Monday, December 27, 2010

USATF CEO Search – What Do They Want to Accomplish?

A couple of weeks ago USATF posted the job description for the incoming CEO. At least it’s the job description that they are using in their search to fill the position.

While it’s nice to know that the organization is looking for someone that is:

  • A passionate leader
  • Innovative marketing and sales professional
  • Supporter of athletics and volunteers, and a
  • Skilled team builder

As I read the document I’m more interested in exactly what they want this person to do – as I’m sure whomever is hired is going to want to know as well. And I’m not referring to the generic items referenced in the job description:

  • Strategy
  • Communication
  • Revenue
  • Performance
  • Development
  • Innovation
  • Culture, and
  • Resources

I would like to know what the organization REALLY wants to see happen with track and field in the United States. What is it that USATF wants to accomplish here in the US? After all, that would be a question that I would ask if I were sitting on the other side of the table from the interview panel – in what direction does my prospective employer want to see the sport go?

Everything in the job description sounds just grand. We’re going to “improve” our communication and marketing; interact better with the IAAF and USOC; and “create new ways of creating events and buzz”! But what does all of that mean?

I was hoping that the key to understanding just that would lie in the 2009 Strategic Plan – because the job description states that “The CEO is the spokesperson and will lead all aspects of USATF with integrity and in accordance with the USATF 2009 Strategic Plan, and Board policies while giving appropriate consideration to the rules and policies of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF - the world governing body), and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC).” So I’m thinking that the Strategic Plan lays out the path that USATF intends to follow – and the path down which the next CEO will lead.

But I discovered that it too is very generic. Now in some ways this is a good thing. It means the CEO will have tremendous latitude in how he/she interprets the Strategic Plan. In turn it means greater flexibility in implementing one’s interpretation of the plan. On the other hand, there’s an old saying: “if you fail to plan you plan to fail”. And I’m wondering if the lack of any specificity within the Strategic Plan, and by association the job description for the CEO, may be indicative of why the sport has been on what seems to be a mission of failure for well over a decade now.

Now I could be completely wrong – there could be a “plan” out there that has been discussed and codified detailing exactly what this organization wants to see accomplished. But without anything remotely resembling “transparency” in anything that USATF seems to do, how would I or anyone else outside of the organization know. Quite honestly, the way some things happen within the organization, I wonder if those inside the organization are privy to such information either.

For example, just what do we expect from our international teams? Do we have goals for number of medalists, finalists, semi finalists? Do we have goals for improvement in the number of individuals that make it through the rounds? How does the organization feel about our current status in the field events? What are our plans for athlete development? Do we want to develop more training centers – even perhaps regional training centers? How about the development of a permanent national coaching staff that would actually be working together year round and not just put together for Worlds or the Olympics. 

How does the organization feel about itself and it’s performance? Does it feel it’s properly structured. Is there balance between the purely “amateur” and the “elite” athletes? Financially do we have what we need to accomplish our “goals” and if not what do we need in order to succeed?

If I were sitting on the other side of the interview table these are some questions that I would have of the organization. Questions I would hope have answers that have previously been researched and thought out. Because while I am excited to see that USATF (and I’m assuming the search firm) have put together a nice looking job description, the real issue on the table is what are we looking to accomplish! Because if there is no real answer to that question aside from the “2009 Strategic Plan”, then I see no improvement in the sport here in the US regardless of who the eventual CEO may be.

So that is the information I would like to see put out there – not just a generic job description. Tell us, and more specifically the candidates whomever they may be, just what it is this sport wants to accomplish in the US. Specific numbers. Target dates. Where and what do we want to be in two years (London), five years , 10 years? Tell them what you really want them to do. Then we will do a better job of filling the position. More importantly that person will know from day one what the REAL expectations are. After all, if you fail to plan you plan to fail. Or to paraphrase another old saying: proper prior planning prevents <lousy> performance.

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