Bruce Cotterill Should Know Better

For some reason the Chairman of Swimming New Zealand, Bruce Cotterill, sent me an email tonight. The email promotes a book Cotterill has written. I wanted to do my bit for sales by publishing the news on Swimwatch. The book is called “The Best Leaders Don’t Shout”. At Swimming New Zealand Cotterill has made every effort to put that maxim into effect. The membership has never heard Cotterill shout. They seldom hear him talk at all. In fact he is so wedded to the cause of silence that we haven’t heard anything from him since December 2016. Even then he didn’t address the membership but spoke instead to NZ Herald reporter, Andrew Alderson.

As a result, Swimming New Zealand chairman Bruce Cotterill said there was surprise and disappointment at the funding outcome.

“We’re still going through the process to understand the rationale. We felt all our criteria would have been completed if it hadn’t been for Lauren’s unfortunate illness.

I have never understood why Cotterill was surprised and disappointed at the funding decision. The performance results, the financial results and the membership numbers have all declined. How else did he expect High Performance Sport New Zealand would react? But of more concern was the implied promise to tell the membership the “rationale” for the funding cut. That simply has not happened and now we know why. It is because “The Best Leaders Don’t Shout”. If Cotterill is the example they don’t say anything at all. Instead they feed the members manure and keep them in the dark. It’s a millennium concept called mushroom management.

What else does the Bruce Cotterill email say? Here is a shortened version of the introduction.

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that the only certainty in business is change. In fact, I’d take this one step further and say dealing with change is a leader’s key strategic opportunity. How well we adapt to and maximise the opportunities presented by change can make the difference between existing and soaring in business.

We need to be constantly improving to meet the needs of our customers and the expectations of our people. I like to say that you need to be 20% better every year, just to maintain your position in the market.

As a leader in your business, this is your most important challenge. Managing change is about getting the people within the organisation to change their habits. It’s your role to ensure every single person in your team or organisation understands why change is necessary and they’ll be looking at you to lead the way.

Does Bruce Cotterill have any idea how ridiculous that sounds? The table below shows the changes in Swimming New Zealand’s key performance indicators between 2011 and 2017.

Item 2011 2017 Change
Competitive Swimmers 6161 5,660 Down By 8.1%
Coaches 543 246 Down By 54.7%
Total Membership 25,467 19,118 Down By 24.9%
Clubs 180 165 Down By 8.3%
Government Funding 1,962,838 1,413,148 Down By 28.0%
Membership Fees 288,712 286,777 Down By 0.7%
Total Funding 4,158,493 3,546,861 Down By 14.7%

Now remember what Bruce Cotterill’s book says, “I like to say that you need to be 20% better every year, just to maintain your position in the market.” By an amazing coincidence the average of those Swimming New Zealand performance figures is 20% for the period or 3.3% per year. Cotterill got the total number right. It’s just that in swimming it is 20% worse not 20% better.

Clearly the book is not off to a good start. More a matter of do what I say, not what I do. But make no mistake I am not saying Cotterill has no personal subject experience. The email goes on to tell me, “The book has a comprehensive commentary on the impact of change in our businesses, and lots of ideas on how to lead and facilitate change through your organisation.”

After six years at Swimming New Zealand I doubt there is anyone more experienced in organisational change than Bruce Cotterill. In that time Swimming New Zealand must have lead New Zealand in staff turnover. There have been three General Managers and five interim or “full-time” Head Coaches. And after the most recent American abandoned ship, instead of a “worldwide” search for a replacement they promoted an Intern and employed Gary Francis to do what none of us, including Cotterill probably, are sure what. They have vowed a rock solid commitment to their ridiculous centralised training program. But six months ago that was thrown overboard to be replaced by —- oh sorry we don’t know what yet, but it has something to do with Gary Francis. If that change is an example of Cotterill’s expertise his book should be hilarious.

Swimming New Zealand’s Annual Reports provide further insight into Cotterill’s up-close and personal contact with change. Here are some quotes from the Chairman.

Annual Report 2017 – The 2016/17 year can be best described as a year of disruption. We have had a number of changes in our executive and management team including a new National Head Coach and CEO.

Annual Report 2015 – Another major conclusion was that the structure of high performance activities needed to be changed. Operating two high performance centres, one in Wellington and one in Auckland, was not sustainable, given available resources and demand. It was decided the centre in Wellington should cease to operate.

I am sure you get the point. In every report something or someone is being terminated, someone is resigning, income is being reduced or results have been affected by injury and illness. Swimming New Zealand is about as stable as a rowboat in a North Atlantic storm. Cotterill certainly has intimate knowledge of change – and none of it is good.

His email concludes by telling me that “The Best Leaders Don’t Shout” hits the shops in a couple of weeks. You can pre-order your copy now.” But I think I’ll wait for a bit. In a week I should be able to pick it up for $0.75 on a table outside the Glen Eden bookstore. But I might get another Superman comic instead.

0 responses. Leave a Reply

  1. Swimwatch


    Be the first to leave a comment!

Comments are closed.