Without digital leadership and culture, there's no digital transformation

Updated: Mar 4, 2019

In this penultimate part of the digital transformation series, our Chief Operating Officer, Jonny Turner looks at the importance of leadership and culture, drawing on the perspectives from respected leaders in the sport sector.

Behavioural change is undoubtedly one of the sport sectors biggest challenges, particularly when it comes to digital transformation. Adopting new technologies inevitably leads to new ways of working that often aren’t compatible with traditional methods. This change still comes as a surprise to people, and the fear that sometimes sets in can stop the best-laid plans dead in their tracks before they’ve even started to gain momentum.

The need to embrace change is something that was echoed by Andy Reed OBE, Director of Saje Impact, Sport Think Tank and the Loughborough University Institute for Sport Business.

“Leaders need to constantly react to the changes around us and given the pace at which the digital world moves this can be unsettling for people. But the reality is that we operate in an ultra-competitive sector and to succeed we must take risks. Sometimes we will fail in our attempts, but our success will be measured on our ability to learn from these experiences and go again. We no longer have the time to sit back and wait for the world to settle and then decide how to move forward.”

‘Culture Clash’ is something I’m sure every sports organisation has or will experience, and it’s a huge threat to progression and growth. Overcoming this hurdle requires strong leadership, and leaders that embrace innovation rather than fear it. Not only that, a forward-thinking culture needs to be embedded within an organisation; it should proliferate every department, team and individual.

This is reiterated by one of the UK’s foremost sports business leaders, Simon Clegg CBE. Simon was British Olympic Association Chief Executive, Great Britain Badminton Chairman and Chief Operating Officer for the inaugural 2015 European Games in Baku.

“In the highly competitive sports environment where fractions differentiate success and failure, innovation plays a critical role. I am absolutely committed to the mantra that if we do what we did yesterday, we will be nowhere. If we do what others are doing today, we will be competitive, but if we fill every day with innovation, we will truly be successful. Whilst many sports bodies show considerable inertia to change, sports leaders risk ignoring innovation, in whatever form it might take, at their peril.”

Why is digital culture important?

According to recent research by McKinsey & Co., cultural problems like risk aversion, poor customer focus and a lack of departmental knowledge sharing, pose the most significant threat to digital effectiveness. For many, these problems are also an obstacle that decision makers are not fully aware of or prepared for.

Creating a culture that embraces the digital world is hard. It requires a clear methodology and discipline, but if done correctly it can help organisations realise widespread benefits. It will give staff guiding principles to make decisions that drive strategic, operational and commercial advancements. It will also speed up the decision-making process to capitalise on market trends and deliver results faster.

This innovation mind-set needs to be embedded in every corner of an organisation. Doing so will equip an organisation with the tools to be agile and ‘pro-change’; promoting boldness over caution, collaboration over individual effort, and an outward approach that sees employees engaging with partners and members to create new solutions.

Putting innovation at the heart of collaboration has been crucial for the work led by Professor Robert Copeland PhD, Professor of Physical Activity and Health at The Centre for Sport & Exercise Science (Sheffield Hallam University) and Project Manager for the National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine in Sheffield, an Olympic legacy initiative.

“The world around us is constantly changing. Politically, socially, technologically and in terms of the health of the population. To thrive in this constantly changing environment, innovation and creative thought need to be at the heart of sport and recreation culture. To create these conditions, the sector needs leaders that can build meaningful relationships and collaborate with others (e.g. health, care, transport) so that together we can deliver social, cultural and economic impact.”

What does this all mean? With cultural and behavioural change often running to catch up with technological advances, the game needs to change. Sports leaders need to embrace risk, build organisational cultures that thrive on innovation, and encourage collaboration which has members’ needs at its heart.