Interview with Malcolm Harrison, CIPS New CEO (Part 2 – Governance)

In part 1  of our interview with the relatively new CIPS CEO, Malcolm Harrison, we looked at a number of issues, including the commercial focus of the Institute. Today, it is mainly the CIPS strategy and governance that interests us.

What are your short-term objectives – the next 12 months or so?

A lot of the goals relate to things already under way.  The review of the examination process and syllabus is a major programme. Expansion in the US is another – I want to keep the focus, make sure we deliver. We are starting to draw up a new strategic plan, not for 2018/19 of course.

Will that be ready for 2019/20?

We have the time and we have to get it right. We have laid out a plan to establish the new strategic plan and our aim is to have this ready for 2019/20. It has to be done properly and that needs consultation, we need to talk to opinion formers and give this considerable thought. I’m always open to listen, but I should say that I’m getting a fair mix of views already – it’s clear we can’t keep everyone happy! This is not really a surprise though as one of the strengths of our profession is the strong individuals who work in it. Our aim is not to agree with every individual – which would be impossible – but to have the right strategy, with the right priorities, to support the profession overall.

In what sense?

There are just so many things we could do. We have over 60,000 members, with just less than 30,000 in the UK, so it is the core market, but growth is stronger elsewhere. But it is a case of doing x and y, not x or y, if you see what I mean. We must remain relevant to the UK, but many organisations who employ our members are very interested in what CIPS can do outside the UK – we were invited into the US, for example.

Going back to my priorities, I also want to make sure that our internal organisation is truly joined up and that we focus on delivering a great service to everyone we interact with. That won’t come as any surprise to people who know me, as I’ve nearly always worked in “customer centric” or “consumer centric” organisations. I’m only talking about small changes, and nothing much will change until we have the new plan in place – but it is part of positioning what we do, why we do it and how we deliver it.

We reported recently that the Institute for the first time ever I guess doesn’t have a President. That’s a bit of a shock surely?

The decision was made by the Trustees – but I agreed completely. Look, until we are clear what it is that we want from a “President”, it seems wrong to appoint someone. It worked well when we were primarily UK-based, and I’m sure there is an ambassadorial role, but as we get more international and diverse, it is hard to see that one person can fulfil all the needs. If we want someone to talk to senior business leaders in California, then speak at the Middle East or UK awards dinner, then perhaps talk to governments in Asia or Africa … who is relevant to do that and best placed to support members worldwide?  The Trustees felt it would be irresponsible to just appoint another person without thinking it through – and I wholeheartedly endorsed taking stock first.

So, might we have more than one regional “President” – or perhaps they could be called something different?

Possibly, and you do have to be careful with titles – they can mean different things in different places! Let’s do the work first and not just appoint another President simply because the term of the previous one has expired. I’ve also been talking to other professional institutes about governance and other issues. We all have challenges, and many of these are similar in different professions – by the way, whilst we may not be the best, we have certainly made much more progress than some other institutes in terms of how our governance works! What you need is a structure that allows you to operate with adequate controls, manages risk and compliance, but supports an agile approach, and also listens to members and represents their interests - whilst fundamentally putting the profession at the heart of what we do.

As you get less focused on a single country, that can be harder. I suspect we will always be UK-based and UK-headquartered, however, we need to get the right people involved as trustees: people with relevant experience, with experience of operating in multiple geographies, and connect them to members through the governance structure. This all requires volunteers’ time too, so we need to work that through. How do we identify and find the right skills? It is all tricky, and again I’ve found most other Institutes also have these issues.

Will this be resolved by the time of the next strategic plan?

This won’t be a quick fix - more of a planned evolution. It takes time, and it can be emotive – as you know! These are important principles, we must have a governance group with the breadth of skills and experience to support CIPS as it evolves, which means the governance bodies need to evolve too. You know the saying “a tree is either growing or dying” - there is no steady state. I feel that way about CIPS, we have to move forward and change – although “growth” to me means that we become more relevant to members and the profession. Relevance and quality are more important than revenue growth in itself, but get those right and growth should follow.

So, does that suggest membership numbers isn’t a KPI for you?

It is a measure, but we need a balanced approach, not an over-focus on one area. KPIs are another tricky area though - how do you measure the relevance of our qualifications, or the quality of our service to members and their employers? Also, I’m aware that measures drive certain behaviours, so yes, we have to measure, but you’ve also got to be aware of the law of unintended consequences. Let’s be sure that for whatever mix of KPIs we agree on, we will be able to get timely and accurate information. That’s the only way we can measure how well we are doing at supporting the profession.

Tune in for the final part of the interview tomorrow.

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