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.