Keynote Address - Royal Canadian Golf Association

by Rachel Corbett.

Thank you very much Scott. Good evening ladies and gentlemen, Directors and Governors, members of the Provincial Council, members of Committees, voting delegates, Branch representatives, staff of Branches and of the RCGA, and invited guests.

When I was first invited to be your speaker this evening, I immediately had three concerns: one, I will have to tell a golf joke! -  two, I won’t be able to have a drink at the reception or a glass of wine with my meal -  and three, I might have to prepare two speeches, depending on how today’s vote on Bylaw 18 went.

Now, I am pleased to know that I can give speech #1 - and toss away #2. I am also looking forward to visiting the hospitality suite later this evening. And as for the joke, rest assured I know many jokes but not jokes that are necessarily suitable for telling here. But I do have one… please curtail your groans if you have already heard it.

So this joke is about Tiger Woods of course – not the one about him driving across Newfoundland (which is one of the jokes I cannot tell here). But he is at the practice tee and a visually-impaired man nearby says, Is that you, Tiger Woods? Yes it is, says Tiger. Well, Mr. Woods, I like to golf too – in fact I am pretty good at it. I would like to challenge you to a game! Says Tiger, you’re visually-impaired and you do know that I am the best golfer in the world? How are you going to hold your own in a game against me? Well, says the man, I play a lot of sports being blind. How do you do that? says Tiger. Well, says the man, in basketball I just have someone stand under the basket and ring a little bell so I know where the basket is and then I shoot. Really, says Tiger, Well how do you play golf? Sort of the same way, says the man, I have someone stand on the tee and ring a little bell so I know where the flagstick is. So what do you say about my challenge? Wanna take me on? Tiger hesitates a few moments and then says, Okay.  Great! Says the visually-impaired man – meet me back here at the Club at ten o’clock tonight!

Joking aside, for those who don’t know me, I am the consultant who worked with your Governance Committee through the governance reform project over the last year and a half. I would like to extend my congratulations to the Governance Committee, and its four members (Karen Rackel, Harry Daniel, Mike Richards and Barbara Allen) and to the very hard work they have done over this time we have been together – keep in mind this is the Committee that Harry signed up for thinking that his time on it would be quiet and low key! I would also like to thank the staff of the RCGA who provided extraordinary support to all of us. When I was first asked if I wanted to be involved working with the Governance Committee on organizational restructuring, I was hesitant, perceiving the RCGA to be perhaps the most traditional sport organization in the country. This was going to be tough, and it was going to be slow, I thought.

But at one point we put out a little survey to you and asked you, what should the timeline be, and you came back and said – do it quick! So we did! I thought I was in for a long haul, but in fact, the RCGA has accomplished more change in less time than any other sport organization I have worked with. I have to tell you, from my perch in the sport world, there are several National Sport Organizations who are more than a little jealous of you at this point.

From all sorts of angles, this is a really interesting time for the RCGA. (Well, three days out from the Obama Inauguration, its fair to say it is an interesting time for the entire world). The economic recession is touching all of us in different ways. I have read about how the golf industry is going to be under pressure as a result, because well-heeled Canadians will not be investing in golf club memberships, or in rounds of golf, or in bringing guests to play golf and to charge up food and beverage at their clubs, as they have previously. If golf clubs are challenged, then provincial associations and the RCGA will be challenged too.

I think the industry as a whole faces some significant challenges ahead. I am thinking very big picture here. A few weeks before Christmas I was completely absorbed by a radio program featuring a futurist talking about the future of post-secondary education. It was his prediction that within ten years, the “classroom lecture” as we all know it, will have disappeared. Technology, teaching pedagogy, and learning styles of today’s youth, will have all conspired to eliminate that need for a university lecture. Who would think? This has potentially enormous consequences for the physical design, infrastructure and funding of universities, and for student life in general.

So what lies ahead in the future for your industry? Let me share with you some trends that other national sport organizations are thinking about right now:

  • Overall, sport is suffering from a decline in volunteerism, which is related to demographic changes, and which has resulted in a lack of what we call the HQPs – highly qualified persons. This is a critical issue in most sports.
  • Sport organizations in general do very poorly at alumni development and succession planning. Universities are masters at this – I receive a solicitation every week - so why can’t we learn from them? Given the demographic of your sport, and the fact that you are truly a lifelong sport, perhaps this is of less concern to you - your alumni do not naturally fall away as participants, as they may do in other sports. Nonetheless, keeping your volunteers engaged, and broadening your skilled volunteer base, are critically important tasks ahead.
  • Technology is rapidly outstripping our capacity to keep up. This is where the demographic of your sport might be working against you – which is a polite way of saying that many of us are older. While we all use e-mail now, guess what? - our teenage and young adult sons and daughters do not. I am told that in as little as five years none of us will use email anymore, we will all be facebookers, myspacers, twitterers, and other social networkers.

There is a huge opportunity here, if we have the cleverness to take advantage - the power of social networking on the internet is enormous. For example, you may recall that in the aftermath of the US election on November 4th, all the good news was overshadowed by the controversy of Proposition 8 in California, a plebiscite that voted to roll back civil rights earned by gay and lesbian people, and that there were ensuing demonstrations around the country. The largest one was in New York City, where tens of thousands of people rallied - that entire event orchestrated in under 36 hours by a 17 year-old using Facebook. When a gunman opened fire on the campus of Virginia Tech a few years ago, half the student body knew about his presence, through text messages on their cell phones, before law enforcement officials did. In my province recently, over 150,000 young people contacted Premier McGuinty directly  in response to a controversial new law about graduated licensing – a law that was very soon after rescinded. This is a new reality …. The sword used to be mighty, then it was the pen, but now it is the little mouse!

There is a growing public appetite for environmental sustainability and this needs to be addressed by sport. Sport organizes events both big and small, internationally and locally, and is in every community and neighbourhood to some degree. Let me give you an example – take house league soccer, an 8 year old has a game at 6 PM, so a parent drives them to the game, the other parent stops at the game driving home from work, and the grandparents get in the car and go watch the game – one little kid, three cars!! Multiply that by 15 or by 30 to account for the rest of the team, and the other team – potentially dozens and dozens of cars! For one little house league soccer game!

I think this is a big issue for your sport. And I think the RCGA and its partners have to focus on managing this issue. The game of golf creates visually beautiful spaces that many members of the public can look at and enjoy. But some would say these spaces are ecologically unnatural and non-functional. Some critics would use even stronger language. It’s one thing for agricultural lands to be environmentally irresponsible – we all have to eat, but it is another thing for a golf course, which exists only to satisfy the pleasures of a game.

I understand that golf courses can serve important environmental functions in urban areas, but Joe Public does not comprehend that. The Canadian public is becoming increasingly environmentally literate and the golf industry must take note, be prepared to be proactive and to be better coordinated. I believe this is a significant issue for the RCGA, its partners, its provincial associations and its member clubs.

In light of these challenges – the current economic climate and current and future trends that we can anticipate, it makes total sense for the RCGA to have made it a #1 priority to get its policy and governance house in order. Modernizing your governance structure and simplifying your leadership enables you as an organization to be more nimble and more adaptable. In fact, with a leaner governance structure, clear roles among and between the Board, Governors, volunteers and staff, the RCGA can be more Responsive and Purposeful – thus reinforcing two of the RCGA’s core values.

Perhaps most importantly, the RCGA now has a solid platform from which it can implement its strategic imperatives. To have prepared and begun to live and breathe a vibrant strategic plan without fixing the organization’s governance structure would have been illogical – not unlike trying to drive to Florida in an old, unreliable and fuel-inefficient car, when you could have made the same journey in a comfortable new hybrid.

I would like to talk about the other two values of the RCGA – Inclusive and Respectful. This is my little segue into some remarks about gender. I am a woman up here speaking to a crowd that not too many years ago would have included women only to the extent that they were staff or spouses. I understand that as of next week, when GAO holds its AGM, six of your ten provincial golf associations will have women as presidents. I also noted with pleasure, that four of twelve Directors are women, and 11 of 29 Governors are women.

This is very telling because abundant research has shown that for women to have a voice and to begin to exercise some influence in business and politics, and by analogy in organizations such as the RCGA, the magic threshold is 30 percent. It is the “tipping point” described by Malcolm Gladwell. It is a threshold that has been achieved in both the Board and Governors Council, and I applaud you for that. I also have to commend everyone for the manner in which the RCGA and the CLGA have managed their merger – in five short years you have achieved what some other previously segregated sports have taken more than a decade to achieve.

I also noted a recent statistic from Sport Decision, a business newsletter I subscribe to – that the Canadian participation rate for women golfers is 12 percent in 2008. The men’s participation rate is of course higher. What does this tell me? A fantastic opportunity exists to grow the women’s game. For example, the best thing that ever happened to hockey in Canada was the realization some 15 years ago that only a small percentage of little hockey players were girls, and that the untapped potential was enormous. I am very excited about the future of women in the RCGA, and I am also excited about the RCGA’s future, because I feel that as it becomes more inclusive and more diverse in its leadership and membership, it simply becomes a stronger organization.

So continuing this conversation on values …. These are important to me, and I hope tonight I can convince you that they are important to you also. My most recent column in the magazine Coaches Plan is sub-titled “Values Matter”. They really do. Values are an expression of what matters most - what matters most to you as individuals, and what matters most to you as representatives of golf in Canada. And it is interesting … that the more important something is, the harder it is quantify and in fact, the most important things cannot be quantified or measured at all. This is why those Mastercard commercials – some of which feature golf - are so successful.

The RCGA has values – and they matter. I have touched on them already. They are purposeful – inclusive - respectful - responsive. Keep these on your lips and at your fingertips, because they will serve you well. The Harvard Business Review has confirmed again and again that successful businesses and organizations are those that have a vision, mission and values, and it is often the values that make the difference between the organization that is merely good, and the organization that is truly great.

These values should be embraced, communicated to your members and the public, shared with your partners. They should be reflected in everything that you do. They will help you as an organization attract people with similar values. They will guide you as you prepare, consider and revise policies for governing golf in Canada. They will help you to solve problems, resolve disputes, establish priorities and negotiate opportunities. They can also serve as the framework that can guide your strategic plan.

This emphasis on values makes me recall Cathy Priestner Allinger. She was voted this week as #7 on the Globe and Mail’s list of 30 most influential sport leaders in Canada – she is the Executive Vice President of Games Operations for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games - meaning she doesn’t have to worry about finding hundreds of millions of dollars to finish the athletes’ village, but she is in charge of 82 competitions, all the competition venues, the medals, the entire medical program, doping control, and pretty much every aspect of the Paralympics.

I heard Cathy speak two months ago at a luncheon address on leadership, and heard that the common ingredient among successful leaders was values. Good leaders think about them, hold them dearly, communicate them, and live them. Values shape the leader, and leave an indelible imprint on that leader’s legacy. Values that are embraced by those who are led colour an entire organization, creating an organizational culture that supports excellence. The RCGA cannot be ‘best in class’ without managing by values.

In closing, the RCGA has made significant strides in the last few years – a new CEO, a strategic plan, some tough personnel and business decisions, a merger of the men’s and women’s organizations, assuming the mantle of NSO and all the responsibilities that that entails … and has done all in a relatively short period of time. Clearly the RCGA has demonstrated not only the desire, but also the capacity, to change. And both of those are the envy of many.

But the message I want to leave with you is – you must keep going. There are three things you need to focus on – the first is to continue through the transition of your new organizational structure. The Governance Committee and I have long joked – “the Devil is in the details”. We have made changes at the big picture level – now we have to get down to work, to make it work.

The second challenge is your membership. Who are they, how do you engage them, how do you serve them, how do you connect with more of them. This is both a governance puzzle and a business puzzle. I am confident that you have the capacity to solve them both.

Your third focus must be creating the necessary conditions to work collaboratively with your Provincial Golf Associations. I am mindful of the language of Pierre Lafontaine, who showed up at the helm of Swimming Canada after the Athens Olympics, and who immediately started talking about Swimming in Canada, not Swimming Canada. Like Swimming in Canada, Golf in Canada is a huge and worthwhile enterprise. What’s good for GAO, for Golf Alberta, for Golf New Brunswick is good for RCGA and vice versa.

The successful sports in this country are those who have understood this very simple equation: an NSO needs its branches and the branches need their NSO. Sports are successful when the national body and provincial bodies are aligned in their vision, mission and values – when they work together to create a compelling strategic plan and when they are clear about purpose and how to support one another to fulfill the shared vision for their sport.

Bob Nicholson, the President of Hockey Canada, spoke to you a year ago, and there is a lot that we can continue to learn from hockey. Hockey as a sport is doing an exemplary job developing young talent in this country, as we have witnessed once again over Christmas and the World Junior Hockey Championship. Perhaps less evident to the outsider is the extent to which Hockey Canada and its branches work together on operational planning and delivery. For example: Branch EDs and Hockey Canada staff meet regularly to oversee the delivery of programs, strategic plans of Branches are increasingly aligned with Hockey Canada’s strategic plans, and Branches accept that Hockey Canada’s priorities are de facto Branch priorities.

The new governance model of the RCGA creates a Provincial Council that has the potential to be this mechanism to align Branch and national priorities. I am optimistic, and hope you are too, that we are entering a new phase of national and provincial relations – one in which the RCGA will be respectful of provincial interests and needs, and the provinces will be supportive of RCGA purposes and priorities.

Because I am here due to the work on governance that I have done with the RCGA, I would like to offer a wonderful quote – this is from Paul Ledwell, the President of the Institute on Governance in Ottawa. He said: “Governance is about leadership, relationships and goals. Good governance is about strong leadership, positive relationships and shared goals”.

Every good speech just goes in a circle and comes back to where it started from.  Tiger was very inclusive (an RCGA value!), about accommodating the other man in a challenge match, although I think the visually-impaired man may have had the last laugh by the time their round ended at 2 AM. This notion of inclusiveness is dear to me, and I think can distinguish the RCGA of the future from the RCGA of the past.  Even Hockey Canada, traditional like golf, can be inclusive. It has taken a while, and the language has evolved, but Bob Nicholson now talks proudly of winning three gold medals in Vancouver. Never mind what logo ends up on the jersey – he wants gold for the men, gold for the women and gold for sledge hockey, a fast, skillful and entertaining hockey game played by paraplegics.

Golf has opportunities to be inclusive – to reach out to women, to youth, to school kids (“linksters” as Scott calls them), to minorities and to others who have not yet been fortunate to know the game - and in so doing, RCGA has the potential to grow and thrive.

I have worked with struggling organizations and with successful organizations. Usually I help dysfunctional organizations to become functional and thus, normal. Occasionally, as in your case, I get to help an otherwise good and “normal” organization, to flourish.  I can assure you that the ingredients of success are here. All of you have shown you can work together as a collective force, an army of good people doing great things for the game of golf in Canada.

Thank you very much, and enjoy the rest of your evening.

Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Royal Canadian Golf Association, Jan 17, 2009, Halifax

Recent Posts

Lightening our Load

Understanding the psychology of loss...why we must do better.

Sport Law and NOVA Global Inc Strike a Partnership to Support Sport Leaders

Generative Tension

Leaders as Catalysts for Meaningful Change

Categories

Sign up to our newsletter.
Let's resolve your challenges and realize your vision
together.
crosschevron-right