culture. Thankfully for me, it was more positive during the time I was involved in swimming. You know, all in all, I had a great experience as a member of the Australian swim team.

And in terms of the impact of positive culture, how does that change your engagement in performance as an athlete?

Obviously, if it's a positive culture, people feel comfortable. And I think, you know, when you can feel comfortable in your environment is when you're going to get the best out of yourself, no matter whether you're an athlete or a staff member or whatever it might be. So it is really important as you say, it's quite an abstract idea culture, and it's really hard to define. But I think it is really important that, you know, people feel like they're safe and in an environment where they can speak up if they do see things that are not acceptable.

Yes, speaking up is a challenge as culture becomes negative and arguably at times toxic. Were you able to ever call out behaviour or did you need to call out behaviour?

Not so much when I was an athlete, as I said, there was a fairly positive culture when I was involved in the sport of swimming. But certainly as I've gotten older and as I've grown to understand more of what culture is about and what's acceptable and unacceptable there have been times in my professional working career that I have actually spoken up and it's not easy to speak up, but I think it's really important when you see things that don't sit right with you to call them out. Because, you know, I've often heard of the saying, “the behaviour you walk past is the behaviour you accept”.

And certainly the role of governance and the leaders in the organisation, whether they be the board or the CEO, have a significant role in establishing and role-modelling good values and behaviours. In terms of defining or determining values and behaviours, how important is the process of defining them and consulting values?

I think, yeah, it's really obviously critical that from an organisational perspective, that the organisation has a strong and sound set of values and which leads obviously then to the culture within the organisation, both for its staff and its members. The consultation on that process is really important because, you know, I think when the top down just sort of says, oh, these are our values and this is our culture, you need that ‘buy-in’. And I think you can only get that ’buy-in’ when you've had a strong consultation process. And it is a tough process, I think, because obviously members and staff will come from a diverse perspective. But I think it's important to capture those perspectives as best you can when you get that ‘buy-in’ and I think is when you can really establish a good, strong culture where it is okay to speak up when things aren't necessarily going as they should be.

And in terms of the role of the board in establishing and role modelling values and behaviour in your many roles in sport as athlete, senior administrator, team manager, what is the role of the board in terms of values and organisational culture?

Well, I think obviously the board is the peak of the organisation there. They're the ones making the decisions about the direction of the organisation. And I think it's really critical that, you know, they obviously are role modelling the behaviours that they want the members and the staff to portray. I think I suppose in my experience, it's quite often that you actually don't see the board very often though, except for maybe you know like presentations and special events and things like that. So I think the visibility is something that could be really improved because, you know, you quite often, you know, when you're an athlete or even as a staff member, sometimes the board can be a little bit faceless, to be honest, because you don't see them and you don't hear often about the work that they're doing and things. So I think that visibility could really be improved to show or highlight that they are role modelling those behaviours that they want and the culture that they expect of the organisation.

You have a bit of challenge coming up in 2022 with the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, establishing values in a Commonwealth Games team where you've got athletes and individuals coming from a raft of sports with different values, how do you do that?

It's really tough, actually. I’ve been on a number of multi-sport teams now with the Commonwealth Games, and it's really challenging to bring together 700 plus people from, you know, I think 19 or 20 sports that all have their own subcultures and own standards and things. It's hard to bring all those people together, expect them to gel and feel like they're part of something bigger. It is really challenging, but I think the approach I've taken to it in the past is just to treat people how you like to be treated yourself. And when you pass an Australian person during a games with the same uniform on as yourself, just lift your head and say hello or sit down next to them in the dining hall and share a meal with them and ask them how their day was. So I think they're the sort of basic approaches that that I'd like to see our Australian team members, certainly for Birmingham in 2022 to take. But it is really hard to bring such a broad group of people together and feel like there's something like something bigger going on than just their normal sport.

And your experience at the Gold Coast with the team there? Did the team gel and connect in a really positive culture at a Gold Coast in 2018?

Yeah, we actually had some really positive feedback through our survey process that we did after the games and I think whilst we can always do better, I think we actually did pretty well on the Gold Coast and people were sort of reported feeling valued and had a good experience. And I mean, on a games team, I mean, there are two primary goals for us, for Birmingham, as they were, on the Gold Coast, is for people to be able to come onto the team and we provide them with the environment where they can perform at their best. Both athletes, coaches, administrators, everyone - everyone on the team has to perform to get the result. And then also it's really critically important that they have a good experience and that they feel part of something that's just, that is bigger than what they normally do in that multi-sport environment. So, yeah, so we did quite well on the Gold Coast, but obviously still looking for improvement and hopefully in Birmingham we can have both a great team performance and great team experience for everyone. And that's part of it.

When we talk about governance generally, we tend to talk about policies and processes or systems or we tend to get focused on the box ticking and on the theory of it, this culture based principle, does it give us a way to look at governance in a different way to bring it to life?

I think it's hard. It's a pretty dry sort of topic area, unfortunately. And I in my daily work environment, I deal with processes and policies and athlete agreements and all that sort of stuff. So it is tough. And I think as an athlete, you sort of just, it's almost like they're just things that you have to do. I don't think we probably spend enough time on educating athletes about why all these things have to be in place. And it's both to protect them as participants in the sport and also to protect the organisation as well. But I think it is, it is a pretty dry topic area, but we all know that those things are there for well, the administrators certainly know that those policies and processes, are there for a really important reason, and that's to provide structure and protection for both participants and the organisation itself.

Excellent. Thank you for your very interesting insights on this important topic today and for joining us here on our podcast series. Thank you, my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Thank you for joining me today. If you'd like to access a copy of the sport governance principles, you'll find them at the sports website. If you have any feedback or questions, please email us at My name is Kate Corkery and I look forward to you joining me for the next podcast in the Sport Governance Series.

Sport Governance Principles - The Startline

This is a Sport Australia podcast production. Hello and welcome to the Sport Governance Podcast series. My name is Kate Corkery and I'm the director of Sport Governance and Strategy at Sport Australia.

Over this series, we will take a deep dive into the sport governance principles and how they come to life in practice. Each podcast will focus on an individual principle with a special guest joining me to share their experiences and practical advice with respect to that principle.

Today, we're at the Start line and I'm joined by Peggy O'Neal. Peggy is the first woman in AFL history to serve as club president since 2013, she has been the president of Richmond Football Club, overseeing their premiership wins in 2017 and 2019. The Australian Financial Review has named her in its list of top 100 women of influence. And in 2019 she was awarded an Officer of the Order of Australia for distinguished service to Australian rules football, to superannuation and finance law and the advancement of women in leadership roles. Hello Peggy and welcome to our Sport Governance Podcast series.

Thank you, Kate.

We are at the start line and stepping into the boardroom for the first time can be just as daunting as stepping onto the field or court for the first time. What initial advice would you offer someone who wanted to be on a sport board?

Well, I think the first thing is to understand a bit about the team you're joining is what is your interest in joining that sport board? Is it because you played that sport? You have a keen interest in it. But I think the first item is to understand how it operates, and that's usually finding what its documents are. It's Constitution. Who's on the current board? Who's the chair of that board? Just so you get an idea about how that board operates. I think that you'll also probably need to do a bit of maybe self-reflection on what skills you bring to that board or how you think you might make a contribution. And many boards these days have a skills matrix and they sort of identify the kinds of skills that need around the board table. And you might want to say, well, do I have one of those? So I think it needs, I think anyone should think serious about joining a board because we need a diversity of views, we need a diversity of life experiences. But I think you need to educate yourself and not just jump at a board because you think it would be an interesting exercise. I think that you need to find a board that's going to allow you to contribute to your best. And then once you've found that board and you become a director, I think the next thing is to get a really thorough induction on how that board operates, how the organisation operates. And most organisations are pretty good about those these days. It used to be kind of rare, you were sort of thrown in at the deep end and you get along, ask any questions. And you and I know myself, I was thinking, well, I don't know what questions to ask because I don't know what I don't know. So I think a bit of self-reflection. Give it a go. Educate yourself on what the board is about and then get a thorough induction - Is the beginning part. But it's certainly not the end.

So when we talk about governance, what is good governance?

Well, good governance is what we're trying to achieve. But when you think about what governance is itself, I always think that it's about accountability and about each person understanding the role that they're to play and then executing that role well. It's sort of it's a system of checks and balances that ultimately improves decision making. So I've often thought that governance and culture are often talked about as separate things, but I've often thought of governance and culture really going hand-in-hand. I think both of them are examples of the way things are done around an organisation. And boards are there to keep the organisation on course, to help define a strategy and then management is there to be the day to day arms and legs who get things done. So I think that it's understanding what's my job, ensuring that good decision making happens and is in fact setting up a few rules of the game.

In terms of sport governance, is it different from corporate governance in your experience?

Well, I think that governance, the accountability part really applies across both and the role of what a board plays, and what the CEO plays and what the management team plays is it's sort of identical. I think that sporting organisations perhaps have often a bit more of a problem in understanding that the board is there to oversee and to govern and that management is there to “do” so getting people to sort of ‘stay in their lane’ on sporting boards can be a real well, a constant sort of concern. And because you want the board to understand its job, and that's why it's important in understanding the governance principles, I think, is that the role of the board is different than the role of management. And sporting organisations often have trouble identifying those two roles.

And what happens or what is the impact of directors wanting to run the high performance programme or pick the teams?

Well, that isn't their role as one of the problems. And then it becomes kind of blurry about, well, who is it? Who's in charge of that now?  And I think that boards have to get used to the idea that they are not there to ‘do’ ideally and that you hire — I'm always sort of amazed to hire the best high performance people, you hire your best coach, you have your best CEO, and then someone on the board that has had no experience in any of those things or very little or isn't a professional — decides that they know better. And so I think that if I were in a management team with highly credentialed and someone on the board was trying to tell me how to do my job, I would think that's not the place for me. And I'll go somewhere where I can apply myself and my skills and my expertise in the way that is appropriate, as opposed to being overridden by someone who, for most part doesn't know what they're doing in this particular sphere. I think we all have a role to play in understanding your role as a part of that good governance.

And so that sort of highlights the relationship between the CEO and the chair in your time at Richmond Football Club. How has your relationship with the CEO, Brendan (Gale) changed or developed? And how important is that relationship?

Well, I had been on the board at Richmond for eight years before I became president and I was on the committee in 2009 when Brendan was hired. So I knew the kind of person that he was. And I had seen him in action for three years before I became president. But I see my relationship from being one of a director who saw him on occasion to, when you become the president or the chair of the board, you are in effect, are sort of a liaison between the board and the management team. And the CEO represents a management team. And I represent the board. And you do a lot of work behind the scenes before the board gets papers necessarily on it. And you help sort of guide the management team -through the CEO - on ideas they may be exploring or things sometimes happen between meetings that there's no time to call a meeting. Is this something the whole board has to be involved in?

So it's evolved, I suppose, in that we have to work pretty closely together. We developed a bond of trust, I believe, and that allows us to get on with the job because we do believe that each of us is doing what they're supposed to do. And we have delegations so that we don't step across the line and step on each other's toes. And often in sport, especially in Australian Rules Football that I'm involved in, people mistakenly think that the president runs the club. And you'll say lots of times the president's called on to speak in a way that the chairman of the board of a listed company, even in Australia, wouldn't be. So I always think, but we have a CEO and a management team that does that. And they're there every day. And I'm not and they're professionals on this and I'm not. So it's sort of an education piece for the public, too, that the CEO or whatever they might be called in different sporting organisations are the ones who have the day to day management. And the board, if it does its job, helps set the direction and is there for guidance, but is not there to pick the team.

So when we talk about the governance team, the role of the CEO, you've really highlighted how important that is. And then you've got your individual directors who are elected or appointed to serve on the board, and then those individual directors with their diverse backgrounds and experience come together to form a group. How important is unity in its decision making and operations?

Well, it's very important. So when we say ‘unity’, I don't mean that everybody has to agree all the time. What I mean is the understanding that a board doesn't have an individual voice. A board only operates as a committee. And I've often said that if you don't like being on committees, you wouldn't like being on a board, because once the decision is made, the director’s job is to say, I may not have voted for that decision, but I can support it. And the unity is that the public face is ‘this is decision’ the collective has made and ‘I’ as an individual, doesn't matter now.

And if you're at the point as a director that you cannot support that decision in any way, you need to know at what point you would say, I'll leave the board. So unity is important because it is presenting to your stakeholders the decision of the collective. And if you have someone who is the naysayer or who doesn't really give credibility to the decision because they think they know better or they think that we've made the wrong decision and they can't support it, then they are really undermining what the board is trying to do. And the stakeholders might start to think, well, who's running the place there? And of course, the media always likes to have story about dissension amongst board members. So I think unity is important in saying that this is a decision has been made and I can stand behind it, even if it wasn't my preferred decision. And I think if you take time, get the information in that you need to allow everyone time to make a decision that unity comes sort of naturally after that. If you rush people or if the president or chair comes in with a decision that's in effect almost been made outside meeting, it's really, I think, difficult to build trust in that way. So I think unity comes from trust amongst your fellow directors and trust with management team.

And one of the comments that you made related to trust in related to governance and culture, you see that is the same or very similar. How can boards build and role model, a positive culture for their members and for their sport?

Well, I think that the board is really watched in a way that most directors would be surprised. And I often think that a board is the chance to be the ultimate role model. And sometimes it may not be that members in your organisation know who those board members are. But the management team will know who those board members are. And if, for example, you have your purpose or your values that are expressed. And board members don't model those values, then it becomes permitted for no one to really think those values matter. If the board who set those terms act in a way that's inappropriate.

And for example, we've often talked at Richmond about the way you treat people, even waiters in a function, tells people how you respect people, how you respect each other, how you behave toward other people. And so there's little signals are always there. So I think you're not there showcasing those values every day. But when you have an opportunity, it's important that you do so. So I think that the board's very important in setting the tone and telling management whether they believe in what they’ve said their purpose is or not.

Fantastic. Peggy, thank you so much for joining us on our Support Governance Podcast series. Our next podcast is going to pick up Principle 1 — the spirit of the game, values driven culture and behaviours.

Thank you for joining me today. If you'd like to access a copy of the Sport Governance Principles, you will find them at the SportAUS website - If you have any feedback or questions, please email us at My name is Kate Corkery and I look forward to you joining me for the next podcast in the Sport Governance Series.

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