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Sport Governance Principles - The Spirit of the Game

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. SportAUS.gov.au/governance. If you have any feedback or questions, please email us at sportsgovernance@ausport.gov.au. 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

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 - sportaus.gov.au/governance. If you have any feedback or questions, please email us at sportsgovernance@sportaus.gov.au. 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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