Four challenges for professional bodies
In conversation with the Chief Executives of a number of leading professional bodies we have identified some universal challenges that will require less orthodox thinking and action if the professions are to come out of the current pandemic with a renewed sense of relevance and purpose. Some of these challenges are practical. Others get to the heart of business models and the need for reinvention. All speak to the need for fresh perspective.
The current pandemic is being seen through a 12-18 month lens. A 3-5-year outlook would make more sense. At times of crisis it is normal to focus on a set of immediate priorities. Member support, prudent financial management, a strong voice with Government. While all these things matter, they are about good housekeeping rather than an effective post pandemic strategy. We know from the evidence that Covid is accelerating the pace at which change is happening from the way we work to the way we live. It therefore makes sense to think through the implications of these changes and what you might need to do to respond beyond the immediate horizon.
Are you still relevant? Professional bodies were often established to tackle big social challenges from the need for better healthcare to the safe construction of the built environment. Many of these challenges remain but they have evolved as the world has evolved and may now require different solutions.
For example, the use of big data in the construction sector is transforming how this sector operates. The billable hour is increasingly being replaced by bespoke software services which promise greater productivity but also increased risk. This shift raises fundamental questions about who and what gets regulated – the professional or the black box technology she is implementing?
Given the way the world is changing are you confident your core areas of competency – professional development; conduct and practice; member support; commercial services etc. are fit for purpose? If not what needs to evolve?
A newly qualified professional can expect a career of 45 years or more. This, coupled with rapid technological change, means that the traditional training model – typically consisting of upfront learning of a set of technical competencies - is unlikely to equip them with the skills they will need to remain relevant.
Instead, lifelong professional development that is career centric and tailored to roles that are likely to be increasingly multifaceted will become the norm. If this is not already on your radar it might well be time for a rethink.
A number of professional bodies report that at times of crisis membership increases. The logic here is that when there is economic uncertainty lapsed members see their professional accreditation as an insurance policy. This says something interesting about the value of membership. A premium is attached to the credibility that comes with being associated with a professional body. To which end it makes sense to invest in activities that either promote the value of your particular profession or speak to the insight and credibility your members bring. Better that they read about your good deeds in the national media and take pride in association than you try to sell them cut price car insurance or work shirts.
Here are some questions to think about given the current context:
- Are you so focused on getting thought the next financial year that your three-year trajectory has had to take a back seat? If so, what do you need to be thinking about that you are not?
- Are you still relevant as an organisation? Will this continue to be the case in 3 years? 10 years?
- Is your professional development model future proof?
- Are you doing all you can to ensure your members get the professional credibility / market recognition they deserve? If not, what do you need to do differently?