I: A Tale of Two Rhetorics: Organizational Life in the Milieu of Corporate and Community Logics
Parr I of the book looks ar the hybrid world of the association by exploring inhabitants’ struggles to make sense of organizational purpose in the face of divergent organizing logics, the contested, political nature of managerial work within this milieu and the role of symbolism, rhetoric and strategizing in rewriting the organization’s script.
An Organization in Search of Purpose
“The challenges faced by us as a nonprofit organization are considerable and tensions between making a sustainable income and staying true to the mission are inevitable. We recognise and embrace the rival metaphors of (social) mission and business; our driver remains to make money to do more things to deliver to our public good agenda.”
(Strategy Document, incumbent CEO)
A Short Version of a Long History
The emergence of the association began in the early part of the 20th century, forming into a British Association with a constitution, membership fees and an initial general meeting in the 1930s. At this time, the association consisted of 100 members of the profession it existed to serve. Between 1940 and 1970, the association introduced elements of an education scheme followed by specialist education programmes, commenced publication of a journal, held an annual dinner and national conference, and began engaging with issues of international importance to the profession. Membership reached circa 5000 and special interest groups and membership branches reached 43 across the U.K. and overseas.
During the 1970s, increasing the profile of the association and the profession took on greater emphasis and the decision was made to try and achieve Royal Charter status. With this status came a focus on degree-level education programmes, membership levels linked to educational and professional achievement and development of a code of ethics by which all members were bound. Membership rose to over 17,000, with high growth in overseas members as global companies sought to get staff qualified by the profession’s chartered body. The objects of the Charter included: promoting and developing the art and science (including improving methods) of the profession for public benefit; promoting and maintaining standards of skill, ability and integrity for public benefit; educating and assessing skills and knowledge of individuals entering the profession and the association. Alongside Charter status, the association registered as an education charity.
24 A Tale of Two Rhetorics
The association’s first 3-year strategy was produced and approved in the mid-1990s; it aimed to grow membership, knowledge development and qualifications and included measures of effectiveness against Charter objects. A large Trustee body of almost 50 provided oversight of progress. Each Trustee had to be a member of the association through completion of the degree-level education programme and display a high level of professional standing. A decade later, the first CEO from the profession and from a background solely in large corporates was recruited. This, in my experience, heralded the managerialization and commercialization of the association. So, what did this entail? In essence, as we will explore in later chapters, structural change through the creation of charitable and corporate subsidiaries, an overhaul of governance structures and processes, re-imagining performance criteria, evolving recruitment, reward and recognition practices and a very different sense of “what it feels like to work around here.” From a growth perspective, the transformation was undeniably successful, resulting in over 65,000 members in 150 countries, over 70,000 assessments/ex- aminations undertaken per annum, a £25 million annual turnover and around 150 staff. What was less clear, was whom and for what purpose all this growth was ultimately for. A senior colleague, who had spent
25 years in the association, provided the following account of the organization’s trajectory in an email correspondence:
“The balance between the competing tracks of public benefit and commercial success is fluid and changes over time. We have moved from being focused on membership and education with members as our primary customers in the 1990s - when we had just got our charter and did virtually no marketing or PR (Public Relations) activity (because advertising was a dirty word for a chartered professional body) and did very little promotion to organisational customers - to one where corporate revenue has become king and we are now actually pleased that we are reducing our reliance on qualifications and membership fees as a source of revenue, which we now see as a potential source of vulnerability. It seems to me there have been three main reasons for that change:
a Success in the Charter application was wholly dependent on presenting a convincing message on public good. Everything we did at that time was geared towards orienting the institute towards the public good agenda, the submission to the Privy Council was wholly predicated on justifying our credentials as a public interest body. Financial success was only a factor in that it was the fuel to support sustainability and corporates were only important because they paid for exams and fees. The Privy Council looks for evidence that the new Chartered body is financially stable and will remain a going concern, but otherwise has no interest in how much money we make. We repeated the public good mantra so often at the time it became our mythology. This imperative characterised the launch of the new Chartered body and influenced its culture for more than a decade thereafter.
b The Spada (2009) report on UK professional bodies and the CCPMO (Consultative Committee for Professional Management Organisations) report (earlier, can’t recall the date) into the value- add of professional bodies both identified that the professional landscape was changing dramatically and no professional body could assume it had a right to exist just because it had been around for years and claimed to serve the public good. Bodies had to stay relevant, be more commercial and sell themselves to their stakeholders. So, the move towards a more commercial mind-set was a necessity, a long-term survival strategy. There was a general movement in the professional body world over the last decade to become more business-like in response to the threat of losing relevance, so it has been a defensive move to some extent, c The third factor has been the professionalization of [the association] itself. When I joined, most senior posts (other than the educationalists) were held by retired service personnel or others who had moved out of London and were looking for a quiet wind-down to retirement. Very few members of staff had Masters degrees or professional qualifications. Crucially, until around 1997 the CEOs of the institute were non-business people, they were interested in the professional body but not the business per se. My perception is that it is only really since 1997 when we started to have CEOs with commercial backgrounds and we started to employ managers with business qualifications and private sector backgrounds that the multiple identities of [the association] has really become apparent.”
Within this book we primarily focus on organizational life during the incumbent CEO’s term of office, at times holding it in tension with the former CEO’s approach for purposes of comparison. Their proffered organizing logics stand in sharp contrast, raising the question of how one CEO can bring about such a transformational shift within an organization that has such a long history and deeply embedded social purpose script. As a director of the association with over 14 years’ service prior to “going researcher,” my belief is that there was a critical juncture that provided the context for or facilitated the organization’s shift from its historical trajectory.
The incumbent CEO’s entry into the association came after a lengthy period of stability and moderate growth under the former long-term CEO. There was, however, an intervening period with a CEO from a nonprofit, professional association background, who was removed by the board of trustees after only a short time. The narrative around their removal related to poor financial decisions that had dramatically reduced the association’s financial reserves. At that moment, the soon-to-be-incumbent CEO was on the board of trustees and, as the story goes, seized the opportunity to create a “burning platform” around the financial state of the association. The argument was that such low reserves contravened charity “best practice” and that there was an urgent need to address the situation through appointing someone with a “business” background to turn the instimte around, while at the same time “throwing their hat in the ring.” The board of trustees appointed them on a 3-year fixed-term contract based on a manifesto of securing a strong, stable financial position for the association. This was the first time a CEO of the association had been on a fixed-term contract. Presumably, this was a conscious signal that the CEO’s manifesto, and therefore the CEO, would become redundant once sufficient reserves were rebuilt. As we show in Chapter 4, this CEO skilfully placed the association as perpetually under threat (from competitors, from the global financial crisis, etc.), necessitating a sustained focus on commerciality. Private negotiations with the Chair of the board resulted in the CEO acquiring a permanent employment contract and at some point, most people stopped asking why or for what purpose we needed more and more “profit.”