29 09 2012

Living in a free society we sometimes take things for granted.

The right to share and debate opinions, when and where we holiday, what we do with our leisure time, what we read online, where we work….the list is endless.

Every now and then an opportunity comes along to say thank you to those who gave so much, and continue to give, so we can all enjoy those freedoms we take for granted. The Poppy Run has been just such an opportunity for me and, I hope, for you.

The Poppy Run, now in its second year, is a national series of 5km fun runs aimed at raising funds for and awareness of the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal. As part of my annual commitment to support charity I fill the role of National Director for The Poppy Run.

The concept is simple, volunteer local organisers put on a Poppy Run for their community supported centrally in taking entries, ordering resources, managing health and safety and all of those necessarily elements which can add an unwanted administrative burden on the volunteer. Some Poppy Runs attract 50 participants, others over 200 or more and in the future…..who knows.

People who want to take part in a Poppy Run can enter online or by post. Talent isn’t an issue, The Poppy Run is not a race; there are no prizes, just medals for all finishers whether they run, jog, walk or even crawl the 5km route. If you want to take part but don’t fancy the 5km, you can get involved by volunteering to marshal at one of the events.

All Poppy Runs start at the same time, 11.00 a.m. on Sunday 28th October (the last Sunday in October annually), timed to coincide with the official launch of the annual Poppy Appeal.

This year, in only its second year, there are ten Poppy Runs taking place around the country so there is a good chance there is one near you. We are aiming to have more and more Poppy Runs every year at more and more places around the country.

If you are interested in finding out more about organising your own local Poppy Run in 2013, please drop me an email to If you would like to volunteer to marshal at one of this year’s Poppy Runs contact the office at And if you would like to Run To Give For Those Who Gave™ visit and enter today. And if you really don’t want to leave the comfort of your sofa, you can still support The Poppy Run by ordering your Poppy Run T-shirt from the Poppy Run Facebook shop.

Think about those freedoms we all take for granted; how will you say “thank-you” to those who gave so you can continue to enjoy those freedoms today, tomorrow and long into the future?



Twitter: @poppyrun

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, September 2012

Read more blogs by Jim Cowan

Twitter @cowanglobal


11 09 2012

So, that was it. Fantastic wasn’t it? The greatest summer British sport has ever known. As the final echoes of the ‘Our Greatest Team’ parade fade away and summer turns to autumn the memory of those superb performances, the excellent organisation, the wonderful fans and the great Games Makers is still fresh in the memory.

But what of the sports participation legacy? What of the promise that secured the Games seven years ago? As politicians continue to ride the Olympic/Paralympic success bandwagon and talk up legacy; leisure facilities across the country are closing down and cutting their hours.

Regular readers of this blog will know I am a critic of the policy of Initiativeitis favoured by governments present and past and that I question the absence of an integrated national Strategy for the Development of Sport which fully services the sports development continuum.

Within such a strategy, a key component will undoubtedly be the provision of places where people can discover, learn, play, enjoy and excel at sport; the facilities.

The danger of not maintaining and improving leisure facilities, including access to them, was highlighted by former NBA basketball star John Amaechi. In June last year, Amaechi appeared on a Sky Sports News Special Report on Legacy and, talking of the threat of facility closures, said:

“…what’s going to happen here at the Olympics could be worse even than just people not participating afterwards, it could be that you excite young people to play, they go out into their communities to look for where to play and they come here and they realise it’s grassed over, it is no longer a facility where they can get the right kind of coaching and the right kind of development. That would be a true tragedy.

And yet, that is what is happening. Last week the BBC reported that more than a third of UK councils have cut or reduced public sports facilities in the last three years.

It is not as if Minister for Sport Hugh Robertson is not aware of the problem. In 2009, while Shadow Minister for Sport, he expressed his concern that, “to deliver the planned (sic) sport legacy would require all areas of the country to have both access to facilities and sporting infrastructure” The then Shadow Minister’s concern was that “Johnny – in Burnley, Leeds or Glasgow – can get past first base when he feels inspired by Beccy Addlington at London 2012.”

The threat was (and is) real. In 2009 63 public swimming pools closed and only 28 opened and a report suggested that, without intervention, by 2014 levels of public sector provision could regress to those last seen in the 1960s. Sport England (2003) had reported that simply sustaining the (then) current level of public sector sports facilities would require £110m per annum. The current Government’s flawed ‘Places People Play’ collection of initiatives provides for £50m of National Lottery money for community sports clubs to improve their facilities plus another £30m for investment in Games inspired ‘iconic’ regional facilities. It is woefully inadequate.

There is an assumption that any slack will be picked up by local authorities. However, unlike many of our European neighbours, other than playing fields, sports facilities are afforded no statutory protection in this country. Hence, when times are tight and councils need to find savings, public sports facilities will always be on the list of places where those savings can be made.

The initiatives continue to come from government but without a properly thought out, fully integrated strategy for the development of sport which takes in the full sports development continuum, the facilities where they assume many of these initiatives will play out are under threat.

It is worth repeating what last week’s BBC report stated; more than a third of UK councils have cut or reduced public sports facilities in the last three years.

For Legacy to become tangible and long-lasting sport must be given statutory protection as part of a comprehensive strategy. Sports facilities, community clubs and sports development units must be protected and with that protection, have access to adequate funding.

These are hard times and you might ask where the extra money will come from? The fact is that extra money is unlikely to be required; the savings made by planning strategy properly rather than randomly should be more than adequate. Proper, integrated strategy will always be more economical, more efficient and more effective than the deploying of random tactics (which is what Initiativeitis is).

Is this new knowledge? No. 2500 years ago the father of strategy Sun Tzu stated; “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

It is time for politicians of all parties to stop playing and to start getting serious. It is time they took their own promise of Legacy seriously and planned for it properly. It is the very least they owe us after promising it to the world on our behalf and, in straightened times, they also owe it to us to invest what money we do have far more wisely.

(Additional References: Hughes, K (2012) Sport Mega-Events and a Legacy of Increased Sport Participation: An Olympic Legacy or an Olympic Dream?)

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, September 2012

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Twitter @cowanglobal


3 09 2012

You know where you want to get to and you are highly motivated to get there. Your desire for the success you have defined is strong and you are determined to push until you arrive.

Only one thing can stop you; your lack of strategy.

Mistaking Goals for Strategy is not an unusual mistake in every sector within which I have worked, from business to sport and from charities to local government. And because so many confuse the two it is a weakness that many businesses overlook until it is too late.

I recently met the owner of a business who has struggled somewhat in the economic downturn of the last couple of years. He was confused by the struggles of his organisation because, he said, his strategy always made sense on paper. He asked, would I mind joining his Senior Management Team and him to take a look to check they had it right?

A couple of weeks later I was sat in the company Board Room listening to him and his SMT explain the Company Strategy to me. As is the current vogue, the strategy had a name; the ‘20/five/25 Plan’ and, I was assured, I would love it because of its “beautiful simplicity.”

The plan was to increase revenues by 20% per annum over the next five years while increasing profit margins by 25% over the same period. Having told me the plan, they looked at me expectantly, I assume waiting for praise.

I paused before I spoke considering my words very carefully. “Well, it is certainly aggressive,” I started, “now, what will you need to do to ensure this happens?”

Bob, the company owner smiled at me before saying; “you are going to love this Jim, especially given your sporting background and your belief in always striving for excellence. Because what we have here in abundance is the will to win and the desire to keep pushing even when it hurts. Yes, 20/5/25 is a challenge, but we are all winners here and we are committed to keep pushing until we get there.”

I again paused before I spoke, aware that communication isn’t always what you say but also about what you are understood to have said. Maybe he misunderstood my question? Okay, I’ll phrase it differently; “Bob, I congratulate you and your team on your ambition however, making this kind of leap in performance usually relies on identifying a key strength on which you can build, create change or generate new opportunities. What is it you have identified?”

Still expecting something more, Bob’s response surprised me. He quoted Jack Welch; “we have found that by reaching for what appears to be the impossible, we often actually achieve the impossible.”

Of course, one of the problems with using quotes in such circumstances is that they are often used selectively and/or out of context. It was Jack Welch who also said, “If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete.”

I needed to change tack and so asked Bob if he saw the generals in command at the Battle of the Somme as suitable role models? He asked me to explain what I meant.

I took a deep breath and explained; “At the Somme, and at Passchendaele and at many other First World War battles, ‘pushing until you get there’ sent tens of thousands of men over the top to almost certain death. They didn’t lack the will to win; neither did they lack motivation even if, for some, motivation came from the threat of being shot if they didn’t go over the top. What thy lacked was competent strategic leadership; leadership which could see the difference between blindly pursuing a goal (‘over the top, one more push’) and having a clear strategy, a series of coherent steps to get them there. What strategy does is to establish the conditions which will make the push, the motivation and the will to win successful.”

I saw the penny drop. Bob and his SMT realised that what they had in their ‘20/five/25 plan’ was, in fact, an aspiration, a goal. In order to reach the destination defined by that goal they needed to plan the route. They needed a strategy.

Bob and his SMT are now developing that strategy and in the course of doing so have pared back their ambitious goal because they realised they lacked the resources to achieve it. They won’t make the same mistake again and they are now well on the way to planning their way through the downturn and to emerging healthy and ready to grow.

But what of you and your business? Does your strategy confuse the ‘what’ with the ‘how’? Are you going over the top for one more push or have you got a clearly marked road map to success; aka, a strategy?

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, September 2012

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Twitter @cowanglobal