Tennis’s national governing body is rallying employees behind its new strategy in the face of a unique set of challenges.
Convincing people inside your organisation that you’re doing the right thing when you’re receiving the wrong kind of grand slam outside is a tough battle – but one the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) believes it’s on the way to winning.
It launched a new four-year strategy in April 2015, with a mission to get more people playing tennis more often and ultimately to rejuvenate a sport that, like many others, has seen a 10-year decline in popularity. It’s still early days, and high-profile players like Andy Murray still have plenty to say in the media about how much more needs to be done, but there are positive signs of progress.
“Sport England, which provides some of our funding and is a very important stakeholder, was very critical of us a few years ago but has recently held us up as a positive example of an improving national governing body which is heading in the right direction when it comes to participation in sport,” said Beth Stallwood, the LTA’s Head of Colleague Talent and Development. And, equally importantly, employees are appreciating the difference.
Before launching the new strategy, the LTA conducted a baseline survey among its 300-plus staff – a diverse group comprising ‘shorts and suits’ and more than half in the millennial/GenY age group. While results were pretty good – a 90 per cent participation rate and overall engagement score of 84 per cent – it highlighted several areas that could be better, and only 59 per cent said they believed their feedback would prompt action.
A year on – after a concerted focus on some of the issues raised – the proportion who believed action would be taken had risen to 73 per cent and there were significant improvements in scores on at least 10 of the questions.
“We’re on a four-year journey and this is only year two, so we’re making good progress,” emphasised Beth. “There’s more we need to do, but achieving so much in the first 12 months has given us confidence that we’re on the right track.”
Simple comms tools make a big impact
One of the simplest internal comms tools the LTA has introduced in the past year – a set of ‘recognition’ postcards – is proving to be one of its most successful.
Each card depicts one of the new values – teamwork, integrity, passion and excellence. Anyone who sees a colleague doing something that brings one of these to life is encouraged to write a brief description on the appropriate card and hand it to them. People can share their cards as good examples of best practice with their manager at their next performance review.
“I’m a firm believer that something doesn’t have to be big or expensive to make an impact, and these have created a huge buzz already,” said Beth. “Small things happening every day can add up to more than one big thing. We’re not there yet, but there are real signs that this kind of tool will help us break down barriers across our demographic.”
From the outset of the LTA’s new strategy, CEO Michael Downey was clear he wanted it to “be more than just a piece of paper”. Employees from across the organisation have been involved in engagement sessions to launch the strategy, and developing and embedding the new values and behaviours that sit behind it.
A cross-functional ‘Talking Points’ group was also set up to address feedback from the survey and decide on some quick wins – which have included the recognition postcards – as well as longer-term projects. Other successes so far have included a more formal quarterly recognition scheme, making notes from each exec team meeting available to all and involving other leaders in the CEO’s monthly all-staff briefings.
Additional training has also been put in place for managers. “We saw some really pleasing improvements in our second survey in areas like managers coming across as key drivers
of engagement,” added Beth.
Looking ahead, as a small organisation the LTA knows it can’t offer the next career step for a lot of people, but it’s thinking creatively about developing an ‘alumni’ relationship that will keep the door open for talented people to return at a higher level, once they’ve gained valuable experience elsewhere.