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Associations, Uncategorized
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
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Strategy, Uncategorized

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!

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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
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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.

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Michael Hoare FIAM

IofAM 022 Virtual Meetings Protocol October 2015

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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.

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Michael Hoare FIAM

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