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!

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?

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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

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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.

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Michael Hoare

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!!

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Reviewing your strategy and communications? Can I help?

Over twenty years’ association management experience.

 

 

Michael Hoare FIAM

Skilled Navigation for Associations

September 30th, 2015   •   no comments   

Benjamin Franklin supposedly once said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail” whilst Thomas Edison is credited with, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Both are catchy quotes, but do they get us any closer to understanding the value of planning? Learning from our mistakes is one thing, but doing only that would be a random, time-consuming, and even dangerous way to manage!

Rowing 8

Think of your role running an association as being the cox of a rowing eight. With your team-mates all powering away with one sole objective, it looks like you’re having an easy ride sitting at the back. But really your focus is half a mile ahead to the next bend, and beyond that to the finish line. Your team all want to get across the line, but you are the one making gentle adjustments to the tiller and varying the pace and power input to suit conditions, all with the longer view in mind. Make unreasonable demands on your crew and they burn out too soon. Yank the tiller from side to side and you collide with the competition, strike a bridge, capsize, or hit the bank. To win races you need an agreed objective, a strong crew, and a skilled navigator with a clear view of the course ahead and a vision of what lies beyond the bend!

Only trouble is, some associations lack clear objectives, or lose sight of them amid the pressures of day-to-day survival. So staying on track, let alone changing course to avoid fresh obstacles, is a challenge; new initiatives a test of stamina. So it’s hardly surprising that almost 70% of projects fail to hit target. But the reason they fail isn’t always lack of effort from the crew, but failure to do adequate research and forward planning. What’s needed are strategic objectives, wisely allocated resources, effectively managed time, and a clear change methodology. And perhaps that way we’ll stop trying to fix organisations symptomatically rather than systemically.

Of course, one of the challenges for bosses is finding the time and head-space to research and plan. And like-minded brainstorm partners! Or better still a skilled and objective third party to guide you through writing an unfettered wish list of the things you’d like to magic away. Having attributed a 1-10 pain scale to those issues, you can thin them out by trimming anything below an 8 to derive an initial agenda. Ranking these again, this time for difficulty between 0 (requiring an act of God) and 10 (easy-peasy), and having considered the ‘rocks in the road’ which will either block further progress – or stimulate a burst of tangential or transformative thinking to get around them – a final set of challenges will emerge.

Only now is it time to look at the belief system, readiness, and capability of your organisation. Break them into their component parts, and analyse the gaps between your ultimate objective and the organisation’s current readiness. Along the way you’ll also have to account for critical mass, survivability, impact on the team, and the impact on your membership and financials.

By the end of all that you won’t be in any doubt when somebody asks, “What is the process for accountability and quality of execution of your mid-term plans? Is there a process? Have you separated it from operational and everyday management? And, are the right people involved? You could, with equal confidence, break the familiar logjam of continual ‘circular’ re-examination of the same issues, that so bedevils so many membership boards! Or would that be too much to ask?

Reviewing your strategy and communications? Can I help?

Over twenty years’ association management experience.

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Michael Hoare FIAM

Institute of Association Managers

All Aboard the Association!

September 21st, 2015   •   no comments   

It may be flattering to be asked to join your trade association’s board but it could also be a very bad career move. So, before joining, you should conduct your own due diligence, and start by asking some probing questions.

All aboard the associationServing as a board member is one of the most challenging and rewarding of assignments, whether in the commercial, not-for-profit, or membership sector. But, while appointment or election may be an honour, board members have important legal and fiduciary responsibilities that require a commitment of time, skill, and resources. Prospective board members should do themselves a favour – and show that they are serious about the commitments they make – by asking some basic questions before joining any organization’s board. Probe the member who issued the invitation to join; the chief executive; the chairperson; and other current and former board members. Anyone with inside knowledge!

Start by asking for copies of the board minutes from the last 12 months and study them to see what has been agreed and achieved. You’ll find yourself defending those decisions whether you like them or not! Note how many directors showed up to meetings, and whether decisions were reflected in the company’s strategy and performance. While you’re at it find out what the organisation’s mission is, how its current programs relate to it, and if they have a strategic plan that is reviewed and evaluated on a regular basis?

Study the calibre of the other board members. Find out what experience they have, what they have done in their past careers and what their reputations are like in the industry.  Most importantly of all, check out the chairman. A board’s performance will reflect their talent and management abilities. After all, this person is the board’s manager.

The chairman should oversee each meeting, keep discussions on track and on topic, and recognise when there is an issue – when a topic is too big to be solved in one meeting – and when offline meetings, or further information-seeking sessions, are required. A good chairman will recognise when specific directors are struggling or not pulling their weight, and will take action. And when certain directors are overly forceful in their opinions, a great chairman will restore balance and ensure every voice is heard before a decision is made.

He or she should also be able to tell you about the structure. What about descriptions of the responsibilities of the board as a whole and of individual members? What about committee functions and responsibilities?  Is there a system of checks and balances to prevent conflicts of interest between board members and the organisation? And for your own peace of mind, does the organisation have directors and officers liability coverage?

Problems aren’t always visible from the outside. After all, a board’s job is to appear balanced and always in agreement even when it is not. So look for signs of dysfunction. These include regular resignations and appointments; organisational underperformance; the constant missing of objectives; and the CEO and senior management struggling for support. What about the board’s relationship to the staff – particularly the executive staff – and how do board members and senior staff typically work with each other?

Do a bit of probing into the finances too. Are they sound, does the board discuss and approve the annual budget, and how often do board members receive financial reports? Who does the organisation serve, and are the clients or members satisfied?

Once you’ve done all that, get down to the personal stuff.  What can I can contribute as a board member? How much of my time will be required for meetings and special events? Am I committed to the organisation’s mission? Can I put its objectives above my own professional and personal interests when making decisions as a board member? Can I contribute the time necessary to be effective?

If you can answer all those questions to your own satisfaction you’re almost there. Now all you’ve got to do is get elected!

Reviewing your strategy and communications? Can I help?

Over twenty years’ association management experience.

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Michael Hoare FIAM

Dysfunctional by Association

September 9th, 2015   •   no comments   

Sports Direct is facing heavy criticism in the press. Its board labelled as dysfunctional by the Institute of Directors (IoD) for failing, among other things, to check the powers of founder and executive director Mike Ashley. Apart from major decisions being made without board level consultation until the very last-minute; an atypical board structure; and unexpected decisions being made with no explanation, the Sports Direct board comes in for flack for its unusual governance. Have associations anything to learn from this example?

Dyfunctional by association

According to reports in The Guardian newspaper, Sports Direct`s chairman, Keith Hellawell, told a recent commons Scottish affairs select committee that non-executive directors were unaware of a plan to put part of the group into administration until the day before it happened, despite discussions with the administrator over nearly three months. Two hundred workers lost their jobs as a result. A handful of senior executives took key decisions without any discussion at board level, and one shareholder is facing legal action from Sports Direct after he sought access to the retailer’s shareholder register to gain support for a campaign on the use of zero-hours contracts.

Whilst the Sports Direct board may be an extreme example, I could name at least one membership association in a similar fix. So, with the effectiveness of a board and its members able to make or break an organisation, is it time to ask – how functional is my own board, and is it making good decisions? Membership boards aren`t exempt from failure after all!

Some forms of dysfunction may  be easily addressed but others can be much more difficult to resolve. In my experience, ninety percent of the time the problem is the wrong mix of people. They may have been  appointed board members because of their expertise, experience, great reputations and networks, and often due to their strong personalities. But this can sometimes prove a toxic mix!

There are numerous reasons why individuals sign up for board positions in the first place, and understanding these can go a long way to explaining dysfunction in the boardroom. Sometimes, its purely for ego’s sake, believing the role will look good on their CVs, rather than out of a true interest in contributing to the board and in doing their fair share. I know of boards where directors simply don’t turn up for regular, scheduled meetings. And others where they almost never read briefing notes. Plus, un-remunerated volunteers may give low priority to their duties.

Sometimes it is the inability of the chairman to keep order, prevent side meetings, and make sure all points of view are heard – curbing the bullying or garrulous, and encouraging the timid – so that the discussion flows and timely decisions are made. Postponement and procrastination are the enemies of decision-making. And failure to instil the principle of `cabinet government` – whereby the whole board puts its weight behind its collective decisions – can leed to a leaky and divided board. Directors must also leave individual self-interest at the door, acting only for the common good. Some trade association directors find this latter principle very hard to grasp.

So, a vital job for any board is to monitor  its own performance – with the help of an independent observer – to see if there is remedial work to do. The outward signs of board dysfunction should be easy to spot, and may include churn in the boardroom and among senior management; a CEO who struggles because of lack of support (a CEO running rampant can, conversely, be a sign of Board weakness); and constant failure to meet objectives in an otherwise healthy market.

The effects can be severely damaging. The business will undoubtedly lose good people and will make bad decisions. But there is no quick fix and severe damage can be done during the time it takes to remove and replace under-performing, dead-weight, or wayward directors. Nip the problems in the bud at an early stage. Don’t waste precious resources firefighting after the event – risking the loss of members’ confidence – with all that can entail in terms of lost revenue. Take action now!

Latest reports indicate that in the Sports Direct case, one result may be an AGM vote against the retailer’s executive deputy chairman by an influential shareholder. Where that will lead is not yet clear, but it’s a stark reminder that playing fast and loose with governance can have unhappy consequences for all boards – including associations!

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Michael Hoare FIAM

@mjhoare

Associations’ Digital Democracy Dilemma

August 26th, 2015   •   no comments   

As the Labour leadership contest proved, the merest hint of uncertainty over the conduct or legality of a selection process can seriously damage the credibility of an election in the minds of the voters. Even a whiff of mismanagement will leave a bitter taste of dissent lingering amongst the electorate.

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. My recent experience confirms that some associations’ procedures are in desperate need of independent scrutiny.  And 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!

Do turkeys vote for Christmas?

Do turkeys vote for Christmas?

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 and follow you over the barricades into the thick of battle?

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. 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 the digital democracy!

A couple of years ago, during a fascinating IofAM discussion,  – which utilised SMARTvote devices to take quick polls from the floor and encourage discussion around various points – Electoral Reform Services (ERS) asked participants to consider if digital technology could be applied to democracy. Along the way they demonstrated that online voting is an effective way to reduce an association’s printing costs, provide wider communication choice for members and be more environmentally friendly.

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.

So digital democracy is about much more than just social media. There are other barriers to voting online. These include 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, electorates 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.

But where does that leave Association 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’?  Can we really trust the wisdom of crowds to get us through? Or is a wily CEO with his / her ear to the ground still the best barometer of member opinion?

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Michael Hoare FIAM

Strained Relations in Associations

August 13th, 2015   •   no comments   

Association executives will all have experienced difficulties with presidents, chairmen, or directors. They are a mixed bunch and over the years the good, the bad and the ugly come and go. Never-the-less, as professionals you have to get on with them, accept their peculiarities and petty likes and dislikes whilst the serious business of governance goes on.

Adore and Endure

Endure possibly, adore maybe!

In my twenty-odd years’ working my way up through membership bodies, trade associations, and charities, I’ve discovered that Boards come in many shapes and sizes. Each adopting a different attitude to the responsibilities they have taken on – sometimes unwittingly. They range from the indolent to the hyperactive, the distant to the micro-managing, and all shades in between. Their attitude to the chief executive and secretariat can also vary wildly.

Some directors see the association as their personal fiefdom, with the staff as serfs to do their bidding; the chief executive’s prime functions – in their view – to ensure the success of the golf day and the quality of wine at the annual dinner. Such attitudes stem from the days when association secretaries ruled; when finding a place on a Board or committee was one way for family firms to distract patriarchs who refused to step aside; when a culture of amateurism prevailed; and directors’ focus was sometimes blurred.   In my time I’ve met them all – the commanding, the conniving, the conceited, and the committed – but when it comes down to it there are two distinct types of association Board. One meddles and micro-manages in the mistaken belief that as business people themselves they must be able to do better than their ‘employees’. The other understands their strategic role but accepts that the secretariat are professionals – experts in their field – with the CEO taking operational responsibility on a day-to-day basis. Only the chairman can determine which route they take.

But don’t let’s fool ourselves, chief executives can be a mixed bunch too.  Perhaps best described as entrepreneurs, showmen, and diplomats all rolled into one, they have to juggle the often conflicting interests of their members to achieve consensus, and they can be complex characters. Nevertheless the key relationship is that between the chairman and the chief executive, and trouble follows where this fails. As well as a shared commitment to the cause, relationships must be based on mutual respect and trust. They must be frank and open, with problem areas being addressed amenably. Empathy, communication, humility, and self-awareness are the key differentiators.

Team Shirts 4

Associations are a team effort

The two roles must be complementary. The chairman is responsible for leading the business of the Board while the chief executive manages the association’s business. The chairman and the chief executive must be aware of each other’s activities and work together as a team. The duties of the chairman – a non-executive role – arise from their position as the chief elected officer of the association and their responsibility for presiding over its official business and the Board. The chief executive is responsible to the chairman and the Board for directing and promoting the operation and development of the association consistent with its primary objectives. In so doing they exercise executive stewardship over the association’s physical, financial and human resources.

There used to be a joke along the lines of, ‘what’s the similarity between a non-executive director and a shopping trolley?’ Answer: ‘They both have a mind of their own, but you can get more food and drink in a non-executive director!’ It may be an old chestnut, but it illustrates that the fault line between executive and non-executive responsibilities is often where most tension develops. Some secretariats are resentful of the oversight of a largely non-executive Board that they sense doesn’t share their vision or commitment – or jeopardy to their income – or appreciate the skills and professionalism they bring to a difficult job.

Therefore, not-with-standing their fiduciary responsibilities, and duties to members, every Board must remember that the lively-hoods and well-being of all those employed by the association are at stake and the consequences of ignoring this fact can be enormous. Believe me, I’ve been on both sides of the fence, as director, chief executive, trustee, and humble foot-soldier, and I know how morale suffers when internecine warfare sours relations or the Board appears to lose the plot!

Bavaria 1

Michael Hoare FIAM


Please Note:

Members of The Gemmological Association of Great Britain can log in and find details of the 2015 Council elections on the Gem-A website, including a proxy voting form for those wishing to caste their vote online.

The Gem-A Manifesto by Ronnie Bauer, Kathryn Bonanno, John Bradshaw, Guy Clutterbuck, Michael Hoare, Alan Hodgkinson,  Alberto Scarani, and Greg Valerio is available from info@michael-hoare.co.uk


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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