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This is a guest post from Paul Nilsen aka @Basketmedia365, who has been involved in basketball media and PR for almost two decades and is writing strictly in a personal capacity.
It pains me as much as anybody else to see the sport we all love in peril. Again. It is never ending. But this time, it looks like two drunken fighters swinging at each other in public. Perhaps painful can be actually replaced by pathetic and rather sad.
Having been the Board member for many years of a company that turns over £80 million per annum, as well as an Audit Committee Chair, I have observed political workings at close quarters in another industry. Interestingly, one with the challenges of working within a regulated sector and the seemingly never ending difficult choices that need to be made in order to thrive and grow within it.
The industry I have experience of, is social housing. One that like basketball, is heavily reliant on government funding.
Attached to this, there is a relentless Vale For Money/Efficiency agenda to deal with. Many of the decisions that need to be taken by board and the Executive are not easy and involve some soul-searching.
One of the things that constantly rears its head is the appetite for mergers. I have been involved at the sharp end. I have also been involved in the decision-making process strategically. Throughout it all, it is 100% reliant on people thinking about only one thing – how will it serve the need of customers/tenants.
Not how it might impact on employees, the difficult task of having to collapse management structures. That is a very important element. Of course it is. But ultimately, when two companies merge (or more) you are left with one Chief Executive, one Head of Performance and so on. You also save in the long term on many other things.
Merger, or the collapse of structures around the concept of simplification is not as simple as people think. There are huge legal fees and other one-off costs to consider. Sometimes it might preclude a merger from happening.
In Housing, a lot of mergers have taken place out of necessity. Thrive or die. A funding cut was implemented by the government. The doom merchants predicted the abyss. Those without vision went into their caves to see how they could stagger onwards – effectively ‘salami slicing’ multiple budgets in an effort to survive.
The sceptics probably rightly drew attention to the fact it was the senior management team who were out to survive – whatever the cost for the tenants/customers.
In stark contrast, the organisations with the best leaders bit the bullet. They bit it hard. They sat in boardrooms and made the tough choices. They realised that the biggest cost saving was not ‘salami slicing’ but to pool resources, to not have duplicated management structures and to merge. Whatever the personal price.
The smarter organisations also diversified, took some well- managed risk and generated some additional streams of commercial income.
But at the heart of this has been one overriding requirement – vision.
Those organisations and [true] leaders in housing didn’t see historic funding cuts as a threat. They turned it into an opportunity. A chance to cut the flab, to ask why you can’t re-model, start again, prioritise, get smarter and do more for less.
Not do less for less. That was the mantra for those self-serving and self-protectionist leaders still in the cave trying to trim every budget they could.
A shoestring is not in the best interest of tenants/customer. A shoestring is not in the best interests of basketball.
As I sit and watch the bloodbath deepen, I see so many parallels to the other sector where I have spent much of my dual career.
It’s not rocket science. Really, it isn’t.
You need leadership (critically Board Members) to make hard choices, ones in the best interests of the sport, have the capacity to look past your own terms and conditions (or that of your Executives), realise that a healthy medium to long term future is healthy for everyone.
In essence you need the vision to prosper and not to want to be a big fish in a little pond who is satisfied with ‘just managing’.
So, forget the shoestring, because with the right leadership, basketball in the UK could do up its own full set of laces and get a spring back in the step.
It’s just a pity that like in housing, it might ultimately take someone from the government or FIBA to force change if some leaders (board members and executives) can’t fulfil their roles as they should.
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