After facing significant cultural and operational challenges, the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) commissioned The Ethics Centre to review the AOC’s National Federations, the experience and perceptions of their staff, and whether their culture aligned with their purpose, values and principles.


In 2017 a troubled AOC, reeling after a succession of negative events including allegations of bullying, cultural dysfunction and a fractured leadership, was in need of cultural repair.

Peak sporting body, the Australian Olympic Committee had experienced massive upheaval and a series of negative events that had impacted their culture and staff morale. Following a changeover of leadership the new CEO faced an uphill challenge of addressing the issues and finding a pathway forward that would inspire and unite the athletes, staff, stakeholders and the broader public, renewing confidence and trust.

The AOC contracted The Ethics Centre to conduct a culture review and provide key recommendations to enable the new leadership to rebuild a strong culture based on the AOC values and principles.


In a radical act of transparency, the AOC publically released our review and undertook a commitment to implement all 17 recommendations for change, enabling AOC to build a culture 'fit for purpose'.

The recommendations relating to governance reform, culture and people development, greater transparency in decision making, and a review of the AOC’s Ethics Framework included a refresh of the values, increased accountability measures and a range of initiatives designed to better align behaviour, systems and processes of the organisation.

Fast forward to 2022, and the AOC is in a much different place with significant improvement across the majority of measures. A culture pulse conducted in late 2021, off the back of the challenging COVID disrupted Tokyo Olympic Games, was designed to assess their implemented change across the past five years. The pulse included interviews with AOC staff, AOC Executive and National Federation members who have key responsibilities in the areas relevant to each recommendation, as well as surveys to capture perceptions of staff and Federation members.  

Key findings in 2022









AOC Chief Executive Officer Matt Carroll says The Ethics Centre review demonstrates that change is possible with a genuine commitment to improvement.

“We are all extremely proud of what we have achieved and the new values that are now embedded in our organisation. The review some five years ago made for uncomfortable reading, but we were transparent about the task we faced and committed to turning things around.”

“When you have staff and our member sports describing us as a completely different place and a new organisation, that is gratifying,” Mr Carroll said.

Chair of the AOC Culture and Remuneration Committee Craig Carracher welcomed the report, highlighting the organisation’s determination to embrace the high-performance standards asked of its Teams   

“Five years ago, we embraced the challenge of cultural review, aligned with our ambitions of professionalising our executive leadership team following the global search then appointment of our CEO, Matt Carroll. His leadership and the recruitment and retention of our Senior Leadership Team has enabled these encouraging results.”

“I am convinced our off-field performance has enabled our on-field team ambitions and provided a platform for our athletes to achieve their ambitions. We are committed to continuous improvement and the coming Paris quad offers us the opportunity now to consolidate on the dramatic steps taken since Rio,” Mr Carracher concluded.  

The Ethics Centre Director of Innovation John Neil says the level of transformation achieved by the AOC is quite rare and demonstrates what’s possible if an organisation is prepared to reflect and then act.   

“The AOC faced squarely into those aspects of its culture that needed addressing. They acted decisively but only after taking a systemic view, which enabled them to focus in on the root causes. This is what makes culture change so difficult for many organisations. Often approaches to culture change barely scratch the surface. The AOC, in undertaking a deep review and by acting on the recommendations with strong leadership they were able to face courageously into the mirror that our findings presented.”  

The level of transformation achieved by the AOC is quite rare and demonstrates what’s possible if an organisation is prepared to reflect and then act.

The AOC has agreed it will implement all further recommendations including: 

  • Enhancements to internal communication with catch-ups across groups, forums and sharing stories about values 
  • A change-leadership approach including a mentoring program and leadership coaching model 
  • Staff development including secondments to build skills 
  • Formal rewards and recognition programs 
  • A culture and wellbeing council 
  • Ongoing pulse checks.

Mr Carroll said this latest review is not an end point.  

“There’s no such thing as perfection and we will continue to work hard to build on what we have done.”

He said “The AOC presents an attractive destination for talented people, but we are conscious of the need to provide pathways for our staff to develop and advance their careers. We now have a transparent process of performance review to ensure people are appropriately rewarded and have those development opportunities. Given the relatively small size of our organisation, there are some inherent constraints, but it’s up to us to work through how we manage this.”  

“The restoration of trust with staff and member sports is such a crucial thing.  

Insights: How to do a podium finish culture transformation 

  • Being able to shift culture and performance is both an art and a science. When assessing what needs to change measure yourself against what you stand for (purpose, values and principles) and don’t solely rely on benchmarked measures of your culture as a start and end point. 
  • Understand your shadow values. This is critical and gives you insight into the unspoken agreements and “the way things are really done around here”. Being clear on how these shadows values support/ hinder the organisational aspiration and how they are operationalised is an important insight to know how to shift them.
  • Leaders who can think and operate at the right level. We know from our work that leaders who are overwhelmed by the complexity of the roles and context, can increase risk through decision making not matched to the demands of the system they operate in. Culture transformation is complex, systemic work and applying linear thinking to the problem of culture transformation will limit results. 
  • Communicate, build trust, be accountable. Share stories of how the organisation lives it purpose, values and principles, embed these into the narrative, systems, processes, particularly governance systems to ensure robust decision making and behaviour. Seek and co-ordinate perspectives from your ecosystem and include dissenting and polarised views as this builds trust. 
  • Develop your leaders to lead, not manage. Leadership in 2022 is less about leadership style. Being a great leader in 2022, requires different capabilities including:
    – T
    he ability to sense make in a VUCA world, seeing patterns, perspective seeking and co-ordinating different points of view 
    – Well-developed systems thinking to understand the complexity of the context in which you are operating and develop strategy appropriate for those conditions
    – Higher order reasoning, problem solving and judgement to enable robust ethical decision making aligned to the organisations Ethics Framework
    – Leading with vision, engendered by the high levels of trust and psychological safety that unlocks innovation, adaptability and responsiveness from your team.