The Incredible Bruce Cotterill

The Chairman of Swimming New Zealand, Bruce Cotterill, is bloody incredible. He is forever writing books and giving speeches about good management. But his latest effort is a classic. It’s not that long and so I have copied the whole thing in the table below.

Having Trouble with a Staff Member?

A couple of weeks ago I was chatting to a small business owner over a cup of coffee.

He raised the case of one of his people, who he really believed in, but who was proving difficult around the office.

Then he specifically asked me how he could have a conversation with the guy, and raise the issues he had, without the person concerned throwing a tantrum and worst case, threatening to leave.

I told him about an approach that has worked for me over the years. At its heart is a set of five questions that enable you to set up a positive conversation with your people, without the distress of a formal performance review.

Invite your colleague for a chat over coffee, so you’re setting things up in an informal, non-confrontational way from the get-go.

Ask Five Questions

– How is everything going?

– How do you think the Company is going?

– How do you think the Company could be doing things better?

– Tell me about the things you are doing really well

– Tell me about the things you are struggling with

As you work your way through these questions, you will create an opportunity to raise the issues you are having, in a manner that it constructive and helpful, and without upsetting your colleague.

And best case, they will be open to working to enhance their performance in the areas you have raised, and you be able to continue to have an ongoing conversation as they seek to improve.

The mass of English errors doesn’t help Cotterill’s cause. For example in paragraph three he says, “Then he specifically asked me”. Cotterill goes on to list four things he was asked “how could he have a conversation with the guy”? How could he “raise the issues he had”? How could he avoid “the person concerned throwing a tantrum”? How could he avoid the employee “threatening to leave”? Four questions means it is not specific. Cotterill uses fake words like specific to make himself sound good.

All that, however, rings pretty hollow when you note that question marks are included at the end of the first three questions but full stops are missed from “questions” four and five.

The word “it” in paragraph seven should be “is”.

The word “will” before the word “be” has been missed out of the last paragraph.

If someone like Cotterill is going to lecture us on good management it would help if he learned to write the Queen’s English. Or at least get someone from the 5th grade to proof read his stuff before he pushes send. But all that is secondary to the point of this post. What is stunning is that Cotterill is lecturing us about management principles that have no relationship to the way he runs Swimming New Zealand. He is a world expert at do what I say, not what I do.

For example I imagine even the severest critic of Swimwatch would agree I qualify as a disgruntled member of Swimming New Zealand. According to Cotterill that entitles me to a cup of coffee and a five question chat. Five questions! The guy hasn’t spoken a word to me in five years. His article is an explosion of platitudes meaning nothing. He would no more have a cup of coffee with David Wright than fly to the moon.

But let’s indulge Cotterill shall we? In his absence let’s discuss his five questions.

  1. How is everything going?

I’m good thank you. Training is going well. The New Zealand Short Course Championships are three weeks away. I think Eyad is in line to swim well. I’ve had a couple of health issues recently but thanks to the National Health Service they are under control. My main concern is the poor health of swimming in New Zealand. That seems to be terminal.

  1. How do you think the Company is going?

Couldn’t be worse is the answer to that. I am concerned that since you have been on the Board competitive membership has declined by 8.1% from 6161 to 5660. I am concerned that the number of coaches has gone down by 54.7% from 543 to 246. I am worried that total membership has dropped by 24.9% from 25,467 to 19,118. Total income has gone down by 14.7% from $4.2million to $3.5million. And New Zealand has failed to win a medal at an Olympic Games. I can’t think of one measure that has improved in the time you have been on the Board. The productivity of the business has declined by 17.4%. By any measure that is a disaster. When are you going to leave?

  1. How do you think the Company could be doing things better?

You and the organization have got to stop lying to the members. There are character failings in the management of the organization that must be corrected. For example you told me I would receive a copy of the investigation into complaints against my coaching and then hid the report. You lied to me. You told the membership you would find out why government funding had been reduced and then never reported back. That was a lie by omission. Your business said the introduction of Gary Francis heralded a new beginning. In my opinion that was a con. You kept the national training squad; nothing changed.

And then there are Swimming New Zealand’s structural problems. The constitution is manifestly undemocratic. Antares place staff should be cut by 50%. Swimming New Zealand’s direct involvement in learn to swim should cease. Private operators should be encouraged to promote independent compliant swim schools. With the exception of the weeks before a big meet training camps should be abolished. They are a waste of money. A qualified person should be appointed to run the swimming side of the organization – not some club age group coach. Swimming New Zealand should foster a coach driven environment, not the current heaven for bureaucrats that is Antares Place. The national training squad should be closed. Its swimmers should be absorbed into local clubs; more qualified to manage their careers.

  1. Tell me about the things you are doing really well.

I’m doing the best I can to hold your feet to the fire. Oh I know you pay little attention to what is written here. But even you have to admit that I told you ten years ago the centralised training program would fail. Just think how much better off New Zealand swimming would be if you had listened. You didn’t listen then and you failed. You should listen now.

  1. Tell me about the things you are struggling with.

I’m struggling to understand your dishonesty. I am especially concerned about you lying to me about providing me with the report into the complaint about my coaching. Everything about that was bad. It reflects poorly on you, your organisation, your management and your character. With that hanging over us I struggle to believe a word you say.

Now, that coffee. Mine’s a double long black, thank you.

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