Buckle up! The road to change is bumpy.
By Kate Richards
One of the essential 21st century courses taught today in “B” schools is Change Management. Grad students studying for MBAs and Doc degrees built around the subject, feed a growing army of consultants lending fresh eyes to problems and planning solutions. Change management as a hardcore social science is a variegated milkshake of behavior research, communication habits, groupthink and intervention technique. The reality of change in practice, most often is an unsettling business for the culture as it forces all those involved to rethink their identities, values and self-interests. However, sustaining market position requires some form of change to come into play as unforeseen events, public perception, new market entries and economic conditions can cause problems. In recent weeks those fans and members of the racing industry have read and heard the word “change”. And just like big data, risk forecasting and algorithms are determining the currency of everything, the component questions driving that change will be re-phrased, shared relentlessly and disseminated until the original issue gets distorted. It reminded of a dinner table game of ‘telephone’. Is the track the culprit, the use of certain drugs or a father-daughter battle for real estate control at fault?
Check all the issues that were posted these past weeks. Then there was the coupling of other hot-buttons. How are the tracks going to persuade new fans and new owners if they hear gruesome news of Mexican slaughter and track breakdowns? How are the tracks going to cope with ticket buyers aging out and unable to afford the comfort seats? What about these track closings? How do the state commissions police the drugs across the board? Are larger breeders influencing quality? These are present day scenarios demanding extraordinary action imbued with a commitment to clarity and transparency. This situation driven by the breakdowns required a rapid response scenario that got handicapped and slowed right from the start with different opinions about priorities. Loss of urgency fell to other issues. From reading case studies, this is part of the process of determining root causes.
Change initiatives bring up a laundry list of fear: loss of status, income, reluctance to change procedure to mention a few. Poor messaging and group thinking are also reasons for change initiatives to fail. This industry is not alone as being ripe for change. One can check out every major ticketed sport or Fortune 500 company and change mechanics are being incepted, running into obstacles, correcting and moving forward.
The anomaly is that some saw a disruption coming. Like sailors watching the horizon for the wind to propel the forward moving sails, some anticipated the possibility of a rogue wave that cannot be avoided. One wonders. Racing is a reactive industry and opposed to pro-active and controlling the market is a key factor. Some entities like it that way and consider that to be a stakeholder’s privilege. With Santa Anita, there had been too many weather, fire and seismic events not to affect what lies beneath the surface. Some thought that frontside announcements would harness the conjecture. The match-stick issue of Lasix displaced the conversation about the condition of both courses. Moreover, PETA arrived on schedule, a commercial death squad that never wastes an opportunity for their own brand of ‘chicken little’ fundraising.
Everyone accepts that racing is tradition-bound and that is the crux of its appealing charm. To sustain that uniquely commercial quality, we need to make some changes. It is also an industry that is relationship based: fans to the horses and jockeys, trainers to owners, breeders to the sales buyers, gamblers to the odds and then the decision-makers to their shareholders. It seems that with any disruption, racing goes batshit and relationships fall apart with all elements grabbing for control. We need unity and a concerted effort to grow that unity and maintain mutually beneficial relationships.
This announcement by the LA prosecutor’s office that they were launching an investigation, has accelerated the urgency and is troublesome. Opportunities do exist to change the current reality and redirect both media attention as well as some inside attitudes. The time is now.
Transparency. Transformation. Change. Thoughtful consideration of all, maintaining the relationships while working for the future of the sport.
It is our turn to change leads.