Tag: Governance

CHASE Away Winter Blues

February 9th, 2018   •   no comments   

Glenda Parker, Rob Dobell, and Allen Reid of Hart Square, gathered together a ‘coalition of the willing’ in London recently to launch the CHASE 25th anniversary event.

 

But why is CHASE important? If you work for a membership organisation you don’t need me to tell you that change has been rapid in recent years. Associations, institutes, and charities have developed joined-up systems, CRM, and active member engagement processes. Their outward appearance has become slicker. Their business acumen more honed. And much of this is down to the digital revolution.

When I started my trade association journey, they were very different beasts. The Department of Trade and Industry’s ‘The Model Trade Association’, published in 1996, rooted best practice, bench-marking, and competitiveness in the association psyche. The DTI is long gone but that document persisted as the bedrock of many associations.

At the turn of this century members grew more concerned about trust issues. Reputation management became a function of trade associations: achieved by furthering members’ interests with stakeholders and the media. Criticism was fended off with promises of self-regulation.

Associations also tried to influence regulatory or trading conditions that adversely affected their members, by providing a platform for collective representation and lobbying. In reality, ‘promote and protect’ was and still is the stated, or implied, motto of many. For their part charities have also had to adapt. First to more stringent rules around governance. But more significantly in shouldering the burdens previously the responsibility of the state.

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. Charities and associations aren’t the only conduit for communication between stakeholders. And members are increasingly reluctant to pay to simply `belong`.

So, faced by shrinking fees, and keeping up with members’ demands for instant access to resources, both have 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. Making the transition to e-learning, developing digital products, and putting all their services online!

Charities and associations – and their leaders – if their recent history tells us anything, are innovative, adaptable, and increasingly fleet of foot. They’ve had to be. They’re also independent, focussed on the task at hand, and frequently small to medium enterprises. So they can become insular if not challenged. And that’s where Michael Webb came in!

In 1991, a couple of years after I began (and incidentally first encountered computers in the workplace) Michael Webb established the Charities and Associations Exhibition, known thereafter as CHASE. And it’s been going for an astonishing 24 years!

Michael understood that membership bodies are fundamentally about people. And the best way to engage with them was to bring them together under one roof. Once there you could entertain them, enlighten them, challenge them! New goods and services, new venues, new personalities, new theories, new ideas. All were available at CHASE.

Deals were done, trends spotted, gossip shared, conspiracies contrived, and friendships sealed. Exhibiting, speaking, listening, and respect were the lexicon of CHASE. And now it’s back! After a bit of a wobble last year, Hart Square have marshalled a coalition of willing partners to light the candles on its 25th birthday cake. One with four nourishing layers: digital, innovation, culture, and leadership.

So, times change, fashions wax and wane, technology comes and goes, and the next big thing is always just around the corner. There may be no such thing as ‘society’. We might all just be ‘consumers’ now. But I say, for one day at least let’s blow a big fat raspberry to isolation, kick individualism into touch, forget about ‘me’. And let’s get together to share and learn – from each other! See you at CHASE!

 

DIM or Damned? The Pitfalls of Internationalisation.

January 23rd, 2018   •   no comments   

Lee Davies & Michael Feenan

 

Michael Feenan, Executive Director, Mensa International confronted Institute of Association Management members with the challenges facing an international association at November’s CEO Forum hosted by CIPAs Lee Davies.

Membership bodies of nearly every stripe find themselves wrestling with the idea of internationalisation at some point in their development, but what are the pitfalls?

Whether to guard your primacy in a particular market, the need to defend your own turf, or the simple desire for more members and increased turnover. Or just because everybody else is doing it. There are numerous reasons for considering global expansion.

There may be more noble motives. Such as the setting and maintaining of international standards in trade or ethical practices. Whatever the reason, eventually most membership bodies have to think about their international presence, or at least their oversea members. But it’s not without risk.

Some of the more obvious downsides hinge on on the market place you are entering. Therefore, you have a fundamental decision to make about whether or not to set up in an overseas territory, and what method to employ. Whether to do this through an alliance with another, possibly local, partner or go for outright world domination, is always a dilemma.  Cultural differences, like ‘toxicity’ associated with a Britain’s colonial past, might also present difficulties.  A local partner may solve this in the short run. But may give problems further down the track if that partner tries to assert its local dominance or hive off the business.

Whatever route you take or structure you decide upon will be partly determined by your objectives. Organisations representing groups like doctors, scientists, or engineers may see it in their interests to seek to regularise international standards. Thus ensuring qualifications, experience, and ongoing training comply with British expectations, and facilitating international professional practice. The implied objective may be the promulgation of British qualifications in overseas territories.

From my own experience I would cite the Gemmological Association of Great Britain (GemA), which, as the world’s oldest school of gemmology, has had success in promoting UK gemmological education and qualifications around the world. But which came up against stiff competition from the Gemology Institute of America until a compromise was reached through mutual recognition of each-others’ qualifications. Sometimes this is an uneasy truce which always risks being undermined by one or other lowering their entry standards and scooping the international student pool. In general though, a level of equilibrium is maintain by the creative tension that exists between the two organisations, which leads in turn to innovation.

Others may simply wish to establish an international and interchangeable set of shared characteristics. Take, for instance, the International Association for Plant Taxonomy, whose objective is partly to promote all aspects of botanical systematics and its significance to the understanding and value of biodiversity. Or the World Jewellery Confederation (CIBJO) whose ‘Blue Books’ are definitive sets of grading standards and nomenclature for diamonds, coloured gemstones, pearls, precious metals, and gemmological laboratories. Here the purpose is to facilitate international trade whilst protecting consumers who rely on quality standards, but both organisations fall broadly under the definition of ‘archivists’ to some extent.

Once your international objectives are defined, the choice of structure may be between a franchise, where you must impose rigid standards and maintain constant vigilance. A federation, where you come together with others for the sake of community interest. Or a hybrid, possibly managed by a local partner, where the level of autonomy permitted will always in the balance.

Whichever is chosen, you will always be subject to macro level challenges that are beyond your control. These can encompass all manner of happenings on the world stage, from the resurgence of nationalism as seen in the Russia / Crimea scenario, through to the changes in Chinese law that have affected NGOs. Not to mention the micro challenges of linguistics, or the conceptual differences in, for instance, what constitutes a binding contract?

Good governance is of course the key to continued success. But, keeping in mind the military maxim, ‘no plan survives first contact with the enemy’, you must be prepared to adapt to circumstances. However, notwithstanding the questions that surround access to services, value for money, and false representation, you may lean toward the tried and tested strategy of ‘DIMs’. That’s Direct International Members to you!

Michael Hoare

©2018 M J Hoare

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!

‘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: 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

All in Your Head? Qualities of an Association Chief

November 3rd, 2015   •   no comments   

What does an association CEO actually do? Good question! A combination of politician, ambassador, tactician, and showman you might say. And a small business leader to boot! OK, but what qualities does a good CEO need to succeed? That’s a question that involves a long answer and one which will be unique to each trade or professional association. The Institute of Association Management has produced a list of the 13 key attributes of association management CEOs which is handy for ticking off the bullet points on a job description. But I believe a great CEO has both emotional and analytical skills. And don’t forget the physical aspects of the job too!

Head

The very essence of any membership organisation is communication. Be it oral, written, or via social media, the CEO – especially in a small organisation – is generally the communicator in chief. Engaging, communicating, empathising, should be in their DNA.  But don’t mistake this for broadcasting! Communication is a two-way street, with ideas flowing in and out. Thought leader you may be, dictator you are not! Sometimes you’re an agony aunt listening, analysing, and resolving professional and personal issues with board members, officers and staff. And only occasionally will you get to unleash you inner Henry V!

Politician, ambassador, and diplomat are also within the remit of the successful CEO. The ‘conduct of relations between nations by peaceful means’ is how the dictionary puts it. But the ability to communicate and negotiate at all levels with people from different backgrounds and organisations and cultures is probably closer to the mark. So, it goes without saying that you must be a people person, able to connect, and be approachable.

A lot of hot air is expended on the subject of leadership. Quite whether leaders are bred or nurtured isn’t clear. But whichever it is, you won’t go far as an association CEO without this quality.  Motivating and managing Boards, volunteers, officers, staff, and members, is an uphill battle unless you have natural leadership qualities. Brushing up your skills can’t hurt, but personally I don’t put much faith in self-help books, mantras, and seven point plans. Leadership is a complex formula that mixes head and heart in different quantities according to the situation. Ticking boxes just isn’t enough!

Entrepreneurship is frequently required to devise and exploit money-making schemes. Unless you are very fortunate there is generally a gap between the income from membership subscriptions and out-goings. In most cases it will be down to you to fill it, and this is where your innate business acumen comes in. The business person in you will always be switched on.  Identifying, developing and implementing events, training, publications, sponsorship, and other income generators.

To quote George Orwell’s “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past” or, Winston Churchill’s, “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it”, in the same sentence may be to stretch an analogy to breaking point. But it neatly illustrates what politicians and historians have always known; that control of the written record confers power on the author. So, in the association context, the person who signs off the Minutes, or writes the business-plans, reports, and memoranda, wields considerable authority. If they in turn translate the decisions of the Board and sub-committees into actions, they influence the speed and direction of travel. And if they can also write meaningful articles they control the narrative that influences internal and external observers.

So, armed with the skills of a planner, guiding strategic direction of the association and developing appropriate plans; a project manager, planning, directing and implementing major projects and events; and a lawyer, familiar with company and/or charity law and appropriate regulations, you will be almost fully equipped. But not quite. Because the ability to understand budgeting, accounts and reporting, and have a firm grasp on governance are also essentials in the CEO’s tool kit.

Finally, and not to be underestimated, are the physical and mental resilience needed to withstand a punishing schedule. A thick skin, the capacity to act alone, and brush off occasional assaults on your reasoning, integrity, and goodwill are a must! And a robust constitution is a blessing! Early mornings, late nights, travel – in the UK and abroad – all take a physical toll. As do the demands of ‘socialising’, which may involve excess eating – and other temptations – and maybe even loss of sleep! Add that to the need to always be well turned out, bright-eyed and receptive, and you’ve cracked it!

Reviewing your strategy and communications? Can I help?

Over twenty years’ association management experience.

Bavaria 1

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.

Bavaria 1

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.

Bavaria 1

 

 

 

Michael Hoare FIAM

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?

Bavaria 1

Michael Hoare FIAM

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