Defining Moment for Canadian Sport Organizations – Let Values Lead the Way

Published on January 25, 2022

Last year I delivered a dozen keynotes on the state of sport and what we believe is needed to better meet the needs of the 21st-century athlete, coach, administrator and volunteer. The dominant theme across all conversations is “What got us here won’t get us to where we want to be.” This blog is meant to give voice to a practical and humanistic practice that leverages your organization’s commitment to manage by values.

We’ve written about Management by Values since 2008 to share an exciting evolution in management science. Much of our writings are informed by my Master’s Research into what was then considered an exciting shift in management science which focused on culture, people, and humanistic practices. We have dozens of blogs that speak to ‘start with heart’ and how values can serve as your moral compass … we’ve selected a few here to give you a framework to consider what we believe is the path forward for sport leaders.

Our first blog post was a collaboration with one of Sport Law’s founders Rachel Corbett and you can read about it here.

The second blog post was an updated version of our 2008 blog that was inspired by a decade of risk management teachings with over 100 sport organizations. Our favourite risk mitigation strategy is to manage by values, and you can learn more here.

Canadian Sport for Life asked us to write a blog about how values can be used intentionally when working with children and youth and we put pen to paper to share what we believe is fundamental to human development. You can review what we had to say here.

This blog was first published in the Coaches Report back in 2008 and reminds us of the critical importance of more humanistic practices. You can read about it here and if you are so inspired, I’d love your view on the idea of having coaches adopt a Hippocratic Oath to signal their commitment to eradicating maltreatment in sport.

Since my research was published in both academic journals and in my book: Values-in-Action: Igniting Passion and Purpose in Sport Organizations, we’ve worked with dozens of sport organizations who want to lead with greater skill and heart. James Collins and Jerry Porras, researchers who wrote Built to Last (1994) inspired much of my thinking and this quote speaks to the central thesis of my work: “People have a fundamental need for guiding values and a sense of purpose that give their life and work meaning. More than any time in the past, employees will demand that the organizations they’re connected to stand for something.” The following highlights offer a glimpse of some of the work we do and we are happy to connect to share more.

  • Standing for something: An organization’s values express its people’s belief system, giving language to what we call culture. Culture is defined 1000 different ways so stated simply, it’s the traditions, language, stories, and behaviours that reflect the beliefs of a social group, organization, or nation. And most of us appreciate that culture can eat strategy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Culture is the invisible glue that connects our mission to our vision and our values to our people. Culture is the one thing that can make or break an organization or a team.
  • Let’s thrive: In order to bring your organization to the next level, there are foundational pieces that must be in place. Since 2007, we’ve been speaking to what it takes to have an effective sport organization. Notice how a strong culture, based on shared values is the last point. In order for organizations to thrive, we believe that strategy and soul are required to elevate sport. We encourage organizational leaders to invest equally in the human factors to support organizational excellence. We are at risk if we don’t.
  • Manage by values: Management by Values (MBV) is a management philosophy that extends beyond the tried-and-true Management by Objectives (MBO) and Management by Instructions (MBI) to give expression to the soul and character of the organization. By identifying and defining a common set of values, organizational stewards can work together to get clear on the behaviours that reflects this expressed commitment. It signals to funders, supporters, and stakeholders what we stand for and helps to reduce risks of unnecessary conflict. Since 2010, we’ve been working alongside sport organizations to embed this philosophy within their cultures and our biggest lesson is that until we begin rewarding this kind of management philosophy, the pace of change will remain slow. Research speaks to the benefits of managing by values and the most notable include increases productivity, retains highly qualified people, fosters resilient cultures, empowers people to learn and navigate complexity with greater skill and ease, stimulates creativity, attracts sponsors who share your values, and inspires better communications.
  • Inclusive process: The process we’ve designed is based on social science research and our own 30 years of practice as leaders and business owners. Here’s the process we use to support our clients in managing by values.
  • Keep track of progress: To ensure you are fulfilling your commitment, you can use the Sport Law model that was developed based on the research of 9 National Sport Organizations. This simple yet robust framework allows leaders to move through the change process in a manner that helps to create sustainable change. And it provides a comprehensive and inspiring way to keep stakeholders updated on the progress the organization is making to live its values.
  • Communicate with purpose: If it’s true that people want to know that the organizations they work for stand for something, then this important work is mission critical. More important than setting strategy, doing the hard work first means establishing the ‘rules of the pool’ that will drive how we go about achieving our goals. We are seeing too many instances where a singular focus on medals or planned objectives drains people of their joy. We need morals to guide how we achieve our goals. When we do so, we will find that people will want to stay connected to your organization, that you will have stories to share about what makes your place of work so meaningful and rewarding, and you can feel you are keeping your promise as leaders to finding ‘a better way’.

We hope this blog gives sport leaders reasons to believe there is hope on the horizon and as always, we would love to hear what you think. Send your thoughts to DBL@sportlaw.ca.

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