Respectful work cultures – what sport organizations need to know about creating productive environments for staff and volunteers

Published February 8, 2016

On my way to Yellowknife, I printed off a dozen articles from the Non Profit Risk Management Center, a great source of risk management advice for those of us who like that kind of stuff! I absolutely love their monthly series and the vast amount of tools and programs they offer to their clients.

As I am in the business of helping to simplify complex problems into practical solutions, I was struck by the number of risk management articles that focused on what management guru Jim Collins calls the ‘soft side’ of management. Things like resilience in the workplace, respectful work environments, mindful leadership, how well are you treating your employees, etc. How is it that an organization dedicated to providing risk management solutions seems to be focusing its attention on decision-making, values, and ethical conduct?

Here’s my take on it.

The topic of respect is never far from my mind as I’m often called upon to support sport leaders who are dealing with interpersonal issues that, at their core, deal with a misalignment around values. A 21st Century organization needs to take into account not only what they are trying to accomplish but, more importantly, how they are trying to achieve their strategic goals. The days of telling employees to ‘jump’ with them responding ‘how high’ are long gone and are now being replaced with a form of management that is centered around compassion, respect, fairness, and results. It’s not the language of either/or; it’s now the language of and/with. Intriguing for sport administrators who are used to faster, stronger, higher as a way of managing their organizations. Might we be ready for another way?

The Sport Law & Strategy Group has recently partnered with the CCES, the CAC, and CAAWS to write a Blog Series on Harassment in Sport and the response from the community has been positive and disturbing. While nothing would ‘surprise me’ anymore, I am always saddened when I hear about cases of bullying, harassment, abuse, or neglect that occurs within sport. From my perspective, the risk of these situations occurring is ever-present and our ability to collectively get a handle on this risk needs a collective and coordinated response. And, I argue, a move away from a ‘Management by Objective’ philosophy towards ‘Management by Values’ where values, ethics and objectives are weighed equally. You can read more about this philosophy here.

To support you in creating a respectful work environment, I’ve adapted the ideas in one of Melanie Lockwood Herman’s articles from the Non Profit Risk Management Center that I thought you might appreciate. Before you do, recall the R – E – S – P – E – C – T song by Aretha Franklin to inspire you:

Remind all staff and volunteers about the importance of the Golden Rule – treat people the way you want to be treated. Start your meetings with a reminder of your organization’s values as a place to start.

Empower staff and volunteers to speak up. Be sure to train your people on how to deal with conflict – check out Respect in the Workplace as an online training tool to create shared understanding of what is and what isn’t acceptable conduct.

Stop disrespectful conduct before it gets worse by dealing with offenders swiftly. Nothing creates a poisoned work environment faster than bullying or harassment. If required, terminate an employee or volunteer whose actions don’t align with your organization’s values.

Publish your policies and procedures. It’s not enough to just have them; you need to share them so that people know what their options are. Ensure you deal with this in your employee handbook and that you onboard new staff and volunteers in a way that makes your commitment to a respectful work environment clear.

Conduct workplace wellness assessments and share the results. This will help you learn about how aligned your values are with reality. Remember, it’s no longer good enough to guess.  Make sure you follow-up to identify ways you can help live your values. Ask employees and volunteers to indicate: ‘absolutely’, ‘sometimes’, ‘not often enough’, and ‘rarely’ to the following survey questions:

  • My organization puts the needs and best interest of its employees first
  • I feel respected and valued by everyone in my organization
  • Our organization’s values are reflected in how I am treated by my colleagues
  • I feel proud to be working here
  • I believe in what we do
  • I would recommend working here to others

Take the time to invest in strengthening your culture. Write your values on your wall; have an employee of the month; reward and recognize exemplary performance by staff and volunteers; find innovative ways to say thank you; use your values to recruit new people and to review performance by staff and volunteers; when doing risk assessments, check back to see if your treatment strategies reflect your values.

I’ve written about strategies to live your values in my handbook Values-in-Action: Igniting passion and purpose in sport organizations and there may be some that resonate. As always, drop me a line to let me know your thoughts at

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