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Craig Tiley (Tennis Australia)

3 June 2021

Exploring the Future of Work

Exploring the future of work with PwC Australia - conversation with Craig Tiley (Tennis Australia)

In this episode with Craig Tiley from Tennis Australia, we discuss the challenges encountered organising The Australian Open, examine the role values play in leading a team through a crisis, how best to engage and support teams during intense periods and the impact on wellbeing.


Episode transcript

Ben Hamer: The Australian Open is the largest event in the southern hemisphere, but beyond some pretty decent tennis players, it relies on two key things: mass gatherings and international travel. And while that might be game set and match for some in the middle of a global pandemic, it was a challenge that Craig Tiley and the team at Tennis Australia pulled off. It also makes for one heck of a case study. And so I caught up with Craig to pick his brains about it all. Join us as we chat about the impact of COVID-19 on the sport and recreation sector, as well as a focus on the Australian Open, where we cover topics like the lessons learned from leading through a pandemic while the whole world is watching. The importance of scenario planning. And engaging and supporting your team during intense periods and the impact it has on well-being. My name is Ben Hamer, and you're listening to season two of Exploring the Future of Work with PwC Australia. I'm joined now by Craig Tiley, the CEO of Tennis Australia. Thanks for taking the time to join us, Craig.

Craig Tiley: Good to be here. Ben, good to have an opportunity to have a chat.

Ben Hamer: And the first thing I do want to have a chat about is your experience of COVID-19, because you've been through what must have been a bit of a whirlwind. You've led some of the most complex operational workforce and workplace challenges any CEO could imagine, not to mention the media scrutiny and court of public opinion. Can you give us a bit of context around how all of that came about and played out for you

Craig Tiley:  To give you an idea of the background of logistics, we had eleven hundred people we had to bring from over one hundred and thirty countries, but had to bring them from seven different hubs cities, on 17 charter flights into three quarantine hotels in one city for 15 days, with the objective of not having any cases because because of our events. And I'm happy to say that we did achieve that eventually at the end, it was very difficult to get through that. So logistically, what we learn is that anything is possible and we were lucky. We did show the world that anything is possible in the middle of Covid. But we also also learned during the uncertainty of this is that you can have whatever plan you want to have and it's going to change. But that's why it's important from the beginning to have a plan. Our sport is very well positioned to be a Covid friendly sport if you're a participant because you naturally distance and you can play with each other. But if you're an event, we rely on mass gatherings and international travel. When those two are not there, then you're going to do other things to make it work.

Ben Hamer: And one of the really interesting things that I've heard you speak about previously is that while the Australian Open took a bit of a hit and was a massive challenge for you at the same time, tennis being such a socially isolated sport in and of itself at the community level, actually increased. And so how has the broader tennis community been impacted, good or bad, as a result of Covid. 

Craig Tiley: Covid has been a gift for our industry in the sense of participation point of view because it is one of the very few activities you could continue and be very safe because you've distanced from anyone else. And so with tennis, we've had Covid lead growth. Sometimes our industry, everyone's claiming credit for their great programming, but it was thanks to Covid that they now have an opportunity to really grow. But now the challenge is taking advantage of that and continuing to go on that trajectory from it, from an event point of view is far more challenging. But one of the main reasons why to put the event on was to send a message to the world about the possible. We were the first event since Covid began around the world that was able to fly in international stars, play in front of crowds and not be the result of any of any additional cases of Covid. And and and so we had over a billion people around the world watch the event. There wasn't much else to do. Many countries were in lockdown. So the so the promotion for the city of Melbourne, the country of Australia, state of Victoria, particularly the promotion of that was money, couldn't have bought that value. And I think governments have realised that and we've since been congratulated on that impact. But so in that sense, it had a massive impact. And it'll launch us, obviously, into the future opportunities which we're working through now.

Ben Hamer: And you chair a group of CEOs for the seven major sporting codes in Australia. How has that impacted the broader sporting sector?

Craig Tiley: Well, here we're talking about the AFL, the NRL, FFA, netball, rugby, cricket and tennis. And they represent over 80 per cent of the of the participation programs for sport. One thing that's been very different to what it was before is the amount of collaboration and communication we have with each other. In fact, for the first time, we kind of put a funding submission to the federal government as a group of seven sports, which has never been done before. And and we've also realised with each other now that our competition is not trying to get the young kids not to play, go to the AFL, instead come to tennis or not to play netball, instead come to tennis. Our competition is the couch. The sedentary lifestyle of young kids is grown exponentially, and we've got to get them off the couch into some health activities and into some some sporting activities. And we were like in the future can be relying on schools to help that and governments as well. So there's still a lot of work to be done on that. But the great thing is there's a lot of collaboration that's taking place because we all want each other to survive and thrive. And it's great. The collaboration is taking place with sport across Australia.

Ben Hamer: I really like pulling out some of the silver linings in it. It makes me think about our recent future of work report - Changing places where we really put forward this whole idea of how do you use the COVID-19 disruption as an opportunity to fix what was broken and build back better. And it seems like there's absolutely an opportunity to do that in your sector. It must have been a crash course in scenario planning and contingency planning for you, which is something that we talk about with our clients, this whole idea of planning for multiple future states and embedding flexibility. And when it comes to the Open, you've spoken publicly about how I think we had eight different scenarios apply at one point in time. So can you talk a little bit about how you use scenarios and any lessons around what might have worked or not worked in the process?

Craig Tiley: The one thing I learned about scenarios it's really important for the future of work, in my view, was that because it's so uncertain, the environment that we lived on, the only certainty we had were our scenarios. And so we had a reference point to go back for our team and our staff. We want a decision. Just give us a decision so we can move forward. Well, I'm giving you a decision. There's no decision and that's a decision. But what I can tell you is that we are currently in scenario two and we plan on scenario two, and deliver on scenario two so go and prepare all your work in that. It was a baseline in which people could fall back on. And that gave people a sense of confidence, but also a sense of more security that we worked on this piece of ice. It constantly was moving. We least had some foundation.

Ben Hamer:  Can you lift the cover on what some of those scenarios where that you were grappling with?

Craig Tiley: Well, the first thing that I learned is to go to your spectrum. What's the best thing that can happen and what's the worst thing that can happen? Those are your bookmarks, those your bookends. And then in the middle, put the scenario that is probably going to be the most likely. And then you just peeled off from there towards those ends. Then the next thing to do is decide what are the elements that are going to impact those scenarios. So in our case, I'll tell you what they were, they were the borders, they were the players willingness to play and to participate, they were the quarantine, the strictness of the quarantine and how we were going to manage being a modified quarantine program or not. They were the negotiations with the tours, on the men and the women to get to come and participate. And there was a negotiation with our partners. Maybe every partner,  sponsor, media partner wanted to pull out because we couldn't participate. And then you slot them into each of those scenarios on what the likelihood of them happening or not, and then you are able to figure out what scenario you'll be in. So the key bit is to get your bookends sorted out and then get you most likely one somewhere in the middle.

Ben Hamer:  Yeah, well, you clearly did a good job because you pulled off a cracking tournament, and when it comes to the Australian Open 2022, you've now got a bit of lived experience in this. So what does that mean in terms of the expectation around next year?

Craig Tiley:  I know I shouldn't be swearing on this podcast, so I'm not going to, but that's the feeling in the sense we have right now because 2022 is going to be more difficult than 2021. We haven't lifted the 14 day quarantine and our professional players are traveling around the world in the bubble right now and don't quarantine anyway. So that's going to be a huge cultural shift. And we still, very much so trying to maintain an environment of no Covid in Australia. And my personal view is practically I just don't see that as a strategy that's going to be sustainable for work in the future. But the great thing which we have learnt from 2020, is that in this year things change. So we'll live on the hope of change and we'll work again towards the scenarios, making sure that we know we're going to be threading the needle and be going through the pain of not much sleep and a lot of stress and and a lot of uncertainty, again, for about six months. But that is unfortunately the environment. And we will suffer a bit more than most because, again, mass gatherings and international travel is what we rely on for success.

Ben Hamer: I just want to go into a little bit more detail on that one, because I'm interested to hear from you about how do you go about engaging and supporting your people through such an intense period, particularly when fatigue must really kick in and you've got the pressure of pulling off a tournament with all eyes watching?

Craig Tiley:  Well, the first thing is start with great people. If you have people in your organisation that just are not fitting and just help them out and help your organisation out and get people that are people that are in it for the right reasons and are great people. And we're lucky we have that as a starting point. But the motivation of the people is really important. The number one thing is transparency and communication. I have no problem telling the people that I'm struggling. I don't I don't know the answer to this. I need some answers. I need some help. And I have no problem standing in front of our entire staff of 600 people and asking for that and showing an environment of humility and showing in an environment of empathy and care. And we do it with very, very consistent and constant communication. We're all in this together. So very, very focused on doing it. And I think that's really helped our workforce. I'm also proud of the fact that when Covid started, I made three commitments to our force. I said no one will create a safe workplace for you at home. Number two, to keep the financial viability of the company going to keep your guarantee, your job. And number three, every day we'll live our full values, our values, particularly of humility and excellence and imagination and collaboration, those four.

Ben Hamer: I think that authenticity and transparency with what you've just spoken about is really powerful, particularly when going through those times of ambiguity and uncertainty that you just spoke about values. And one of the things that I often find quite challenging with values is that sometimes it can be lip service or it can just be words on a page. But it seems to be something that you really live by and anchored to to help lead through and manage through the crisis. Can you elaborate a bit on how values played a role in getting through that intense period of the tournament and beyond?

Craig Tiley: Yeah absolutely critical and I'm totally with you is exactly that is the most part most organisations have values that are pretty pictures and words on the wall. And that for the philosophy I have is it's not necessarily through an educated one is just through really common sense one is that is don't have too many values and have values that are your personal, your own values, the values you live in your life, not just in your work life. And I have always believed that you’re a leader, you’re here at a point in time you're on a journey and you're representing and supporting the organisation of people in that journey. And they own you. You don't own them. So will become humility. Collaboration, I totally believe, is just something that you always ask for help. Talk to people, let them know, let them be part of the solution. But it's very, it's not authentic enough unless you have a leader that lives those values just outside of what they do in the workplace because they've just become words.

Ben Hamer: And when we think about if I bring it back to the Australian Open and a major event during a global pandemic, what would you say with some of the leadership qualities that you really leant on to help bring you and your teams through that?

Craig Tiley: Well, I think I think the things that I did learn is the scenario planning is critically important because you need to have some certainty you can fall back on. I think the other was responding with speed. Ask for more forgiveness than permission because your responses have to be really, really quick. And don't don't be concerned or anxious that they they’re the wrong responses because they need to just need to have responses. And I think that's really important. Resilience is the other one is you've got to talk about it. You can't just be resilient. You want to say to someone, be resilient. You've got to have techniques on resilience. And and the way you do is talk to people about the problems. Talk to me about what's coming ahead. How are we going to deal with an ask, ask to contribute to some solutions on how we are going to deal with them? Because we don't have all the answers and we do know we can have people going to change things on us and also don't want it to go ahead. I mean, we had a whole series of issues about the players and the community not wanting to go ahead. And we were the ones forcing it, you know, really forcing it to happen. The other thing is that don't underestimate the importance of being a team. You can be a team of two. You can be a team of 22. You can be a team of 222. It doesn't matter the number but you have to be a team. You cannot do, in Covid in more so than ever before, we’ll come out of this, we'll come out of this I think as better collaborators, as better partners, as better communicators and hopefully as humans as understanding that we have to do things better together. We can solve the next pandemic because they’re probably be one with much better teamwork globally. And it's got to start with two people somewhere. And so that's it. And I think that's. And then the next thing is the optimism. My last thing is that I was fortunate during Covid I'm optimistic by nature and I coach myself each day to be optimistic on things and and to be calm. And I, I was surprised at my own response to the high levels of stress and pressure. I thought I'd be a lot more anxious than I was, but I was a lot calmer. And that's given me a lot of confidence that I was happy for that opportunity to be put under that type of pressure. So I learned some things about my own leadership. So now less anxiety or fear of failure and more focus on an optimistic opportunity for the future.

Ben Hamer:  And speaking about pressure, one of the things I've learned about you is that you can operate on far less sleep than I can because at one point in time you were quoted in saying it was like a 50 hour window of staying awake. It's like torture. And I'm keen to bring well-being into the discussion at this point, because on the one hand, we know that looking after yourself is super important in the context of leading. But when you're in the middle of a crisis and the buck stops with you, to what extent is it even possible to actually do that?

Craig Tiley:  Yeah, it's a great question and we're going to have to hire you to come and advise us on how to do that, because I don't have the answers on that. All I can talk to is that the nature of the extent of the stakeholders, that we had required a 24/7 approach and I could have put that on our team or as the leader, I could have taken it. And just like I made the decision to take all the criticism to front the to the 15 days of the abuse, the abuse you received on certain things from a number of different stakeholders. And it was a six hours a day for 15 straight days. Fronting that through, Zoom calls to having five, six hundred people on his own call each time. But that was much better doing it that way than being out in the public arena. And so fronting those. And then because we dealing with the international stakeholder group, you have to do all hours and times during the day and sleep deprivation is a form of torture. But again, I comforted immensely myself in the fact is that I was doing it and I wasn't pushing it on others, even though we had a workforce that were pretty much working around the clock. So how do you manage that? I do think you have to, you have to be very purposeful and disciplined about how you manage your time and you rest in your sleep. And I think that's one thing I will improve for 2022. But we were in the middle of a crisis. I think we're going to be a crisis that's going to be better planned crisis for 2022. But but this one was very it was the unknown one at least we have some foundation of knowing what to expect. But yeah, it was, there was some tough times but but at the end of it is one of the leadership techniques that we use this time that I didn't use in coaching, because in coaching, you never ask an athlete or someone you're working with to focus on the outcome. You ask them to focus on the process. But in this case, I asked our teams to focus on the outcome. And that was two of the best players in the world holding the trophies up at the very end, because that's what everyone will remember.

Ben Hamer:  It's a lot to take in. And when you're thinking about 2022, as you've just just mentioned, is there anything that you would or would have done differently?

Craig Tiley: Yeah hopefully gone in a time capsule and ignore 2021 and 2020, but no, I think what we would have done differently as we go into this is, is it set ourselves some more target dates that we've had an absolute drop dead deadline on what we can and cannot do. I mean, we were two days before people were coming in, we were still searching around the world for extra flights, planes, and Emirates as an airline wasn't able to fly, unfortunately. So we had to go and find seven big boeings around the world to fly to city and bring people in. So, so so that's one thing is you definitely. But whether that's possible, it remains to be seen because because the environment keeps changing. And then I also think is that having better support mechanisms for those that are really in the tough jobs they're doing bio security or others making sure that there's not just one or two people that can do that is four or five that can do it, so you can rotate more effectively with that group. But but I think the rest as a team, I think I think they all did brilliantly. And we had we had a board that was hugely supportive and very proud of what has been achieved by the team. And that's really helpful. If you have a lot of naysayers and negative and negative people out there, you would have this a distraction and we didn't have that. So one thing I will do this time, if there are any negative people, I will quickly make sure that we provide an environment that cannot be impacting it. But we didn't have that issue last time that there's a watch we can have that this time because I think people are going to be really concerned about going into what feels like a bit of the darkness again.

Ben Hamer: Well, look, there are some great lessons learnt that I'll be taking from that to to give advice to other people and maybe dispatch them as my own, who knows.

Craig Tiley:  It's called ideas Ben, you the definition of ideas is steal, baby steal.

Ben Hamer:  Look, I will take you up on that. Definitely some food for thought for us Craig and some good things for you and your organisation to take forward into the future as well. Now, to finish off, I'm going to put you through the ringer and ask our regular series of quickfire questions. Are you ready to go?

Craig Tiley: Yeah, go for it.

Ben Hamer: All right. Well, Craig, when you hear the term, the future of work, what one word springs to mind 

Craig Tiley: Imagination. 

Ben Hamer: If you could make one change to today's workforce, what would it be?

Craig Tiley: More partnerships, better partnerships.

Ben Hamer: What's the biggest opportunity for organisations in your industry over the next five years when it comes to the future of work?

Craig Tiley: Embracing change and far greater flexibility.

Ben Hamer: What's the biggest lesson you've learned as a leader from the COVID-19 period?

Craig Tiley: Except the environment for what it is and be very authentic and open and transparent about the problems that it creates for you personally.

Ben Hamer: And yes or no, is the office dead?

Craig Tiley: No.

Ben Hamer: Well, Craig, a massive thank you for sharing your insights so candidly and for joining us on the podcast today.

Craig Tiley: Thank you. It was great to have a chat.

Ben Hamer: Thanks for joining us and listening to this episode head on over to where you’ll find our latest report Changing Places:How Hybrid Working is rewriting the rule book. This podcast, mini series uncovers insights from industry experts so that together we can design a future of work that works for everyone. To make sure you don't miss a single episode, subscribe to this podcast series via Apple podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcast from. My name is Ben Hamer and you've been listening to Exploring the Future of Work with PwC Australia. Thanks for joining us and goodbye for now.

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Tel: +61 437 159 517

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