High achiever: Pippa Grange has trekked Mount Kenya and Mount Kilimanjaro.INSIDE PLAY
Adventurer, healthy workaholic, founder and director of Bluestone Edge.
EXERCISE REGIME: usually five sessions a week. Cardio and weights x 2, yoga class if it fits, walk x 2, weekend hike if possible (maybe a couple of hours).
PIPPA Grange is a game changer. Not on the field, off it. In eight years working in Australian football, most prominently at the AFL Players Association, sometimes the doctor of applied psychology has advocated overtly. Or, as Grange puts it, taken a ”blunt instrument” approach to an issue.
An open letter she penned to the AFL in December 2008, criticising the league for its uncompassionate management of Ben Cousins’ addiction problems was a standout. Another was her effort to guide Jason Akermanis into tackling the topic of homophobia in an opinion piece. Grange acknowledges that backfired royally, but she does not regret the idea, only the execution of it.
The majority of her work, though, is carried out quietly. You haven’t spotted her in the Geelong coach’s box this season? Perfect, that’s precisely the idea.
Since leaving the AFLPA, where she was appointed psychology services manager, before that morphed into a title of manager – psychology, people and culture – Grange has started her own business, Bluestone Edge.
Just 18 months young, but drawing on a lifetime of the boss’ academic and professional experience, Grange describes Bluestone Edge as a ”niche consulting business … to help sportspeople and organisations flourish so that they can contribute well to society”.
She is a ”culture performance coach” who, once engaged by a client, embarks on a long-form ”integrity check” on an organisation. She becomes an attache of sorts who collects warts-and-all information from staff, executives and players, and guides deep discussions about the values and culture of the organisation.
The AFL’s reigning premiership club, Geelong, is a client. Club chief executive Brian Cook has contracted Grange to work two days a week and has indicated she will stay for as many years as it takes for the work to be done.
Grange has been undertaking similar work for the Parramatta Eels, New Zealand rugby league and carried out special projects for major corporates such as Australia Post.
The AFL’s second youngest club, Gold Coast, also contracts Bluestone Edge. Its consultant is former Sydney captain Brett Kirk, who is employed by Grange.
”I’m very respectful of people who started the idea of values-based leadership, such as Leading Teams, but this is about … moving beyond the great work that has been started and asking, ‘How do you use that? How do you make that practical?’ I’m trying to make this academic topic really practical and everyday,” she says.
When Grange begins at a new organisation, the first thing she does is open her ears. ”It’s about saying really what are you here for? What do you want to do, and how do you think about the way that you will get there? What won’t you do? What will you do? Are you being and doing what you say you’re going to be and do?
”Geelong has been amazing. I presumed the club already had a great culture, which is certainly does, but they have been so willing from the board level through the executive, and the leadership right through the club, to say, ‘Yeah, we realise culture is live and we want to be continually better’.”
The general prisms Grange outlines presumably indicate the kinds of discussions Geelong had before deciding to suspend player Jesse Stringer over an alleged assault.
While sport is an exceptionally powerful vehicle for productive debate and public education, Grange argues it is ”the answer to hardly anything”.
Breaking, temporarily, from her 70-80 hour working weeks to trek up Mount Kenya and Mount Kilimanjaro back-to-back (Grange admits this is ”a bit nuts”), she has a word of warning for the AFL, which has tackled racism in sport admirably, but is far from having all matters cultural nailed.
”The risk spot is if a code as successful as football thinks it has got it right already,” she says. ”It does many, many things really well, but culture is live. You’ve got to keep evolving. If you don’t do that you’re just as likely as the next guy to run into trouble.”
When Grange held her position at the AFLPA, she pushed certain conversations she knew others didn’t always want to have.
”But really the judgment will be at stumps,” she says. ”You take the rough with the smooth. I’m not seeking the rough, but neither am I seeking the smooth. I’ll just continue to do what I think is going to help in the long run.
”I’m going to stick with sport. And even when they’re pissed with me when I raise a difficult topic, I’m going to raise it fairly. I learn more all the time about how to do that well and not just boldly.”
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