A big year for CIPR – time for some more long-termism in our structures?

Maybe every year is a key year for an organisation you care about, but 2020 certainly qualifies in this regard for CIPR, my professional body.

I’ve written before both about how much good CIPR does for the profession, which is why I’ve been an active volunteer member for a majority of my getting on for twenty years of membership.  I’ve also shared though some criticisms of a range of specific CIPR policies and practices, and how CIPR has lost its way a bit, so in 2020 I’ll redouble my efforts campaigning for change.

I am excited for what lies ahead this year too though.  I think that the newly-installed CIPR President’s plans are genuinely exciting.  You can read more of Jenni Field’s thoughts here – and I make it a point of rarely arguing with anyone who so liberally quotes Aaron Sorkin to illustrate their writing.

Jenni’s inaugural Volunteer Conference is a great idea, and that she is holding that in Manchester, with the CIPR AGM in Scotland both speak to one of my central complaints: that CIPR is too London-centric.  If we could just see that embraced in CIPR’s working generally, rather than token signal events, we’d be cooking on gas (as precisely no-one under the age of 50 says any more).

So I’ll carry on as a member of CIPR’s Council (an advisory body – the key decisions get taken at Board) and as a member of the Board’s Finance Committee to press on a range of specific issues, from making monthly direct debits available to new members to sticking to the Institute’s prudent financial reserves policy; from embracing more openness and accountability to our members to doing a more focused job of marketing membership to students; and from making the shift from operating as a predominantly commercial body to one where providing direct member benefits are the largest element of our activities.

A lot of these changes I’m campaigning for aren’t sexy – but each one should make a pretty immediate and positive impact on our membership.

I’ll be spending more of the time I have available as a CIPR volunteer in the first half of 2020 though leading on this exciting project developing a report and best practice toolkit to support professional communicators in handling safeguarding issues.  We’re now taking evidence for this project, so do get in touch.

I also welcome that there is new blood on the CIPR’s Board – six new members I think out of something like eleven in total – details here.  I interviewed one of the new Board members recently – you can read that here.

But hold on – why am I thinking just about whether any individual year is more momentous than another?  Obviously because of our annual switch of Presidency.

Although there is some continuity on the Board, with each CIPR President serving on it for three years in a row (first as President-elect, then for their year as President, then for a third year as Immediate-past-President), six of the other eight Board members serving two year terms, with the last two serving just one year.   Personally, I am used in governance terms to there being longer-term planning, and with membership of the key governing bodies serving longer terms.  I have sat on charity boards, for example, with a four year term, and a term limit of two terms (ie eight years).  This allows for a greater retention of knowledge, and focus on more effectively longer-term planning, and allowing for succession planning over a longer-period, with fewer cliff edges in terms of people leaving at the same time.

Combine this average two years of Board membership with the secrecy surrounding the Board operations (not even elected Council members like me are allowed to see papers or minutes from Board meetings) and we have an institutionalised short-termism that in my opinion represents a substantial governance risk.

I strongly suspect that some staff members are also tired of having to revisit the same kind of issues with a distressing frequency because of this fast turnover and lack of organisational memory that comes with it.

To be fair, we have just adopted a 2020-2024 strategy, but the problem with this is that the closer we get to 2024, the fewer people we will have left on our key decision making body that were personally involved in developing that strategy (quite possibly none at al for its last year or two), and therefore the decision makers of the time will be less familiar with and feel inevitably less ownership of a strategy they simply inherited.

I don’t have a simple or instant recipe for addressing this short-termism, as it would require both a series rule changes and a much harder shift in mind-set, but I do think it is something that we should at least begin a debate on if we are determined to flourish as a membership body, where our challenges are rarely as simple as can be sorted in the short term.  Maybe we need an elected administration with a four or five year term, with or without an annually-changing President?

Who knows – maybe this all got discussed just two or three years ago, and I’m just raking over old ground – though that would rather prove the point, no?  Comments are open below – what do you reckon?

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