Associations must modernise or they simply won’t survive
05 June 2017
Posted by: Olivia Palmer
Louise Clarke talks to Abi Lammas, Learning Director at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) about the need for associations to modernise, appoint younger board members and focus on member satisfaction.
Q. Why do today’s associations need to modernise?
A. Members want a lot more from their professional body than just a bit of CPD, a membership certificate and the professional magazine. Research needs to establish who the customer is, identify the audience segments and what their needs are.
Q. What are the problems?
A. Boards are generally composed of those who have the time and the gravitas within the profession and a ‘what was it like for me and how could it have been better for me?’ attitude. How do younger, practising individuals get on boards given their work commitments? Surely those practising and those new to the profession should be strongly represented, not just the older more experienced people.
Q. What is the solution?
A. There needs to be fundamental scrutiny of the board’s purpose and greater understanding and accountability for the organisation’s mission and vision. There’s a need for rigour regarding recruitment – making sure the composition is correct and balanced. Boards need to be well-chaired and well-trained to understand their role and responsibilities.
Significant transformation occurred within the education sector about six years ago, driven by an improvement agenda. Governance became the focus of failure within educational establishments and considerable work was carried out to modernise this aspect. Instead of retired local authority representatives and ex-teachers on the board, financial, legal, marketing and digital expertise was demanded. In addition, individuals representing ‘users’ were sought adding an element of innovation and user-need to the highest level of leadership.
The impact is still being measured today but the sector as a whole has improved dramatically in shifting its focus from one of ‘we are doing it this way’ to ‘let’s seek our customers’ views’.
Q. Would disruptive leadership work?
A. I believe disruptive leadership is scalable – one individual can be disruptive when leading a project or aspect of transformation with incredible results. However, on an organisational scale it needs human capital to invest and this is much harder. Change is a way of life but many still feel uncomfortable with this approach. There needs to be great awareness and understanding of what constant change looks like.
I experienced a board that instigated a change programme with considerable disruptive elements. At the start this was accepted and managed by the board but over time this waned, especially when success started to emerge – there was no longer an appetite and barriers were raised. This led to re-tranche and consequently a rapid u-turn in the success of the business.
Q. How has change/transition and the route to modernisation affected CIEH?
A. The key here has been about focusing on the core purpose. CIEH lost its way, a very common mistake in such a turbulent environment. The problem was nobody could see it and those who could were powerless to take action – some of whom were at the highest levels of governance.
Q. In conclusion, what are the top three must dos for leaders who need to modernise?
A. Focus on the core purpose. Focus governance on accountability.
Focus on human capital and the customer.
Q. What would make them sit up and think and take action?
A. Case studies of other professional bodies. I have worked for at least three over the last few years, all with different stories but all with the same outcome – a reduction in member numbers which goes against the core purpose.
CIEH Chief Executive, Anne Godfrey, will be speaking about when disruption is appropriate at the Association Leaders’ Forum on 3 July in London.