Professional bodies are out of touch

In the last of the themes from the Strategic HR Network Annual Congress which were mentioned on the Employment Intelligence blog, I wanted to touch on perhaps the thorniest of issues, the view that was expressed that our professional bodies are out of touch.  Specifically this was in reference to the Charted Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

Now it would be easy for me to set about the CIPD here, but only a loud mouthed idiot with a small brain and too much time on their hands would do that…. But I do want to address what I think is an issue with the Institute and in, what I hope, will be a balanced way.

First and foremost I’m going to say that the CIPD are NOT intellectually bankrupt, far from it.  The question here is the perceived relevance. There was a show of hands at the conference asking who was a member and I would say about 80% were.  The next question was whether those members thought the CIPD was adding value to the profession, the response was significantly underwhelming.

To put this in context, this was a relatively small sample size and most people there were HRDs or Heads of functions. I’m sure that if you were to canvas a similar group at a different level of seniority, the response would be quite different. So what’s happening?

I think the CIPD are failing to connect.

What we are talking about here is a lack of customer insight.  As someone who has spent a large part of their career in retail, customer segmentation and differentiation of offering was something that was core to our way of being.  We understood the various groups, we understood what was important to them and we understood how to target our offering to them in a way that was meaningful and valuable to them. As a side note, I should add that we also knew that some people would never engage – as will be the case for the CIPD.

You could argue that the content and services are there and if members don’t wish to engage then what can the CIPD do? If you took that view as a business, you’d be closing down pretty quickly.  One of the biggest mistakes that organisations make in seeking feedback is that they inadvertently speak to the converted – the “fans”.  If you send out a questionnaire, or you speak to people “in store” (read at a CIPD event for comparison) then you are already speaking to people who are engaged.  Therefore the information that you get back won’t help you one iota. But nonetheless you use it to justify what you’re doing, “80% of respondents said we were doing a good job” etc.

The problem is disengaged people don’t respond.  And in the group of disengaged members there will be again different segments, the passively disengaged, the actively disengaged and the vehemently disengaged.  The last segment isn’t worth engaging with, they have no intention of engaging, probably have membership because their employers pay for it and use it only for perceived employability.

What should be of interest are the other two groups and how they can be “brought back into the fold”.  Clearly this isn’t easy as the fact that they aren’t engaged means that you need to go and seek them out.  But with a membership database cross referenced with attendees at conferences, networking events and branch meetings you would have thought that it would be possible. And then they need to really listen and understand WHY these groups aren’t engaged.

My guess is there will be a myriad of reasons, some reasonable, some unreasonable. Some based on fact and some based on misinformation.  But if we want an institute that is truly representative of our profession then it needs to ACTIVELY embrace as wide a population as possible and to try a meet the needs of as many as possible.

This isn’t rocket science and I would love to be told that the CIPD are all over this and that I am teaching the proverbial sucking of eggs.  Personally, I’ve been party to a lot of interaction and communication, at least in an online space, but from the views that I heard at the conference a lot of others don’t seem to feel that way.


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  4. Robert Blevin · April 18, 2011

    Hi Neil,

    We should stop meeting like this. People will talk.

    Short (and flippant) answer – we’re all over this. Egg sucking a core competency here at CIPD. And we’re even working on rocket science.

    Longer, less flippant answer I will return to. But not sure how quickly due to a combination of workload today and a few days off.

    In precis, though, the level of really deep customer research we’ve conducted over the last couple of years (including extensively amongst the kind of disengaged groups you refer to) is in a completely different league to anything I’d seen at the CIPD in the preceding years. And that research has already driven and continues to drive dramatic change here at the CIPD in terms of what we offer. Aware we need to do more on the perceptions issue. Working extensively on improving the range and extent of ways we engage. But confident we have a solid story to tell that will achieve your hopes and dreams for us.

    I’ll try to add more later.

    Robert Blevin
    PS Critics please note, the first two paras above are an attempt at humour, and not proof of complacency or arrogance here at the CIPD.

    • Neil · April 20, 2011

      That’s great to hear and as I say above I hoped that would be the case. I guess the next challenge as you rightly highlight is the changing of perceptions.

      And I completely understood the humour! Don’t worry.

  5. David Goddin · April 18, 2011

    Your perspective on customer insight & engagement is well made Neil. In fact, I think there are many membership organisations who would benefit from seeking feedback from a broader pool and not just their “fan base”.

    There is also an inherent issue here. Membership organisations traditionally function by providing services (direct & indirect) to their members. As a consequence there is often a tendency to become inwardly focussed and even exclusive, even in the most progressive organisations. As membership grows, the services provided to some become irrelevant to others… factions and detractors emerge…

    Engagement can go a long way to bridging the gaps but you can’t please everyone, nor should you try!

    I think there is a strong argument for some professional bodies to transform themselves into “organisations with members” rather than “membership organisations”. The key difference being service to the profession and it’s beneficiaries rather than service primarily to its professional membership.

    The trouble is, many professional bodies mistakenly think they are serving the profession and it’s beneficiaries but actually all they are doing is serving their professional membership or factions therein.

    So get in touch with your members, but I’d also say get in touch with your real purpose and those who should benefit beyond your membership.

    • Neil · April 20, 2011

      I like the concept of an organisation with members. And I agree that this isn’t just an issue for CIPD but many many organisations and institutions, in all sectors.

    • garethmjones · April 26, 2011

      Hi David/Neil

      One of the best comments ive read on a post in a long time – well said and balanced. The comments you make about the focus on members are spot on. As Neil points out, its a historical issue and one that, as you say, affects most membership bodies, not just our own.

      The customer angle is also key – redefining who the customer actually for the CIPD is will be an important step.

      Great stuff, thanks for sharing both.

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  7. HRMexplorer · April 18, 2011

    Here is the thing! “We” the members are all of CIPD so if you are underwhelmed then it is because of the lack of impact of many professionals.
    There are too too many HR folks who grumble and do not set about the real business of impacting lives in a positive way.
    Those who are doing just get on setting about their business in a quiet and fruitful way.

    For me – my point let us show what the profession can do and focus less on what the “ills are” they will always be there. It is the many HR folks who do not get it that create the perception not our institutes. My blog on this subject got over 1000 hits! So lets lead and not chastise the leaders.

    • Neil · April 20, 2011

      Thanks for commenting. I didn’t actually say I was underwhelmed, I said, “the response was significantly underwhelming” which is really something quite different.

      I think you mistakenly confuse two issues here. The people that were present at the conference were passionate about HR and looking to make it better. That is why they were there, the quality of the discussions and debate was excellent. They weren’t “grumbling” or complaining of any “ills”, however, there was a frustration about the leadership of the profession. I could ignore that, or I could be honest and report it.

      I agree that HR practitioners have a role to play in their professional appearance as well as the institute but I don’t think one precludes the other.

      And as a side note, I once wrote a critical piece on the CIPD that achieved well over 1,000 hits. However, I don’t believe that it neccessarily made my argument right, just popular. We shouldn’t confuse the two.

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