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Wan's Column - Managing Human Resources

Note: This case study was submitted as part of the OCM Advance Sports Management Course in 2009

Foreword

I have to add this piece as I am a little different from the rest of the class since I do not hold any current position in my club. Therefore, I am unable to effectively execute my thoughts or ideas in the club after the completion of the course. I am a past president of the club, just retired from full time employment, attending this course for personal satisfaction and self development. It was agreed with our course directors that I could use my own experience in managing the club from 1998 to 2005 for the case study and add on whatever observation I may have about the progress of the club after I left the Committee.

It is hope that this practical cum academic exercise would benefit the current Committee since I have been endorsed by the club to attend this course. I would also share excerpts (in bite size) from my papers over the 6 chapters in the club's magazine the Footloose and my own website, www.runnersmalaysia.com.my as a reference point for better club management. As a new retiree, this course has given me the pleasure and commitment towards self development and also meeting a number of new friends.

History of Club
In early 1984, Kris Lee Siu Heng, a sales executive with Nike and Alex Moh Chean Seng, a keen distance runner mooted the idea of forming a distance running club, while preparing for the inaugural Kuala Lumpur International Marathon. Their dream gained momentum when they roped in Raymond Teoh, then general manager of the company promoting Nike products, Marina Chin our national sprint queen, Dr. Ronnie Yeo, a medical doctor with the National Sports Council and Dato' Professor Khairuddin Yusof . They had their first meeting on 23 January 1984 at Raymond's office and decided on the name of the club "Pacesetters" from a word in a runner magazine. The logo was adopted from running legend, Frank Shorter's product logo with some variation. The constitution was based on one from the Lights Athletic Club.

Kris Lee then approached Datuk Shahrir Abdul, the then Minister of Federal Territory Kuala Lumpur to be patron. Datuk Shahrir suggested that the club add the words Athletic Club to the name so that it can be affiliated with the Federal Territory Amateur Athletic Association (FTAAA), hence the name Pacesetters Athletic Club. He also consented to be the patron of the club.

The club was unofficially launched during the Kuala Lumpur Marathon with about 10 runners wearing the club's vest sponsored by Raymond's company, Roberston, Wilson, Jamil (M) Sdn Bhd. Later the Pro-tem Committee decided to organize a charity run on the launch date to create an impact. Dr Ronnie came out with the concept paper and the date of the run was fixed on 20 May 1984. The run would start at Lake Garden and end at Petaling Jaya Hilton car-park. The run attracted about 500 runners and the club was born.


Vision Statement : We aspire to be the role model running club in the country.

I recall when I was first elected president in March 2000, the Star Reporter, Stuart Michael asked me what I want the club to be. I did not say we want to be the biggest club but instead as a role model club for others to follow. At that time the local running clubs were in a weak position, the few famous clubs like SWIFT, LIGHT and JETS had sort of closed down due to problems of their own. The national association, Malaysian Amateur Athletic Union (MAAU) was having problems of their own and the local athletic fraternity got into the news for all the wrong reasons. I wanted PACM to be a breath of fresh air in the athletic arena.

Mission Statement

1. We promote running as a sustainable recreational activity among the grass root, catering for individuals of all ages and capability
2. Act as an internal and external event organizer to support the above.

I was very clear in my mind that our club is not going to be an elitists' club, (unlike MR 25 in Singapore), it will cater for individuals of all ages and capability. It is a very inclusive club, so long you are keen run, you are welcomed. You can be as young as 4 years old or as old as 75, this is the club for you. In supporting our Vision Mission Statement, we will organize events for our members, families and the public who are interested to run. In this regards I always remember the 3 generation relay team formed up by our former treasurer, Chen Kok Siong during the Fathers' Day Breakfast Run when his father, his son and him formed the 3 generation relay team.


MR 25 is an exclusive club for elite runners in Singapore. To join as a member, each individual must be able to run the McRitchie Reservoir route within 25 minutes. (4.8km for ladies) www.mr25.org.sg

The objectives of the club as stated in the constitution drafted in 1984 and revised once before I took over also clearly state what we are to achieve.

Objectives

  1. to promote, develop and encourage the sport of running in the country
  2. to foster mutual goodwill, understanding and friendship between its members
  3. to promote and / or participate in sports and social activities related to running both locally and internationally
  4. to develop and promote running programs for the benefit of the community
  5. to develop and promote other form of outdoor sports activities amongst its members.

You can see that our objectives tie in nicely to our Vision Mission Statement. We also need to carry out a SWOT Analysis to determine what are the strength and weaknesses of the club at a micro level and then also to examine the macro environment we are operating in and determine the opportunities / threats. Admittedly, this is something I did not do while I was the president and looking back now, it is an essential exercise that should be carried out each year by the Committee.

This is my SWOT Analysis on human resources based on current situation I can see from outside the Committee;


The SWOT Analysis on Human Resources

Strength

  1. Has a sizeable membership base of 1,800 from all walks of life; wide spectrum of skill sets
  2. Has a adequate pool of volunteers prepared to carry out ad hoc functions
  3. Relatively problem free on members relationship
  4. Participation in club's event and the social part of the club is very active

Weakness

  1. current structure have difficulties coping with the size and added activities organized by the club, in particular external events not owned by the club
  2. inability to attract more capable members to join the Committee as the work load is perceived substantial
  3. job specification not very clearly spelt out and the absence of a clear organization structure and reporting lines

Opportunities

  1. Growing number of baby boomers retirees with a wealth of experience to share and looking for participation in reputable NGOs

Threats

  1. Competing with other NGOs for volunteers that are paying allowances
  2. The chronic traffic condition in Klang Valley discourage volunteers from participating in the Exco
  3. The increase in cost of living has resulted in volunteers re-examining their non-work related activities

Existing Organisation Structure (2009)


(The above org chart is not from the club, I requested for one but VP Sook Ying told me there isn't. I drafted this and emailed to her before I started the course as it was a pre-requisite of the course)


Organizing Human Resources Management
When I started this chapter, I feel very naked, a simple club with only 2 part time staff added after I retired don't seems to have much to discuss about human resources management. However, looking back at what the club have achieved without much resources and now with a few events to our name, we must have done something right with human resources management. We may not have any full time paid employee but we have reached out to many volunteers, some appointed (nearly 25 in my last count) and many ad hoc helpers, in addition to the 11 elected committee members.

Thinking back about the club while I was managing it, the true meaning of volunteerism is prevalent in all our activities. I did not fully appreciate it till I read about why people volunteer in AARP website (www.aarp.org) This is what I quote from their website:

o People volunteer for many reasons. Some people may want to learn a new skill; others want to make new friends or contribute their time and talent to improving the well-being of others or society in general. Many people enjoy a sense of accomplishment and making a difference in the life of others through their volunteer activities. Research indicates that people who participate in their communities through activities like volunteering may lead healthier, happier and longer lives. AARP encourages all citizens, including older persons to consider volunteering in their communities.
Source - AARP website

How Volunteerism Started
When I rejoined the committee in 1998 after a previous one year stint in 1995 as a committee member, I realized the club has not changed much for the 3 years. While we don't have many club initiated activities for the members but there is a core group of members actively participating in the local race circuits. The very simple activity the club can initiate is a breakfast run; usually a short run of 4km to 8km for the members and their families. The food would be taken care of by the spouses, contributing the food on a pot luck style. The job will be divided and each person takes care of something. This was my first experience of volunteerism in the club. No job description, we just do it and have a good time, socialize and clean up the place after the run. After a few more of these runs, I got to know more members and their respective spouses. I soon found out that many members and their families are happy to help out provided it is not too onerous. This core group of family and their children soon become the core volunteers of the club as we progressed towards event management. This group of children grew up with the club, today some of them are attending colleges. Some have graduated and are now professionals in their own rights. I get to meet them at races, competing along with their parents. This little story sums up the volunteerism in the club, very family approach where we involve the whole family as long as they are prepared to be part of it.


Sense of belonging, via Club's Attire
A critical piece in volunteerism in the club actually starts from having a strong sense of belonging. In my own experience I find it has been easier to build a strong sense of belonging in a running club than in my own company's sports club. In my own company's sports club, we have very diverse interest in many activities and no single activity has such a critical mass to be effective. In a running club, the members join it because they are interested to run and therefore all our activities are centred round running. We seldom need to convince members the fun and benefits of running.

I recognize the need to have uniform attire to boost the sense of belonging. We co-brand with New Balance in 1999 to come out with a nicely designed running vest and a bright yellow T-shirt. We offered the vest and T-shirt free as part of a 3 year membership drive. It was very successful and the take up rate was great. I remember in the year 2000, when we participated in the Penang International Bridge Run in Penang (400km north of Kuala Lumpur) with more than 200 members, we asked all the members to wear their club vest in the event and bring their yellow T-shirts to wear after the event. We like to see a "sea of yellow" at our designated corner of the field. We were the most prominent group in that event!

This idea of "sea of yellow" was taken from the Dutch Football team for the 1988 UEFA Cup in Germany when the Dutch supporters donned their nation's Orange T-shirts to give the stadium a "sea of orange" look. I remember watching the games live and was very impressed with the nationalism of the Dutch supporters. That's experience reinforced my belief that building a strong sense of belonging is an important human resource strategy in building up the club in whatever we do.

Sense of Belonging - via Footloose
My next target in building further the sense of belonging is promoting our club's newsletter as a medium of communication that is own by the members and written by the members. It took us a while to keep requesting members to share their running trips and stories with the club. It finally happened when a senior member, Hooi Siew Weng shared his hiking story to various places, including Patagonia, Chile in 2001. After that we started having consistent contributions of stories from members. Some of the memorable stories include running across the Sahara Desert by two members, Dr Tan and Ngae KH in 2007 which I too obtained rights to include in my website. There were also some members' life changing stories of how running has contributed to their lives. These days, the editor hardly needs to write and just focus on the layout and sending reminders several regular contributors. The impact of the members' own newsletter has one great benefit, the participation rate of club members is very high, we recorded as high as 55% of our Pacesetters 15km coming from our own members!


30Km Practice Run, an unlikely outcome

In December 2002, we started a program called the Peer Support Program for members training for the KL International Marathon in March 2003. This peer support program is divided in 3 main groups, the Under 6 Hours, Under 5 Hours and Under 4 Hours Group. In each group we have 2 experienced members to lead the Sunday long run practice, ranging from 15km to 25km distance. As part of the training we intend to have two 30km practice run, slotted 3 and 6 weeks before the actual KL International Marathon. It was suggested by our member, Yew Chee Chung that this 30km practice run should be fully facilitated; with drink stations every 5km on the route. I was hesitant as I was not sure that we could get 12 volunteers to man the 3 stations along the 30km route (2 of the stations were used twice) and one critical traffic crossing. It would means getting 12 individuals coming in at an early 5am not to run but to serve drinks. We did get the number; a few injured members who wish to see their friends making it for the marathon and several others made up that first team of 30km run volunteers. These twelve selfless volunteers were Yew Chee Chung, Lawrence Lim, Gary Goh, Carina Tan, Uncle SH Tan, Jimmy Tong, Andrew Tong, Ken Kan, Gerald Pereira, Chan Wing Kai, Sonny Ng and Jenny Leong. Fate has it that this simple practice run that attracted more than 160 members actually evolved into the Great Eastern Pacesetters 30km in 2006, an event for serious runners having only the 30km and 20km distance.


Developing a Human Resources Strategy

This is an area we have not been doing adequately. We are more focus on getting the job done once we decided to execute something, be it an event or a project. It was very much a fire fighting approach, doing what we can and the best we could. We have been getting good results so far as we have dedicated volunteers who genuinely wanted to volunteer with little other motives.

As the club has got to the current size, we have to think more strategically on the human resources piece. We need quite a diverse skill sets in running the organization. The advantage is that we have a large member base to source from. Our 1,800 member base would be a data mining delight for all kind of skills. We need to comb our database to identify talents within the club and approach these individuals to join the committee.

I do not pretend to have the answers to this but I feel the Committee should have some form of regular communication with the team that is not in the Committee such as the group leaders and captains. These are the guys running the routine activity on the ground, building up their sense of belonging to the club is critical. While modern technology allows us to send an email to communicate, face to face communication is still needed to build up the kind of rapport needed. I would suggest that once the new committee is formed, a day off meeting among all the office bearers would help in building team spirit. This type of meeting could be held half yearly.


Recruiting and Motivating Human Resources
We recruit volunteers by words of mouth and lately via the official communication medium like the Footloose and website.

We don't have any silver bullet to motivate the volunteers, except that we are all volunteers, not paid to work. Most of the volunteers are not looking for rewards, they just want to be part of the event, want to see the club become successful. During events like Pacesetters 15km, we provide an official event T-shirt for all volunteers and breakfast. After the event we issued a letter of appreciation to the volunteers or post the thank you note in the Footloose or website. We do have left over stuff from each event like surplus event vests or snack bars from sponsors. The volunteers are the usual beneficiaries of the left over stuff, it enable us to clean up our store after each event. Lately, the club has started giving a token allowance to each volunteer for events like the Pacesetters 15km.

The real challenge of recruitment does not lie with ad hoc volunteers, the challenge is with finding suitable, capable and passionate individuals to stand for election and join the Committee. In Malaysia, we have what we call the silent majority. When the club has 300 members we have 50 to 70 coming for our Annual General Meeting (AGM). When the club grew to 1,800, we still have less than 100 coming for the AGM. A core group of members that have been attending the AGM are not keen to offer themselves as candidates for the positions in the Committee. They are what I would classify them as guardians of the club, ensuring that proper election process go on in the club and supporters for the dinner function after the AGM.

Given this peculiar situation in the club, the Committee has to identify suitable candidates to stand for election. We have a culture that capable individuals do not automatically come forward to stand for election. They need to be courted and encouraged to attend the AGM for specific positions. The individuals with certain skills are ear-marked for certain positions are brought in to attend the AGM to stand for election. You can say that the Committee identify the talents, explain to them the expectation of the position and bring them to the AGM for a decision by the members present at the AGM. While this may sounds like not entirely democratic, it does save a lot of pain as compared to the situation when the wrong person is elected into the Committee. We do have a few instances in recent years when the elected individuals resigned after just one or two months. As the incumbent committee, we have to manage the uncertainties in the team each year, providing for some healthy turnover.

Developing Human Resources Through Training
The club does not have a formal training program. Individuals recruited for the job just get on the job and do whatever is right. As our focus is recreational, we got by with this basic approach.

The club has got larger and we have to pay attention to developing our human resources. I attended this program as part of my personal development but I believe what I am sharing about this program in the Footloose and my website will inspire others in the club in wanting to have some self development. The Olympic Council of Malaysia has established their Academy and we can expect more training courses for our members to participate in. The club would have to include training in their calendar just as we include all the key races in our calendar. The club could also work with OCM Academy to co-organize training courses for their members.


Developing Skills for Managing Human Resources

In section 3.5 of the chapter on "Managing Human Resources" it has identified 5 key skill areas;
1. Decision Making
2. Problem Solving
3. Communication
4. Time Management &
5. Managing Conflict

While I fully appreciate the importance of each of the above subjects in management, we do not have specific programs to deal with them. Most of our members of the committee have some form of management training in their respective jobs or businesses. They bring with them wealth of management skills, some have more and some have less skill. What we have to do is to gel the team together with a clear objective or goal to move forward. Having a very focus activity helps, we eat and breathe running in our club. Of course there is a difference when we compare the situation back in our own office, our subordinates are paid to work. In the case of a club manage by volunteers who are not paid to work. This actually calls for more delicate handling of circumstances. Our experience is that the passion for the sport is so over whelming that members actually look forward to the club's activities.

Proposed Action Plan

Policy / Objectives Strategic Measures Time Frame Implementer Expected Outcome
To revisit Vision & Mission of club Have a weekend brain storming session Dec 2009 President
(participated by Exco & Group Leaders)
A revised or refined Vision Mission Statement
Upon a revised Vision Mission Statement, realign the Organization Chart. Have a revised org chart with clear reporting lines supported by written job description for key positions March 2010 President
Vice Presidents
Secretary
A revised Org Chart supported by job description
Implement succession planning Identify volunteers in the club that can fit into club's future plans & talk them into joining us. Jan 2010 & on-going President & Exco A constant pool of volunteers with certain critical skill sets to fill up vacancies
Training Programs Have some form of internal training programs for the committee, office bearers and volunteers. April 2010 President & Exco Able to back up the ground experience with management principles via training
Bi-annual Team Meeting Have a bi-annual team meeting to build up better team spirit and understanding within the almost 35 odd office bearers. April 2010 President & Exco A more cohesive team emerge to better manage the club

Pause, Reflect, Strategize and Move Forward
Having gone through module 1 & 2 and having the benefit of watching the club from outside as a retired president, I realize that it is important to pause and reflect as a Committee. When we get elected or re-elected each year, we tend to rush to execute things or just carry on what we left off the previous year. The SWOT analysis, review and refine the Vision, Mission and Strategies by the newly elected Committee on an annual or bi-annual basis will throw out new ideas how the club should move forward. I am sure the world most successful running club, the New York Runners have gone through this journey of reflection and rebuilding before they reach what they are today.


I would recommend that the club's Committee take a weekend off and reflect on the Organization Structure, Vision, Mission and Strategies of the club, make refinement, amendment or even overhaul certain part of it. The human resources piece is critical towards better management of the club. We have reached the size whereby a flat structure that has served us well may not work too well in the years to come. We have not been paying adequate attention to human resources and it is getting more and more difficult to convince members to take up elected positions. We have seen this happening in the last two AGMs when key positions; such as secretary is difficult to fill. We can no longer depend on members walking into the AGM by chance and get elected and perform the job expected. The Committee have to scout for the talents to offer themselves for election…….no other way I am afraid!

 

Wan Yew Leong
10 Nov 2009
wanyewleong@gmail.com

 
 

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