Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Is Your Organization in Athletic Position?

My kids are playing coach-pitch baseball this year for the first time. I love baseball and softball, so it makes my heart so happy that they are loving it. One of the things we're working on with them both in the field and in the batter's box is to be the good athletic position. Up on the balls of their feet, not back on their heels. Ready to field a grounder, ready to take a whack at the pitch. It's universal for any sport, but it's hard to remember that athletic position isn't natural for young ones during their first foray into playing sports.
Athletic position for any sport. Photo: Science for Sport
I ventured over the mountains last week for a quick stop in Colorado Springs to attend the Association of Chief Executives of Sport (ACES) Conference. ACES is the membership organization for those individuals who are responsible for running the United States' National Governing Body organizations for the Olympic Movement.

The conference was chalk-full quality education, and the National Association of Sports Commissions had the privilege of facilitating pre-conference education to kick-off the event. One of the speakers was Marilyn Hannes, President of SeaWorld San Diego. Hannes spoke with truth and candor about crisis communication and planning by drawing on the very real and public challenges faced by her organization in recent years.

Hannes presenting to ACES executives
Hannes' presentation drew on numerous parallels to what the world of sport is facing today, particularly in the Olympic Movement post-Larry Nassar and the other controversies that have tainted some of the USA's most historically unifying and pride-inducing sports.

Hannes mentioned multiple times in her presentation that she wished SeaWorld had done a better job articulating all the great things the organization was already doing for marine life and the health of the ocean long before coming to its non-glowing return to the public eye through the Orca Whale controversy. To put it simply, SeaWorld was sitting back on its heels, the antithesis of "athletic position" in business.

The organization could have been banking goodwill to draw on during rough times. But it wasn't. There are many, many more nuances to this particular story, but the point is that often times, whether a small organization or a big one, we do not do a stellar job telling our story in advance. In any industry. Our reactive nature can wind up hurting our organization by calling into question credibility when times get tough.

Photo: SeaWorld
Hindsight truly is 20/20. But in today's world, organizations cannot afford to be on their heels. Hannes - and others at the conference - spoke candidly about the human and financial resources required to deal with a crisis. These efforts can wreak havoc on an organization's core business functions and leave it hanging on for dear life, if it survives at all.

Dr. Daniel Diermeier from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern has an excellent book called Reputation Rules in which he details how an organization can surmount dire PR situations. It's a fascinating look at many of the biggest organizational controversies of our time and how they did - or didn't - overcome. The focus is restoring public trust by addressing four elements: empathy, transparency, expertise and commitment.

At the ACES opening reception, I got to hear new USOC CEO, Sarah Hirshland, convey her vision for the future of the Olympic Movement. She nailed Diermeier's four elements of trust succinctly and convincingly. There's no doubt it's a long way to recovery for the US Olympic community, and only time will tell the outcome, however.

Sarah Hirshland, CEO of the USOC. Photo: TeamUSA
As for Hannes' and SeaWorld, her courage to share the organization's story and the clear leadership she has displayed throughout, coupled with the truly remarkable programs in SeaWorld's portfolio, have resulted in noteworthy growth in attendance and renewed goodwill development. They are now in true athletic position.

Unfortunately, it's not "if" but "when" an unpleasing circumstance will hit the press. Regardless of the size or type of your organization, it is prudent to have resources and plans in place, along with a whole bunch of goodwill. As Hannes described, this effort isn't a "one and done", it's diligent, purposeful, and perhaps most importantly, continual.

Go Red Sox! Photo: K. Sweet
Marshall Field once noted, "Goodwill is the one and only asset that competition cannot undersell or destroy." What are you doing to enhance your organization's goodwill today? Get off your heels, get your organization in athletic position, and be ready for the ball to come your way. This is Stoll on Sports.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Live a Zip Ties and Duct Tape Life

A couple weeks ago my husband surprised me with a late graduation gift that I've been eyeing for quite some time: A brand new mountain bike! To say I was ecstatic is an understatement. I love mountain biking. Am I good? No. Do I try? Yes.

In case you're curious, my new bike's name is Margo. As in, "Why is the carpet all wet, Todd?" "I DON'T KNOW, MARGO!" Because when I showed it to my mom she said, "It's a beaut, Clark!" I went down the rabbit trail, one thing led to another, and *poof* Margo is the name.
Sweet Margo!

We all know I'm an "in my comfort zone" type of person. In fact, if you don't know that you either don't know me, or you've fallen victim to my forced attempts to live life jumping off the dock when no boat is in sight despite the fact I want the boat tied securely to the dock before I step on board. I work really hard to push myself out of that comfort zone. I  know all the cliches. I know nothing good comes from within my comfort zone, and that's where I grow, blah, blah, blah.
Ummm...This boat is not tied up tight enough for me. Who's shoddy work is this?

As I've gotten older I believe the "fake it till you make it" mentality is finally starting to ingrain itself through my think skull and now (I can't believe I'm typing it out), I actually enjoy seeing what else is out there.

So back to the mountain bike.

I usually like to ride trails I know, with people I know (and trust immensely) in case I get abducted by aliens, or the apocalypse occurs, or I get a flat tire.

Yesterday I went for a ride by myself, on trails that I can't ride in my sleep, in non-perfect conditions (flurries, showers, sunshine, a standard Colorado mix). What may be meaningless to some was a big deal for me. I was proud of myself and I wanted my husband to validate that pride. Which he did, after I asked him if he was proud of me, of course.
Proof of my solo adventure (and the crazy CO weather)!
Then he threw in a curveball of Stan wisdom that usually, when it comes, feels like a cranial punch.

He asked if it was a big deal for me and when I told him about the aliens or apocalypse he simple said, "You'd figure it out."


He is so right.

The truth is, in this circus of life we are all just figuring it out. No one knows the divine road map.

Enter zip ties and duct tape.

I'm a firm believer that the most valuable asset someone can have is not a specific experience, a perfect pedigree, a piece of paper with your school's name hanging on the's the MacGyver ability. Yes, you know, MacGyver. I hear he's made a comeback, but the original show is the one to which I'm referring.
This MacGyver, not that new young whippersnapper
With seconds left before a bomb detonates in a locked space the size of a shoe box, MacGyver could avert disaster with a zip tie and some duct tape. Every week, a different compromising situation and a different mind-blowing solution with bobby pins, a Tic Tac, or whatever was handy.

If you're still following this spider web, here's my point: Whether it's business, personal growth, relationships, whatever, we all need to use the resources we have to move forward. You have what it takes for your journey! It looks different for all of us. No one is perfect. Truly, NO ONE! We are all figuring it out, stubbing our toes and busting our chins along the way. That's the beauty of it.
This guy is having a serious bad day, he's in a suit and tie getting abducted, at least I would have been on my bike!
So my husband was right. If something would have happened on my ride - maybe not an alien abduction - I would have figured it out. Just like I have in the past and like I will again in the future. And you know what? I'd be a better person for using my ingenuity, volition and creativity to do so.

Last week I attended the 2nd Annual NASC Women's Summit in Tampa, where I heard the talented Blair Bloomston from Game On Nation speak about personal branding (she's awesome, by the way). Blair so eloquently reminded the audience that our work (or fill in the blank) is part of the bigger story of our life, not the other way around.
Opening reception of the Women's Summit. Drinking cocktails on the beach on a Wednesday. It was rough. Photo: NASC
All these circumstances we face, they are a part of building you. They are a part of building me. Our unique purposes and stories. So embrace it. Step out of your comfort zone. Keep a list of the times you push your boundaries and reflect back on them when you doubt. Remind yourself that you are awesome and that no matter what you face, you'll grab your zip ties and duct tape and figure it out!

This is Stoll on Sports. I gotta go, Murder She Wrote comes on at 7...