Governance and Workforce Month Q&A with Jane Nickerson

As part of Governance and Workforce Month we've asked Jane Nickerson, Interim CEO of the ASA, about its approach to good governance and how it ensures it develops a strong and skilled workforce.

1. What was/is your motivation for developing governance in the ASA?

Good governance is the foundation on which the organisation can function. We believe that having the right standards and ethics in place allows the “experts” to deliver our programmes and services successfully. The ASA prides itself on trying to achieve the best possible standard of governance whilst realising it is a journey and not a destination. In a changing world we need to ensure we have sound standards which stand up to scrutiny

2. What have you learned from your journey of implementing good governance structures to the ASA?

The structures must suit the needs of the organisation and when developing structures or managing governance change it is essential that a full consultation process is followed. We rely heavily on volunteers in our organisation and it is essential they are part of the change and the solution. A “one size fits all” solution is not possible and there is sometimes a need to convince external partners that a different, but sound, structure is effective.

It is essential that sufficient time is provided to win over hearts and minds and ensure that different options are explored at the outset leading to a clear solution. Change can be unsettling and in an environment where there are multiple stakeholders who are responsible for the successful implementation of a revised governance structure it is vitally important to ensure their voices are heard and ideas considered. The process is more likely to succeed if it is taken at a pace which allows consultation and debate. It is also essential that those leading the change are seen to be truly listening and prepared to adapt the original proposals if necessary whilst still holding firm to the values of the revised structure. It should be seen as acceptable If this takes two years, rather than one to achieve the desired outcome providing this will ensure the revised structure is accepted and embedded into the culture of the organisation.

3. What would you do differently if you were starting this process again?

We would continue to follow the above the process which takes people on the journey with us. However, this requires negotiation with many different parties some of whom may look for a faster solution.

4. What advice would you give to an organisation looking to implement a good governance structure?

Ensure it meets the needs of the organisation whilst firmly embedding sound principles of good governance. If it requires radical change, ensure sufficient time is given to consultation, discussion and review.

5. Is it important that governance standards in the sector are brought to a uniform level?

Yes, the best standards should apply in everything we do throughout the sector but this does not mean that every solution is the same. The “level” should be consistent and this may mean the concept of proportionality is not necessarily right. For example, a small organisation should follow the same principles of governance as a large one but not necessarily with the same structure. The ability to “comply or explain” should be encouraged.

6. How do the ASA’s recruitment practices contribute to the organisation’s success?

We are a people business. Everything we do is a result of making sure we have the best people in the right roles doing the right things in the best way possible. As an equal opportunities employer we are committed to recruiting the very best people we can on merit by making sure that they have the right attitude, approach, expertise and skills to help us continually progress. We provide all staff with the right to apply for roles within the organisation before they are advertised externally.

7. How do you work with existing staff to develop the necessary skills to keep the ASA fit for the future?

We are a learning organisation committed to continuous improvement. To enable us to deliver our strategic plan everyone has an agreed personal development plan which is met through internal development programmes and constantly reviewed.

8. How do you extend this approach to the volunteer workforce?

We apply the same approach to volunteers working at regional and national level and encourage clubs and counties to do the same. We provide guidance and training to all our volunteers and have clear role descriptions and person specifications in place.

9. What, in your view, are the future challenges that sport and recreation organisations need to overcome if they are to be fit for the future?

We need to recognise that we are a business and therefore the common standards of good governance apply to us. However, we are also largely volunteer organisations and therefore need to convince our army of volunteers that these standards do in fact apply to us.

There needs to be a recognition that we are not the same and therefore requiring everyone to follow the same structure will not be effective. Common practices of good governance should be adopted based on individual needs.