Life lessons
Tara Dillon

One of the sector’s best known leaders, Dillon took CIMSPA from last chance saloon to being an award-winning organisation. She talks to Kath Hudson about the gruelling early years


The biggest challenge of my career was taking over CIMSPA. Although I’m so glad I did, I’ve never felt so isolated as I did in those early days, when I spent many nights in hotel rooms with my head in my hands.

Since it was only a short secondment initially, I had felt there was no risk, but once I got involved I realised the enormity of the challenge and felt that if I didn’t make it work I would be a public failure.

The financial situation was precarious and there was an overwhelming amount of work, which we weren’t well enough resourced to do. Initially I was beset with self doubt and imposter syndrome, I felt paranoid, exposed and watched.

Securing finances
The first challenge was to secure the financial position. Funding was difficult, even though the industry had said it wanted a body to showcase the profession and standardise training.

When I approached Sport England, I was told I had no operational evidence, no money and no people and was asked why the sector wasn’t funding it. I argued the sector wasn’t awash with money and that CIMSPA needed a partner to prove a point.

Eventually, with a plan, they did give us some funding. I then went back to the sector to ask employers to match it, although they didn’t quite match it, we had enough support to get going. This was a pivotal moment; it showed willingness and collaboration from the sector.

Power of listening
I drew on my professional experience. Successful organisations listen, have a strong vision and recruit well, so I aimed to do just that. It helped that I had a healthy black book and felt solidarity from the industry. The change came when I realised I wasn’t having to check cashflow every single day.

When I took over we had less than 1,000 members, but after two years we had five times as many and the support of five or six important partners.

During this time I learned it’s really important to listen to your customers, as well as your instincts, and to hold your nerve through periods of change. CIMSPA had to match the ask of the sector, which meant we had to stay true to our mission and not pivot for an easy win. There were many temptations where changing course, or entering a partnership, would have been financially beneficial but it would have impacted our integrity.

The position of CEO is a big jump up from MD and I initially found it a lonely place, however, when I learned to reach out to sector friends, I found myself well supported.

Stop whinging
When I was battling for the Sport England funding I recall I did whinge a bit – moaning about other organisations which were funded – but a mentor told me to stop being a victim and work it out, which was the jolt I needed. I learned not to look for problems, but to focus on what’s going well and build on that. Be clear on the goal and keep making small steps forward.

The tough times were definitely worth it. I’m proud of the empowering culture we’ve created at CIMSPA, which is built on the foundations of equality, respect and teamwork. I implemented the policy of treating people like grown-ups – for example offering unlimited leave, having a realistic expenses policy and an open-minded approach to flexible working – and then handed the baton over to the employees.

This approach won us the Best Company award in The Times Top 100 Not for Profit category and I was voted in the top five CEOs. The organisation is making a difference, and we’re constantly striving to be the best we can be for the sector.

If anyone reading this has anything to say, I’m always listening.

About CIMSPA

The Chartered Institute of the Management of Sport and Activity (CIMSPA) is the representative body for all those working in the physical activity sector.

CIMSPA is the industry’s first chartered institute and was born out of the convergence of a number of organisations that blazed a trail, including the Association of Leisure Managers (ALM), ILAM (Institute of Leisure Management), The National Association of Sports Development (NASD), The Association of Baths and Recreation Management (ISRM) and CIMSPA’s foundational organisations, the Institute of Sport, Play and Leisure (ISPAL) and IMSPA – the Institute for Sport and Physical Activity.

CIMSPA’s formation gained industry-wide support from organisations including UK Active, Sport England, Community Leisure UK, the Chief Cultural and Leisure Officers’ Association (CLOA) and the Sport and Recreation Alliance (SRA) – formerly the CCPR (Central Council for Recreation).

In addition to advocating, setting standards for qualifications and governance, CIMSPA also took over the functions of the Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs), the body established ‘by the industry for the industry’ to regulate the registration of fitness professionals, validate their qualifications and raise standards in the sector.

The REPs merger happened in February 2020 following an agreement between CIMSPA and REPs’ owner, UK Coaching, who combined REPs with the CIMSPA Exercise and Fitness Directory, creating a single directory for all exercise and fitness professionals.

The agreement made CIMSPA the only directory with the official recognition of the sector.

More: www.CIMSPA.co.uk

Within two years, CIMSPA had increased membership fivefold Credit: photo: Shutterstock / Friends Stock
Focus on what’s going well and build on that, says Dillon Credit: photo: Shutterstock / Friends Stock
 


CONTACT US

Leisure Media
Tel: +44 (0)1462 431385

©Cybertrek 2024

ABOUT LEISURE MEDIA
LEISURE MEDIA MAGAZINES
LEISURE MEDIA HANDBOOKS
LEISURE MEDIA WEBSITES
LEISURE MEDIA PRODUCT SEARCH
PRINT SUBSCRIPTIONS
FREE DIGITAL SUBSCRIPTIONS
 
19 Jun 2024 Leisure Management: daily news and jobs
 
 
HOME
JOBS
NEWS
FEATURES
PRODUCTS
FREE DIGITAL SUBSCRIPTION
PRINT SUBSCRIPTION
ADVERTISE
CONTACT US
Sign up for FREE ezine

Features List



SELECTED ISSUE
Health Club Management
2023 issue 6

View issue contents

Leisure Management - Tara Dillon

Life lessons

Tara Dillon


One of the sector’s best known leaders, Dillon took CIMSPA from last chance saloon to being an award-winning organisation. She talks to Kath Hudson about the gruelling early years

Dillon say there was an ‘overwhelming amount’ of work to do when she took over at CIMSPA photo: CIMSPA
Within two years, CIMSPA had increased membership fivefold photo: Shutterstock / Friends Stock
Focus on what’s going well and build on that, says Dillon photo: Shutterstock / Friends Stock

The biggest challenge of my career was taking over CIMSPA. Although I’m so glad I did, I’ve never felt so isolated as I did in those early days, when I spent many nights in hotel rooms with my head in my hands.

Since it was only a short secondment initially, I had felt there was no risk, but once I got involved I realised the enormity of the challenge and felt that if I didn’t make it work I would be a public failure.

The financial situation was precarious and there was an overwhelming amount of work, which we weren’t well enough resourced to do. Initially I was beset with self doubt and imposter syndrome, I felt paranoid, exposed and watched.

Securing finances
The first challenge was to secure the financial position. Funding was difficult, even though the industry had said it wanted a body to showcase the profession and standardise training.

When I approached Sport England, I was told I had no operational evidence, no money and no people and was asked why the sector wasn’t funding it. I argued the sector wasn’t awash with money and that CIMSPA needed a partner to prove a point.

Eventually, with a plan, they did give us some funding. I then went back to the sector to ask employers to match it, although they didn’t quite match it, we had enough support to get going. This was a pivotal moment; it showed willingness and collaboration from the sector.

Power of listening
I drew on my professional experience. Successful organisations listen, have a strong vision and recruit well, so I aimed to do just that. It helped that I had a healthy black book and felt solidarity from the industry. The change came when I realised I wasn’t having to check cashflow every single day.

When I took over we had less than 1,000 members, but after two years we had five times as many and the support of five or six important partners.

During this time I learned it’s really important to listen to your customers, as well as your instincts, and to hold your nerve through periods of change. CIMSPA had to match the ask of the sector, which meant we had to stay true to our mission and not pivot for an easy win. There were many temptations where changing course, or entering a partnership, would have been financially beneficial but it would have impacted our integrity.

The position of CEO is a big jump up from MD and I initially found it a lonely place, however, when I learned to reach out to sector friends, I found myself well supported.

Stop whinging
When I was battling for the Sport England funding I recall I did whinge a bit – moaning about other organisations which were funded – but a mentor told me to stop being a victim and work it out, which was the jolt I needed. I learned not to look for problems, but to focus on what’s going well and build on that. Be clear on the goal and keep making small steps forward.

The tough times were definitely worth it. I’m proud of the empowering culture we’ve created at CIMSPA, which is built on the foundations of equality, respect and teamwork. I implemented the policy of treating people like grown-ups – for example offering unlimited leave, having a realistic expenses policy and an open-minded approach to flexible working – and then handed the baton over to the employees.

This approach won us the Best Company award in The Times Top 100 Not for Profit category and I was voted in the top five CEOs. The organisation is making a difference, and we’re constantly striving to be the best we can be for the sector.

If anyone reading this has anything to say, I’m always listening.

About CIMSPA

The Chartered Institute of the Management of Sport and Activity (CIMSPA) is the representative body for all those working in the physical activity sector.

CIMSPA is the industry’s first chartered institute and was born out of the convergence of a number of organisations that blazed a trail, including the Association of Leisure Managers (ALM), ILAM (Institute of Leisure Management), The National Association of Sports Development (NASD), The Association of Baths and Recreation Management (ISRM) and CIMSPA’s foundational organisations, the Institute of Sport, Play and Leisure (ISPAL) and IMSPA – the Institute for Sport and Physical Activity.

CIMSPA’s formation gained industry-wide support from organisations including UK Active, Sport England, Community Leisure UK, the Chief Cultural and Leisure Officers’ Association (CLOA) and the Sport and Recreation Alliance (SRA) – formerly the CCPR (Central Council for Recreation).

In addition to advocating, setting standards for qualifications and governance, CIMSPA also took over the functions of the Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs), the body established ‘by the industry for the industry’ to regulate the registration of fitness professionals, validate their qualifications and raise standards in the sector.

The REPs merger happened in February 2020 following an agreement between CIMSPA and REPs’ owner, UK Coaching, who combined REPs with the CIMSPA Exercise and Fitness Directory, creating a single directory for all exercise and fitness professionals.

The agreement made CIMSPA the only directory with the official recognition of the sector.

More: www.CIMSPA.co.uk


Originally published in Health Club Management 2023 issue 6

Published by Leisure Media Tel: +44 (0)1462 431385 | Contact us | About us | © Cybertrek Ltd