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Is sportscotland setting the right tone?

Following my account here last week of the on-going travails of Scottish rugby following yet another traumatic year in the sport, my pal Paul Coffey texted to share a quote he often uses in his business life.

"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them," it reads.

Originally attributable to Albert Einstein, those words seemed all the more relevant after Alan Mackin, the former Scottish No.1 tennis player, got in touch to share his views on the dreadful way that sport is run, as has recently been scrutinised in Parliament.

These are sports – Scottish rugby and British tennis – which have, by comparison with most, vast resources at their disposal. It would seem that way at least, judging by the salaries of their respective chief executives.

It also chimed with the views expressed to me by the chief executive of another sport's governing body earlier in the year as we discussed the overall state of Scottish sports administration.

"Scottish sport has been progressively encouraged to take on public sector mores by sportscotland," he said. "It is a culture clash between bureaucracy and enterprise. The inertia can be almost suffocating unless you find ways around it to get things done. Not everyone wants to take risks, of course, so, on balance, inertia prevails and decline rules.

"Innovation and continuous improvement are not the stock- in-trade of the public sector. The public sector works to The Plan and only changes course with a New Plan and then only after The Inquest on why The Plan did not work. As it is with sport. Just how many new dawns have we seen?

"So I guess you come back to the question: is sportscotland setting the right tone? Are they showing the right leadership or could they in fact be driving the malaise by imposing public sector practices on sport? Are they making sport too worthy and taking the spontaneity out of it?

"You could compare competition and entrepreneurial activity with managed economies and slow- moving non-responsive economies. Is it not strange that sport, where competition is the life blood, has allowed itself to be over-managed by the state mandarins?"

This is where Paul comes in because, having previously specialised in setting up computer systems, he has become a trouble-shooter who has, most recently, been specialising in the banking sector where he has been struck by how few of those engaged in it actually understand what their organisations do.

"Often what we see is an organisation that is merely a bundle of 'silos' where there is little shared understanding of what each silo does and where the interactions are between them," he explains. "While information does move between these areas, most have little appreciation of what others might do with 'data' once it has passed from one area to another, nor do they see where any dependency might exist.

"This is a big thing in the banking world at the moment as they are being forced to be more transparent and fair by the regulator (was FSA, and is now the FCA/PRA). This lack of shared understanding often comes down to the fact that many people working in a bank don't really understand what a bank actually does.

"Alongside this is the expectation or assumption that someone else must be looking at it all. Normally that would be the board of directors but if we look at what has happened we know that that wasn't necessarily the case."

He can cite alarming examples of how dangerously long it took for some banks to work out just how badly they were exposed to risk at the height of the crisis in their industry. "When we draw the big picture of what the bank actually is (in what it does and the systems it uses), it comes as a surprise to many that it's so big," Paul notes. "So we then demonstrate what it is that the bank needs to do and the systems it needs in order to do it. What becomes clear is that many simply don't get the chaos theory that they are part of and have created.

"Translate that to any other type of organisation, sports admin for example, and I'd expect that many don't really know what everyone else is doing, but they will know how important their own bit is (turkeys don't vote for Christmas).

"What you have to ask is: does the board/CEO level really get what the purpose and strategy of an organisation is? If there is no governance/regulation there, then it can all get forgotten."

Even taking into account the brief flicker of hope engendered by the coming of a new year, I appreciate that the chances of any of this making any sense to the aforementioned mandarins at Hampden, Murrayfield, The Gyle or, indeed, Holyrood, is remote.

After all, in spite of all the evidence otherwise, why on earth would they not think they are doing the right things?

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