THINK TANK: All in Favour Say Aye! : Associations’ Digital Democracy Dilemma

January 22nd, 2017   •   no comments   

 

As recent events – such as allegations of Russian electoral hacking – have proved, the merest hint of uncertainty over the conduct or legality of a selection process can seriously damage the credibility of a ballot in the minds of the voters. Even a whiff of mismanagement will leave a bitter taste of dissent lingering amongst the electorate. Remember George W Bush and his hanging chads!?

Cock-up or conspiracy all become one in the minds of those who have begun to question the validity of the process and therefore the result. History has shown us that governments adopted on the basis of a dubious selection process almost always fail to maintain the trust of the people. Except, of course, for dictatorships, and they just don’t care!

So, electing governments is one thing, what about day-to-day decision making?  How many times have you, as a trade association manager, been asked your membership’s view on a particular issue, policy, or piece of legislation, only to realise that you are completely in the dark? And, in all honesty, how many times have you responded to such an enquiry – possibly from the press – with your own best guess; hoping that the majority would tow the party line?

We’ve all done it, and because we’re all seasoned campaigners – with our ears to the ground – we generally get away with it. But what if your judgement call goes awry? Second-guessing the mood of your constituency is a risky business, and careers can be seriously dented by getting it wrong. So, why not limit the risk by asking your members what they really think? Most often, the answer to that question is that to do so would be costly, time consuming, and possibly wasteful. But what if it was none of these? Enter digital democracy!?

Under modern government the people elect representatives rather than decide matters directly. The resulting administration may be viewed as more or less democratic depending on how well it represents the will of the people. So, in these terms, digital democracy – where all adult citizens are presumed eligible to participate equally – might be considered an improvement on the democratic process. Or as a remedy to the insular nature, concentrated power, and lack of post-election accountability in a process organized mostly around political parties. And, because the Internet is a primary source of information for many people, it enables citizens to get and post information about politicians, and it in turn allows them to get advice from the electorate in larger numbers. Thus collective judgement and problem solving gives more theoretical power to the citizens and speeds up decision making.

So, online voting could be an effective way to reduce an association’s printing costs; provide wider communication choice for members; be more environmentally friendly; and represent members’ views more accurately. However, not everybody is comfortable with computers and it is vital in a democracy to ensure that no voter is disenfranchised; the right mix of communication methods need to be employed. Maximising communications and using social media within an election context is a powerful way to raise its profile and foster engaging discussion with the electorate. But unfettered it can also backfire badly leading to the dissemination of half-truths, falsehoods, and even character assassination.

But in a world where interest groups already exert influence via platforms like 38 Degrees, Mumsnet, and Global Citizen, digital democracy has to be about much more than just responding to trends on social media. And there are barriers to voting online, including lack of trust in the security of the process; technophobia; and voter fatigue or cynicism. However, as more commercial transactions take place digitally, and security improves, members may become increasingly comfortable with online voting. And if the effective capture and use of data allows for targeted communications it may also increase the ‘buy-in’ to online polling and elections.

So, where does that leave association and membership management skills? Will there be any further need for judgement and experience once all options can be tested – Swiss style –  by referendum and all decisions can be digitally ‘crowd sourced’?  But, can we really trust the wisdom of crowds to get us through? Are rapid decisions always wise ones? Or, is a wily CEO with his / her ear to the ground still the best barometer of member opinion?

Whatever the answers, membership organisations can’t afford to ignore digital democracy. Having long-since sacrificed their role as information gatekeepers, how long will it be before their ability to represent members and influence policy is also side-stepped on the web?

Michael Hoare 2017

Association Collusion Model?

June 6th, 2016   •   no comments   

Agencies Accussed of CollusionAccording to recent reports in The Guardian the Association of Model Agencies (AMA) has about three months to submit their responses to allegations by the Competition and Markets Authority that it is involved in price fixing with some of its members.

Agencies allegedly used the trade association as a vehicle for price coordination when their representatives controlled the AMA’s managing council. Like most associations, the AMA claims its Council meets to discuss industry matters and promote the interests of its members, but it is also alleged, by the CMA, to have circulated regular “AMA alerts” that encouraged agencies to reject fees offered by customers and negotiate higher payments.

I wonder how many trade association councils haven’t at one time or another thought it might be a good idea to give members a ‘heads-up’ on sensitive commercial information; suggest ways of capitalising on their dominant position in the market; or have an ‘informal’ discussion of tenders?  Or more likely perhaps, agree a price to avoid competing with each other.

In September 2005, fifty prominent independent schools were found guilty of operating a fee-fixing cartel by the Office of Fair Trading. The OFT found that the schools had exchanged details of their planned fee increases over three academic years between 2001-02 and 2003-04, in breach of the Competition Act 1998. For their part Bursars freely admitted that they used to meet regularly and talk about fees, but maintained that the swapping of information did not amount to a concerted plot to push up fees.

It’s a familiar dilemma for association CEOs. A general discussion at a council meeting can all too soon result in some bright spark suggesting a monthly alert to all members with a guide price for some service or functions. And it’s often down to the CEO to nip it in the bud before what seemed like a helpful suggestion turns in anti-competitive behaviour, generally to the accompaniment of harrumphing about what exactly are the ‘benefits’ of membership!

FLUX: Fair Luxury

April 25th, 2016   •   no comments   

Thirteen years as CEO of the now defunct National Association of Goldsmiths (NAG) and I was beginning to experience a sense of frustration that the debate on transparency and trace-ability in the jewelley supply chain was going around in circles! After more than a decade of work – heroic efforts by Greg Valerio and Fairtrade Gold, and a bucket load of green-wash from other quarters – I was starting to feel that the pool of committed people was almost saturated and that we were now just having a circular debate within a group of devotees to the cause. But the recent FLUX: REDEFINING LUXURY conference has restored my faith!

The True Cost

Now, after three years watching from the side-lines, I’m immensely encouraged to find that the message is again reaching a wider, grass-roots, audience of designer makers. Why is this? Well, persistence is one reason, recognition another! The award of Greg’s MBE contributed new impetus and pushed ethical gold several notches up the awareness ladder. Ethical fashion has helped too.

Valerio 1

Greg Valerio

In 2000 – when I first became involved with retail jewellers – many didn’t really get the connection between themselves and the fashion industry. But brands and diverse materials have broadened their horizons, and cemented the bonds between jewellery and fashion. Interestingly fashion and jewellery have been running on parallel tracks when it comes to ethical supply chain issues too.

Both are concerned with provenance, the elimination of destructive environmental practices, human rights violations, and exploitation of local workers. But their gestation periods have been different. Environmental and exploitation anxieties about gold, precious metals, and diamonds matured over decades, reaching their tipping point with the No Dirty Gold and ‘blood diamond’ revelations early this century.

Similarly, the extraction, and consumption of water during cotton cultivation and subsequent pollution in the processing of fabric has long been an environmental concern for the fashion industry. The universality, accessibility, and relentless rapidity of fashion trends – ‘fast fashion’ – has accelerated that destruction but also propelled the possibility of change in the garment industry. The durability, value, and complexity of jewellery, has driven change more slowly.

Fashion Revolution 1

Fashion Revolution

Fashion Revolution was born, in the wake of the Rana Plaza collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh, that killed 1,134 and injuring 2,500 others.  Its belief that ‘fashion can be made in a safe, clean and beautiful way, where creativity, quality, environment and people are valued equally’ seems to me to be the fundamental linkage between jewellery and fashion! Thanks to Greg, Fairtrade Gold, Lina Villa from ARM, and Orsola de Castro of Fashion Revolution for bringing that fact vividly to life!

Michael Hoare

Bavaria 1

A Gem of an Idea!

April 11th, 2016   •   no comments   

Gem Idea Graphic

The jewellery industry has been angst-ridden for most of the current century over the moral, ethical, and environmental damage done by the exploitation of gold and diamonds. Child labour, the blighted lives of miners, the spoil left by extraction, the financing of civil wars, and the buttressing of repressive regimes have each left their own stain on the industry. The Kimberley Process, the Dodd Frank act, OECD Due Diligence, and subsequent legislation, attempted to deal with these concerns, and bring forth order out of chaos. However, the plethora of initiatives in the supply chain remains perplexing for retailers, and those that want to trade ethically.

As CEO of the now defunct National Association of Goldsmiths (NAG) and a founding Director of the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), I worked with NGOs and others for over a decade to influence the practices and policies of miners, refineries, processors, wholesalers, retailers, and banks in their efforts to regulate and monitor the movement and provenance of gold and diamonds within the supply chain.

Today, rigorous policies – both imposed and self-policed – are impacting on the tracking of both commodities back to responsible origins.  But the work still isn’t complete, and the industry still needs to shore up its claims to social and ethical sourcing with transparency, trace-ability, and communication across the entire supply chain, before retailers can trade with complete confidence in the attribution of their stock. Platinum group metals have also been added to the scope of the RJC, but one of the unsolved problems remains the provenance of coloured gemstones!

Therefore the announcement of the launch of a technical feasibility study to include coloured gemstones into the scope of the RJC should be music to jewellers’ ears.  But, past experience of working alongside the Gemmological Association of Great Britain (Gem-A), whose work is the study and identification of gemstones, I am acutely aware how complex a task it is likely to be. Not just because of the range of stones, but because of the fractured supply chain.

Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) – labour intensive and often in remote and inaccessible areas – still accounts for the majority of the worldwide supply, raising obstacles to transparency and trace-ability at even the production stage. Compared to diamonds, the supply chain of coloured gemstones is highly complex, making it nearly impossible to trace their trajectory from mine to end-user.

Mined in roughly fifty countries – located mostly in the global south – gemstones pass through numerous hands before being polished, transformed into jewellery and sold in the international retail market.  And – unlike diamonds – the coloured gemstone supply chain doesn’t have a history of being governed by a centralised cartel, so opportunities for human rights abuses, environmental damage, and illicit activity, are legion.

So, while the RJC’s intentions are entirely laudable, their desire to plug the remaining gaps admirable, I think we should all recognise that the road ahead will be strewn with moral and ethical boulders, and some will be very difficult to work around!

Bavaria 1

Michael Hoare

Contact me on info@michael-hoare.co.uk for strategy, communications, and public relations consultancy.

Disruptive Diamonds

February 9th, 2016   •   no comments   

For most of the twenty-first century the jewellery industry has agonised over the moral, ethical, and environmental damage done by the exploitation of diamonds. Be that in terms of child labour, the blighted lives of miners, the spoil left by the extraction process, the financing of civil wars, or the propping up of repressive regimes. The Kimberley Process, and subsequent legislation, attempted to bring forth order out of chaos.  But in 2006, the Hollywood blockbuster movie ‘Blood Diamond’, starring Leonardo Di Caprio, pricked the conscience of the industry and brought the subject back into public focus. The actor’s name has been linked with low-level anti diamond activism to this day.

Disruptive Diamonds V2

Industry insiders don’t need reminding of all the arguments that have ricocheted to and fro ever since. Initiative has piled upon initiative in an attempt to improve the situation – or create a thicker smoke screen – depending on your point of view, and the depth of your cynicism.  At the same time the hunt has been on for verification systems that could guarantee the provenance of natural diamonds, or for diamond substitutes that provided glitz without guilt. Cubic Zirconium was a passable diamond simulant, but lacked the cache of the real thing and, whilst man-made synthetic diamonds were theoretically possible, it wasn’t until the barriers came down across Russia that the technology to manufacture them became readily available.

So, imagine the kudos attaching to a company that not only claims to be able to manufacture quantities of large synthetic diamonds relatively quickly and economically, but also secures an investment and an endorsement from Di Caprio! Not only will his money come in handy, his publicity value is enormous! But Diamond Foundry isn’t actually too short of money, having secured the financial backing of six billionaires in making products that they claim are “ethically and morally pure”, and selling them – already set in jewellery – direct to consumers.

Naturally enough, there has been a backlash, with an open letter to Di Caprio, from Bob Bates of JCK Online, questioning the basis of the company’s environmental claims, highlighting the social and economic impact on mining communities in Botswana, South Africa, Namibia, and Sierra Leone and raising fears about the effect of commodification on prices. So, the argument over who benefits most from diamonds – the miners the middle-men or the financiers – and who will suffer most from the proliferation of synthetics rumbles on.

However, regardless of the arguments or judgements about who is morally or ethically right, the underlying theme of this debate is one that we will return to regularly over the next decade. For here is a classic example of a disruptive innovation. One that has the potential to create a new market and value network – disrupt existing ones – and displace established market leaders and alliances. Think Alibaba, Amazon, and Uber!

As we plunge into Industrial Revolution 4.0 it becomes easier to make money than even twenty-five years ago. Setting up and running a mine is expensive and requires a lot of manual workers. A company that makes its money out of a smart app needs less capital, doesn’t incur the same infrastructure costs, and virtually no extra outlay as the number of users rise. In other words, the marginal costs per unit of output tend towards zero. That’s why tech entrepreneurs get very rich very young!

Oxfam recently highlighted that the sixty-two richest billionaires own as much wealth as the poorer half of the world’s population put together. The world is becoming polarised between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’.  Against this backdrop, regardless of ethical, or environmental concerns, the initial losers will be those at the bottom of the heap.

What if the ‘direct-to-consumer’ model proliferates – undermining established practice and traditions, atomising existing supply chains, shedding jobs, and vaporising careers? As wealth passes from old style mine owning corporations to billionaire technology pioneers and venture capitalists – concentrating it in fewer hands – who will be the winners and losers? Regardless of the short-term disruption, where are innovations like these taking us, and what will be the effect on society in years to come?

Bavaria 1

Michael Hoare FIAM

Reviewing your strategy, communications, or public profile? Can I help?

info@michael-hoare.co.uk

 

 

‘Uber-Associations’ Innovate

January 19th, 2016   •   no comments   

Technology that upsets the status-quo isn’t new. It’s been around since before the industrial revolution. Jethro Tull’s horse drawn seed drills and hoes put the cat amongst the eighteenth century’s agricultural pigeons. While in the nineteenth, spinning frames and power looms inadvertently gave us ‘Luddites’, the derogatory term for opponents of labour-economising technologies.

Uber Associations Innovate

But things have moved on apace with the advent of digital technology, and it’s surprising quite how many of our transactional relationships have been affected by new digital platforms: the so-called disruptive technologies. A disruptive innovation is one that creates a new market and value network and eventually disrupts existing ones, displacing established market leaders and alliances. But the interesting thing about the current crop is that they achieve this without being subject to any of the traditional infrastructure costs.

So, Uber is the world’s largest taxi company but owns no cabs. One of the largest accommodation providers – Airbnb – doesn’t have a hotel room to call its own. Whilst SKYPE and WECHAT have no wires or exchanges, and ALIBABA, the world’s most valuable retailer, has no inventory. The list goes on!  In fact, they have become so disruptive that the House of Lords launched an inquiry into online platforms in the EU Digital Single Market: asking why are collaborative economy platforms growing so quickly; what are their implications for employment law and health and safety regulation; and how does consumer protection law apply? Who is regulating them? Is it the EU, the Member State or even the local authority?

Those are all good questions for associations to ponder too! But don’t let’s be fooled into thinking that disruptive technology is only about market dominance via digital platforms. Genomics, 3D printing, advanced materials, advanced oil and gas exploration and recovery, and renewable electricity are also on the top twelve list of developments poised to dislocate us.

So what, if the world’s most popular media owner – Facebook – not only creates no content, but also brings special interest groups together in a way associations previously regarded as their forte? That LinkedIn has already knocked the dynamics of recruitment off kilter, and Amazon has dealt an almost mortal blow to traditional booksellers? Clearly there is no going back, and hankering after the past is no help.

Industry sectors atomized by disruptive technologies will adapt, but they will require a very different set of benefits from their associations. And they in turn will require different skills, finance, and governance to match their members’ needs. Are associations up to the task? Or even thinking that far ahead?

Reviewing your strategy and communications? Can I help?

Over twenty years’ association management experience.

Michael Hoare FIAM

Bavaria 1

Associations: Adapting to the ‘Uber’ World

January 14th, 2016   •   no comments   

What does the brave new world of disruptive technology have in store for trade associations? Will they have a future purpose, and how will they justify their subscription?

Adapting to the Uber WorldAssociations have always adapted to change. Time was when they encouraged actors in a particular trade or industry to gather together under a shared identity, partly to validate their supposed expertise, and partly to exclude those deemed less worthy. So, if we’re honest, protectionism and elitism played no small part in achieving credentials, and arcane rules re-enforced by mystifying etiquette were fashioned, which rendered those inside the tent unassailable, and those outside beyond the pale!

This kind of `gentlemen`s club’ mentality – where simply belonging was in itself enough to justify the fee – survived in various forms until the end of the last (twentieth) century. Some associations also managed to build a quasi-official carapace around themselves, and further strengthened their position by assuming the mantle of gate-keepers: granting access to industry data and information to the privileged few.

Members were also encouraged to believe that their status granted them the ear of government. Indeed, in 1996 the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) appeared to confirm that view with the publication of its best practice guide for The Model Trade Association. The DTI is long gone but that document remains the bedrock of many associations, cementing the notions of best practice, bench-marking, and competitiveness in their psyche.

The turn of the century saw companies` growing more concerned about trust issues and the protection of their reputation. Collectively, reputation management became a function of trade associations, achieved by furthering members’ interests with stakeholders like regulators, industry analysts, employees, suppliers, and the media. And, in response to common reputational problems brought about by industry-wide crises – like pollution, slave labour, or blood diamonds – competing firms tried to stave off aggressive government legislation through the development and enforcement of self-regulation.

Commercially, associations also attempted to influence any regulatory or trading conditions that adversely affected their members, by providing a platform for collective representation and lobbying. In reality, the so called ‘level playing field’ involved seeking favourable rules like tax breaks, subsidised research and development, or relaxed employment practices. Promote and protect was, and still is, the stated or implied motto of many associations.

However, over the last decade, the big story has been the rise of digital and the evolution of organisations to meet their members’ changing expectations. Data is now freely available to all; associations aren’t the only conduit for communication between stakeholders; and businesses are increasingly reluctant to pay to simply to `belong`. Faced by shrinking membership fees, and keeping up with members’ demands for instant access to resources and training, some associations turned to sponsorship, exhibitions, group buying, financial benefits packages, and other monetised relationships to fill the financial gap. The most successful ones have managed to continue updating and innovating – make the transition to e-learning, develop digital products – and make all their services accessible online! But how much longer can they keep ahead of the curve?

Emerging, or disruptive, technologies have the capacity to alter our lifestyle, what is understood by work, business and the global economy. Whilst disruptive innovations create new markets and value networks and eventually disrupt the existing ones, while simultaneously displacing established market leaders and alliances. The interesting thing about the current crop – like Airbnb – is that they achieve this without being subject to any of the traditional infrastructure costs and limitations.

So, as social media has already undermined the logic behind at least one of their key functions – communication – how long will it be before someone applies the `Uber’ model to trade association procedures: undermining established practice; regulation; and tradition? And how will associations represent the interests of members who find themselves displaced by, or in competition with, others driven by disruptive technology?

Reviewing your strategy and communications? Can I help?

Over twenty years’ association management experience.

Bavaria 1

Michael Hoare

Getting a Buzz out of Jewellery Drones?

December 14th, 2015   •   no comments   

Getting a buzz from jewellery drones

The jewellery trade press are reporting that a business owner in the U S has completed what is thought to be the first ever drone-delivery undertaken by a jeweller. According to Jewellery Focus:

‘Distinctive Gold Jewelry, of Frankfort in Illinois, delivered a women’s watch to a couple celebrating their anniversary. The business owners say that they have being “dying to do” such a delivery since they first heard of the concept of drones. Drones have become a talking point in retail and consumer circles ever since online shopping giant Amazon said it was trialling the technology….It is not clear whether Distinctive Gold Jewelry intends to roll it out as a standard part of their service offering, but it has nonetheless garnered some attention stateside, with US trade magazine National Jeweler breaking the story.’

So, a PR coupe for Distinctive Gold Jewelry, but what if this neat – even amusing – stunt were to become an everyday occurrence?  The crowded streets of our major cities are a far cry from the comfortable little town of Frankfort with its 17,000 inhabitants.

Scale up the delivery of one watch to the kind of volumes that might attract Amazon, and you have a whole different scenario. Imagine the skies of London or Birmingham buzzing with delivery drones? Or worse still, the peaceful horizons of our market towns? Is that really what we want?  How much fun will it be when our Sunday afternoons – and maybe nights – are shattered by the infernal buzz of drones passing overhead? How much of a laugh will it be when you’re poleaxed by a parcel falling from the sky, or get a swipe across the head from a twenty kilo projectile, as it bounces off the roof, and breaks a few tiles on the way down? And who will pay for the damage?

So, leaving aside the obvious security concerns, the threats to privacy and safety are just two of the reasons we should think very hard before surrendering to this seductive new technology. But if that time ever does come, I think I’ll be investing in a tin hat and a catapult!

Associations: risk it or list it?

November 18th, 2015   •   no comments   

Nobody expects the unexpected, but you can at least try and plan for it!

Opening up the building after the Christmas shut down a few years ago I discovered to my horror that over the holidays a small electrical explosion caused by a power surge had burnt out the main fuse box and deprived us of heat, light, switchboard, and computers. Unbeknown to me the argument that ensued about liability between the electricity board, energy supplier, and contractor, would take days to resolve and result in no power for a week, but even at this stage it felt like a disaster!

RISK REGISTER v2

Packing the staff off for what we thought would be a welcome extra day`s holiday, and thanking our lucky stars the whole place hadn`t burnt down, an intrepid colleague and I settled down in the cold to manage the recovery as best we could; literally and metaphorically fumbling in the dark to resolve the problem.

With year-end accounts to complete and membership renewals in full swing it could hardly have happened at a worse time. But a lucky break came with the discovery of one lone top floor power socket that was unaffected. As – being an old building – it was probably connected to next door`s supply! So, with the aid of a long extension cable, we powered up the servers and key colleagues were able to use remote access connections (the one thing we had planned for) to return us to some semblance of normality – at least to the outside world!

Now, how likely it is that we could have anticipated the catalogue of other people`s errors that led to this incident is a moot point. But it is illustrative of just the kind of risks that lurk around every corner. But, the fact that we avoided a disaster was down to luck, rather than planning.

You could categorise our mini disaster under the heading of a technical failure, or even a service provider failure, but risks come in all shapes and sizes and can include loss of key personnel; reputational risk; regulatory and legal failures; financial losses; poor project management; compromised governance; or environmental factors like flood, gale, snow, or fire.

Risks tend to cascade, trigger a domino effect, or worse still collide to exponentially magnify the consequences. So, formulating a risk register that identifies threats, and puts in place plans to deal with the fall out, has got to be a good idea. Yes?

Of course, risks sometimes revolve around people too. I know of one trade association that suffered severe trauma due to the loss of its CEO and Chairman. Reputational risks ensued from allegations of inappropriate behaviour, leaving a compromised and rudderless Board in charge. Finding scapegoats, apportioning blame, and alienating those who could have mitigated adverse publicity did nothing to help. And, despite loyal staff eventually regaining equilibrium, the long-term damage is impossible to calculate. But much of it could have been avoided had there been a plan in place for the Directors to follow!

Dull as it may seem, a risk register lists all the risks pertaining to a business (or project), their grading in terms of likelihood of occurring and seriousness of impact on the company, initial plans for mitigating each high level risk, and subsequent results. It also usually includes details of who is responsible for managing the risk, and an outline of proposed mitigation actions (preventative and contingency). It must be regularly re-assessed as existing risks are re-graded in the light of the effectiveness of the mitigation strategy, and new risks are identified. So, ‘filing and forgetting’ it isn’t an option!

So, a risk register tells us the what, where, and how of risk management, but it also provides the trustees, management committee, and funders with a documented framework against which risk status can be reported. It also ensures the communication of risk management issues to key stakeholders and compels them to act. Let’s face it, disasters happen! Some are predictable, others preventable! But if they strike while you’re in charge, neither shoving your head in the sand, or running around like a headless chicken are attractive options!!

Bavaria 1

Reviewing your strategy and communications? Can I help?

Over twenty years’ association management experience.

 

 

Michael Hoare FIAM

Association Meetings: Virtual or Interminable?

November 10th, 2015   •   no comments   

Do you have virtual meetings? By that I don’t mean ones where virtually no-one shows up, but ones where decisions are made by email only. It appears there is a legal distinction between those and electronic meetings. They’re the ones that take place by conference call or video link! It’s a subtle distinction but one that will become ever more important in this digital age.

Virtual Association Meetings

Setting a date when most of your directors can be in the same place at the one time has always been a pain in the backside for association CEOs. And even when you’ve agreed a date there’s the venue, the travel, and the catering to be thought of. Plus, once you’ve got them together, if you’re foolish enough to give them a glass of wine with their lunch, you can pretty much kiss goodbye to a whole days’ productive time, once a couple of loquacious old bores get into their stride.

So, banishing Directors to the confines of a small screen on the side of your desk sounds pretty attractive. Not least because it has the potential to unlock oodles of time but it can also save a whole pile of money to boot! In the right circumstances virtual meetings can work admirably, but beware, there may be pitfalls.

Thanks to email it’s easy to get agreement to do something between meetings by simply asking committee members to reply signifying their consent. That’s fine, until one or two people don’t agree, raise major objections, or make counter-proposals. Face to face this would get argued through and the majority view would probably prevail. But, if your discussion is solely by email, how – and who – determines whether a decision has been reached and what happens next? Clear ground rules should help.

A policy that requires over 50% of those responding to agree, or a minimum number of objections before something can be stopped, would do the trick. But what next? Wait until a subsequent meeting – virtual or real – to ratify that decision? Not much help if a rapid response is required! And what about keeping records? Electronic? Not much good if they’re only accessible from one person’s inbox! Better to make it a policy that such decisions are reported like Minutes?

For a couple of years I was on the Board of an international body whose Directors were scattered to the four corners of the globe (not logically possible, but you know what I mean!). Getting them together for more than one or two meetings a year would have been prohibitively expensive and massively time-consuming, so most Board meetings were held by teleconference. With the CEO in Australia, the Chairman in America, and Directors in England, South Africa, India etc., we had to meet at odd moments to allow for time differences. Maybe the odd Director answered the phone in their pyjamas (funny place to have a phone), but it worked!

The key was planning, preparation, and participation.  The Officers having already made their own deliberations, the Chairman and CEO set out and distributed an advance agenda that progressed in logical sequence; notes and supporting papers were circulated in advance, with all options explained; and all participants expected to state their view clearly, with votes enumerated against the attendee list.

It worked because the group was tight, well-known to each other, committed to attendance, and anxious to make progress. It would have failed if the Chairman had permitted subsequent backtracking on previous decisions, let dominant personalities take over the discussion, or allowed the meeting to stray into subjects that were off beam. The particular skill being to inspire input from those who never normally express an opinion on anything, or wrong-foot those who switched to speakerphone while they nipped off to fetch a coffee. Face to face these same skills would be used to prompt those individuals whose ‘lights are on’ but where there’s ‘nobody home’!

Of course ‘actual’ meetings are better when it’s a large diverse gathering – like an AGM – or when there is a lot of business to cover on numerous issues. Slide decks and Power Point presentations can work in a virtual environment, but when you need 100% impact a live event is always best! But the major downside to virtual meetings is that they severely limit the chances of an after-meeting drink! Not the ‘done thing’ these days I know but, speaking personally, I’ve learned an enormous amount about running trade associations with a glass in my hand!

Reviewing your strategy and communications? Can I help?

Over twenty years’ association management experience.

Bavaria 1

Michael Hoare FIAM

IofAM 022 Virtual Meetings Protocol October 2015

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