Staying afloat: USA Weightlifting

Aug 14 2020 by Nicola Hunt Print This Article

Whilst organisations of all sizes have been impacted by Covid, some have been hit worse than others. USA Weightlifting, the sport’s national governing body, has been one of very few sports governing bodies in the USA to avoid either staff or salary cuts during the pandemic. But like all employers, it has faced big challenges and that meant it has had to do things differently. USA Weightlifting’s CEO, Phil Andrews, shares with MI their approach to managing through this period.

Q. How have you managed to stay afloat?

We’re fortunate that we do not rely as heavily on event income as many other organisations, but without the high-profile financial backing that larger sports receive in the U.S., Covid-19 has placed increased scrutiny on every penny that we spend.

We also set up a highly successful fundraising campaign in partnership with Snap! Raise, the nation’s leading provider of fundraising to high school youth groups and teams, which raised $71,292 in just 30 days. The funds raised will help drive money into local clubs and ensure that they are able to keep their facilities open for the foreseeable future, and ultimately help to keep the sport of weightlifting thriving around the nation.

Q. What are you doing differently?

Online camps and competitions that we had initially planned to roll out a few years from now have been fast-tracked and that could lead to a reduction in costs in the long run, potentially providing a welcome boost. We have also placed greater emphasis on collaborating with other likeminded organisations, such as fellow national governing bodies (NGBs) to promote best practices, including running joint revenue camps to ensure we can spread that out.

It’s clear that we’re all in this together and the support that we’ve been able to provide each other is a great help. An example of this collaboration was The Giving Games, set up by several NGBs to raise money for athletes following the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Q. How are you motivating your team through the current crisis?

I have always been a big advocate of empathetic leadership. I believe employees work best when they feel valued and by showing curiosity about their ways of working and what motivates or interests them, you can connect with them on a personal level. Without empathy, organisations can have a ‘them vs us’ feel, with the leadership team unaware of how the vital cogs of the team are feeling.

Q. How has USA Weightlifting supported the Black Lives Matter movement?

The tragic death of George Floyd has been something of a watershed moment around the world and finally we are seeing actions being taken to stand up against racial injustice. As an organisation we have introduced a series of measures to ensure greater diversity in our sport. Some of our efforts include launching coaching and referee funds to develop individuals from BAME (BIPOC) backgrounds, modifying our hiring practices to ensure they are more inclusive, and bringing together a forum for all Team USA athletes led by African American athletes, coaches and administrators. We will never stop looking for ways to improve in this area and provide better support to minority groups.

Q. What is your advice to other businesses?

Be transparent, be innovative and be agile. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought disruption to organisations of all sizes. As always during a time of crisis, employees have rightly looked to their leadership teams for support, guidance, and to take decisive action. Being transparent with staff will ensure that you are respected by your employees and it’s your responsibility as a leader to have honest conversations, however tough they may be.

Innovation is also essential during times like these, particularly to create new revenue streams for your business. Don’t be afraid to take calculated risks to protect your organisation’s long-term future. And finally, be agile. While building a clear plan for your organisation remains an important priority, you must accept that things are constantly changing and what works one week may no longer be effective a week later. Now is the time to put trust in your staff and take the opportunity to do things that you may not have been able to pre-Covid-19.