Governance Challenges and Planning for the Future
Forum 2 of the Think Tank series talks about Governance Challenges and Planning for the Future in a post COVID-19 world. It features Margot Foster AM, a former Olympian, lawyer and sports governance expert.
These are extraordinary times, the presence of COVID-19 means that each and every one of us, each and every one of us is facing our toughest ever opposition, although we stand apart if we work together as a team, as a team and play by the rules, and play by the rules we'll soon get back to playing and watching the sport that we love.
We need your support now more than ever, more than ever. Wash your hands and listen to the advice. If we play by the rules, we'll all get through this together.
Hello and welcome, everybody, to take two of the second of our think tank in the series The Post COVID-19 Community Sport series. Welcome, everybody. I'd like to start my name's Peter Downs, manager of Play by the Rules. Let's start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the lands in which we will sit and pay my respect to elders past, present and emerging. And today's topic is on governance, governance, planning, governance, challenges and planning for the for the future. And even before COVID-19, this was an important topic, but even more so now under and with limited resources that we're facing in the future. And to discuss that today, our format will be that we'll discuss this for around ten or fifteen minutes and then take your questions. So please, please do send in your your questions and comments as we go and we'll monitor those and we'll we'll talk to Margot about them.
But first, can I introduce you to Margot Foster, friend of Play by the Rules and governance governance guru. Hi Margot.
Hi, how are you?
I'm very well, how are you?
I'm good. Thanks. I've just I've just received you. OK, Margot. Governance challenges and planning for the planning for the future.
Hi, Peter. All right. Thanks. Great to be here, Peter.
Thank you very much for the opportunity again. Back at the MCG for take two. And I was just just thinking how nice it was that ladies did go first with the T20 World Cup as it's looking unlikely that the men's event will be happening later in this year, later this year. But those of you who don't know me. My background is as an Olympian. 1984 in rowing. Commonwealth Games. I'm also a lawyer by trade. And I gave that up a few years ago, thankfully. But whilst I was rowing, I was involved in sports administration and practicing law. And then when my rowing career ceased, I continued practicing the law and took on more governance roles and something that I really enjoy doing. And I've learnt a lot over the over the last 30 or so years. So I'd like to thank all the people with whom I've worked over those years for what I've learned in that journey.
So this is a really difficult and challenging time for us all. I don't think I need to go through those difficulties and challenges with you. They're live, they're changing and there are also opportunities arising as a result. We can control what we can control. But I think we all know that community sport is essential to all of us. One of the big things I think we need to do, and I know that on social media, there's a lot being done and said to promote sport, but we all need to band together, in my view, to tell the story of sport, because at the moment, as we know from our news services, AFL and NRL are dominating. They've got the market power. But we need to combine together as community sport people to tell our story because of those stories that will help us get the funding down the track. There are lots of challenges with the current pandemic and Paul and Bridie touched upon them in the first session, but just to repeat, we all know there's less money available. People will have changed priorities at the end of and during and as we emerge through this, the possibility of pay to play and all of unaffiliated play will become more attractive. There'll be challenges for the use of space and for also a esports which have been taking off. And I know from my role as a director of Motorsport Australia how much interest there has been in the motorsport e-series. We also know that people have been choosing the couch and the screen over active participation for a long time, and Ausplay data suggests that people's participation rates aren't increasing but are in fact going down.
Interestingly, too, government will have to make choices about how it spends its money and at a seminar, a webinar, I was at yesterday, the comment was made that sport and the arts to that extent, to some extent, too have less measurable outcomes than do other industries. So it's up to sport to to consider how it can tell that story I mentioned earlier to ensure that it is front of mind for government funding.
Because I know in the past and certainly my view that sport has come off second best in in many discussions. So what I'm about to say next, I understand that there has been there's a range of people, online clubs and associations to NSOs. So my comments will be applicable to some of you, but not all of you. But nonetheless, I hope the concepts and points that I'll address might have some useful application for you. Before I do, though, I think that there's also a need for everybody to adhere to the play return to play protocols. Yesterday I learned for the first time about the role of the COVID Safe Officer. I don't know what the parameters for that person are, but I would suggest that whoever that person is be properly embedded into the organisation structure with direct roles and reporting lines to the to the board, to the CEO or to whoever is in charge.
The risk is that people will play up if they don't like what they're being told to do in terms of social distancing, hygiene etc. And I think that there is an opportunity for this to get a bit out of control unless it's properly embedded. I'd also like to mention that there is no coersion in possible in the use of the COVID Safe App. So no one in a club or association can tell anybody that they have to. So far as far as boards are concerned, I think we all need we all know and understand we have trust and reliance on each other as directors. The chairman needs to be a person who listens, listens and encourages conversation, doesn't dominate discussion, encoiurages everybody to have a say and everybody's entilted to have a say.
No one is an imposter at a board table. But also this time there's no room for passengers on board.
I think conflicts of interest are really important here. And I have had a couple of conversations with people say that even on boards where representatives are supposed to be independent, not representing their states, they are still becoming divisions along state lines of another thing completely in the states. Certainly aren't just turn to sports futures. I think you may have a good handle on your finances. Don't over eat your budgets that I'm sure you're not given the declining sponsorship. And ah, as Paul said in the first session, it's a great idea to keep in touch with your sponsors and your stakeholders during this time because you want them there on the other side. On the other side.
Remember, too, that everybody is responsible for finances on a board or committee, not just the treasurer. So I know that sometimes finances are sort of quickly dealt with. But in this in this challenging time, it's really important that everybody have a handle on what's going on.
And if you don't understand, ask a question. There's no such thing as a dumb question or a wrong question. And I think sometimes people can get a bit intimidated if they think they don't know what the right question to ask is. Really important now for people to be on board who are creative and clever in their thinking around the strategies and risks that the organisation of face is facing. So many boards default to the easy, which is reading reports, looking back in time, but now is the time to really look forward and focus on risks. If you're an organisation that has a CEO, then I think that it's really important that the board keep hands off and understand the line between what the board does as in leading and the strategy and the big picture thinking and the CEO. But equally, it's important to give the CEO or the person or the ED or whomever the tools to manage the organisation. And I understand for smaller organizations and clubs and smaller NSOs and SSAs that you might not have a full time person, but nonetheless, the principles are the same. As far as possible, it's important to remember that the board is a leader.
As I've mentioned before, I think it's really important to focus on your members, customers, your stakeholders at the moment, and I know that there has been a lot of promotional stuff on the social media to recognise those relationships, but they will be so important. I think communication is key and I was always really impressed when I learned that Gymnastics Victoria under Jamie Parsons had a link so that feedback could be with staff. So instant communication that nothing was not able to be said, so that GV was able to give instant and great response to whomever contacted it.
At the heart of all this, every organisation needs to look after its culture and work together. And it's really not about you. There's no I in team. I think we've all heard that on so many occasions. But it's really important how people interact with each other and work together. There needs to be a focus on risk. I don't think any of us could have predicted this. Well, none of us did. There was a film some years ago which predicted the report suggested, I think back in about 2007 that there was going to be a pandemic at some stage. But I don't think anyone could have anticipated what has struck us down. So in this time, focus on your strategic plan. Do your SWOT analysis your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Because they will have changed significantly since the last time you did them. There's lots of risks out there, including to your reputation, general viability. Your premises, your staff, of course. Membership choices and offerings. I read somewhere the other day you don't judge a house by the number of bricks it's built with. So likewise membership, you don't judge the value of your organisation simply by the value of the number of members rather than by what they get from you as an organisation.
We also have to factor in climate change and the effects of that because, whilst that seems to have gone bit by the wayside in public. People who are able to or prepared to be involved in sports. Likewise, legal obligations to comply with. There's a new whistleblower policy that came in which does apply to companies limited by guarantee, which some sports are, but there is also application to incorporate associations. So that's something else to get your head around the Privacy Act issues, particularly in relation to the COVID Safe App. And in Victoria, for example, on the 1st of July, industrial manslaughter legislation comes into play. And whilst that's not directly relevant to most sports, it is nonetheless a piece of legislation like so much legislation out there that just needs to be identified so that clubs and associations are aware of it. Meetings, we all know we're meeting differently and this flexible way of doing so will probably continue for some time. This gives you the opportunity to refresh your board because you can invite new people, people who were previously on the outer, who couldn't travel. Can now have meetings. You could have shorter meetings. One of the comments in the last session is a key opportunity to focus on your purpose. Why are you here? I had a conversation be BC, before coronavirus, with the president of a golf club and we're talking about the future of it. And I said, well, if you ask a question, you know, why do people want to join you? Why would people want to join your golf club? I think the a question that needs to be asked.
I think it's really important to challenge ourselves about group think at diverse thinking in and also include more diverse people in your discussions, invite people who ordinarily wouldn't come to meetings. Have you got enough people on your board? Are they the right people? Think about skills matrices, nominations, committees to increase the variety and diversity of people on your boards. Increase the number of appointed people to get the mix of people involved and always think about the benefits of that diversity. Not only internally, but for the benefits of government and government and sponsors. And get your documents in order. Now is the perfect time. So I think having gone on for some minutes now, Peter, we might turn to questions. I could go on. There's plenty more to talk about, but I rattled through a few things and I hope that some of those points have been of use or grounds for further discussion either right now or later on.
Yeah, I think so. Margot, thanks very much. That's great. I've seen some questions and comments coming in. Thanks, everybody. There's been a bit of a time lag between you and the sound, but I think the sound's working fine. So that's great, Margot. We did have a couple of questions come in prior to prior to the forum today. I want to start with those and then we'll come up to some of the questions that are coming in live right now. And from the start with one from an interesting question from Joey Peters. How easy, difficult is it to make governance more flexible and encourage autonomous expressions for clubs whilst maintaining integrity and safeguarding?
Well, I think I've touched on some of those points that she's raised, and that is that there's a deeply this is an opportunity which in a way is quite exciting to think differently about how clubs and associations can meet and who can be involved.
I think autonomy and integrity are things that come from within. And the people who are involved in the organisation. But certainly by giving more people the opportunity to join in either as board members or coming in as guests, having meetings at different times, perhaps having shorter meetings, more on point rather than the lengthy, you know, two or three hour meetings, that might be an opportunity for some organizations as well. I'm just thinking back to my days on the board of Rowing Victoria in the 90s. We used to start at 6:00 and finish at midnight. And I think that sort of meeting protocol is long gone. But mix it up, get different voices in different people and make sure your people up fit people purpose. If I can say that for the challenges ahead, which will require everybody to think laterally differently and even round corners.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Exactly, we'll go on. You just mentioned around risk management. And we've got a question from Jak. Jak Carrol. Hi Jak. Thanks for putting on the seminar. Very interesting. And suggestions on how to integrate risk management monitoring into board processes.
Risk is one of those hard things because it does require basically gaze in the future. And as I touched on before, none of us could have foreseen or maybe we could have if we had been better informed or thought about it differently, how to assess risk. So there are processes to address risk, there are risk matrices where you rank risks about probability and likelihood and the impact of that effect of that risk will have on you. And I think one of the keys is to build risk monitoring and address your threshold for risk. What you're prepared to accept as a as a risk level into regular board meetings. Quite often it's left to management to report on two or three or four times a year. But I think like strategy at the moment, those two topics really need to be embedded into your agenda. At the top of your agenda so that everybody is aware and it's a constant conversation. One organisation I was involved in had a very sophisticated risk matrix and we had highest at our highest level of risk, obviously all probability. And something occurred that was going to be an existential threat to the survival of the organisation. So we had to create an extra category of extreme risk, the risk past that risk past. We went back, but that required constant monitoring. And I think that there are processes you could look up online about how to do it, to meet people available to assist as to how to make sure you're not missing those risks, and really think as widely as you can. And as I say, gaze into the future about what sort of risk could occur even if you think it completely out of the park.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I'm trying to pick up on going to a bit of a theme that's going here. This kind of question does touch on that. How do we get autonomous clubs to implement and follow governance principles and documentation?
Good luck with that.
One of the great challenges is that governance is scary.
I spent my life as a lawyer trying to write the simplest letters I could so people would read them because I know one one wants to get a letter from a lawyer. And I applied the side so many that they seem to be so complicated. They're not all. Not to say that if you down that they are not anyway consumable or readable in many ways. And people just think, I'm going to deal with this later, it's too hard. I'm. So having a process by which everybody can feel part of it. A few of the benefits need to mean what they say, and be easily understandable and applicable. One organisation I was involved with did a constitution review that took. An NSO. That took about two years. And then there was supposed to be an alignment by every state association of their constitutions within 12 months and all were alive keeping the club alive. It's a real challenge, but I think simplicity is the key to that. And I and I've seen so many documents that aren't simple. And I understand. It is a challenge.
Yeah, yep, yep. Thanks, Margot. Again, another one here. She sort of follows on from some of the comments and discussion at our previous think tank.
The question from Beau, in your opinion, how can sports maintain or increase their diversity, inclusion work to an essential level?
Oh, well, first of all what's an essential level? But I think one of the the casualties of this pandemic, this plague, has been the loss of staff who are responsible for diversity and inclusion. And it may be that they never return given the financial pressures on the sport.
So I guess my suggestion would be to again include that in committee responsibilities and open up your meetings, your operations to people who can assist you.
And who does to have the capacities, even if in a volunteer volunteer capacity. And I think to on that point will be relied even more on the goodwill of people to volunteer their time in the absence of the paid people.
I think Bridie made the point in the first session how important it was to keep, keep diversity, inclusion, top of mind up to the benefit of the organisation as a whole. Not just minorities, all those less represented. So I would I would again think about including that in two board discussions rather than leaving it to to management. How best can we include people and how best can we make the needs of those people then again it'll be another real really big challenge.
Yeah, definitely. Definitely. It definitely will be. Thanks, Margot. Another one. A couple of questions around this. I know you. It's fairly new. So people are asking around the role of the COVID Safe Officer there. I think people haven't been aware of that. Could you fill us in at any event, any more detail around the COVID Safe Officer?
I'll look as I say it, I mean, I read about it yesterday in an article and then I did a quick search on the Victorian return to play information, I couldn't find anything. And the other call was reproduced in the Clearing House this morning by Andrew Tate. And if there was a reference to the this person, but as I understand it, clubs and associations will have to have some body who is responsible for ensuring compliance with the social distancing. The hygiene. Whether you can use the loo. How many people in the change room? You know, groups on the on the field. And we saw what happened to the Adelaide Crows when they did a bit, this person's role needs to be clearly understood, from the top to the bottom of the organisation. And so that that person can't be challenged or alternatively doesn't overstep his or her mark.
Beyond that, I don't know. I guess there'll be more information coming out about it. But it's quite a fascinating role to have imposed or required on on virtually everyone, so I guess we'll learn more about it. But beyond that, all I say is make sure that the powers in that role.
Yeah, yeah. Okay, well, we'll keep a tab on that and I'll look for it and try and put something on to on to play by the rules as well. A couple of people have mentioned that for everybody really that sport New Zealand have some risk, some tools around risk management in particular there. People are asking about other practical resources that you may have seen around the traps to assist sports in terms of their governance post COVID-19. Are there any others that spring to mind. I know there are some, but I haven't got them in front of me right right now. But I know there's been some other work being done of you wear those, Margot.
No, I haven't. I haven't seen anything that ultimately changes the basic propositions about what good governance looks like. And I think it is a moveable feast at the moment, but it's nimble and agile and flexible and thinking round corners out of the box about how to do things differently while keeping as much under control. You know your control as you can't manage managing that.
Yeah. Yeah. And the someone has quite rightly mentioned. Thank you, Denise. That Sport Australia Return to Play Toolkit will be released. It's not released yet. I don't believe. But that is coming as well. So there are a few things that I'm sure we'll see more and more over the over the next few weeks. To conclude perhaps. Margot, I want to pick up again on a bit of a theme and just interested in your comments to to conclude around how sports can do in terms of fostering that positive culture where we've taken this massive body blow in community sport in the in trying to reenergize community sport going forward. What can boards do in terms of trying to foster that sort of positive culture moving forward?
Well, I think know I think a lot of it's about communication and just sending out the message that, you know, we're here, we're united, we are as one with what we want to do with for our club for our sport. And we want you to come with us. And it's going to be that that journey of togetherness, I suppose, bit touchy feely, but that we're only going to get through this if we all work together. And as I go back to my one of my initial points. It's about telling the story of sport, not only to those in our own immediate communities, but broadly to the government, to politicians. Just as Gil McLaughlan and Peter V'Landys have done for AFL and NRL, they have told one hell of a story to get their sports back into operation. Good on them. Again, their workplaces. But the rest of us, Olympians, Paralympians, every elite sports person in this country does not have the same rights to play as do those sports. So we can tell our story individually, locally, collectively. Then we might emerge from this more strongly than we than we might.
Yeah, yeah. That's good. Good words, good words, Margot, to to try and bring a conclusion, we do have some other comments and that and we will try to get to them possibly post this because I want to keep this till around half an hour here as well.
So we will take note of the comments and questions and I'll get together with Margot after this forum and and address those. Thank you very much, Margot. Indeed. We struggled technically, but we're learning as we go with this. But we did get through this one, which is terrific. The recording of it. So thank you again, Margot, for that. Thanks, everybody, for attending this this think tank. Like I said, we're it's in early days, but we'll continue to improve these as we go each Friday, each Friday morning. The recording of this will be on Play by the Rules in the next week as well. The edited version of this will be up on Play by the Rules so and all previous forums too. So thank you very much for your participation today and we hope to catch you again. We'll be promoting these forums again next week and the following weeks after that as well. So please do register for the upcoming forums. Thanks very much again, Margot Foster, and thank you for participating.
And we hope to see you again next week. Thanks, Peter. Thanks, everybody.
These are extraordinary times, the presence of COVID-19 means that each and every one of us, each and every one of us is facing our toughest ever opposition.
And although we stand apart, if we work together as a team, as a team and play by the rules, and play by the rules, we'll see you get back to playing and watching the sport that we love.
We need your support now more than ever, more than ever. And listen to the advice. If we play by the rules, we'll all get through this together.