The Chartered Secretary profession at the crossroads

In my previous post, I talked about the proposal by the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (ICSA) to introduce a new qualification, that of Chartered Governance Professional.

The debate has now been had – in meetings around the world, and on LinkedIn. I am grateful to Peter Swabey, Policy and Research Director at ICSA in the UK, for attending a dinner of the Leadership Development Programme* to explain the Institute’s views.

From a UK and Irish (and maybe an Associated Territories?) perspective, the following points strike me as the most salient:

Something needs to be done to arrest the rapid decline of the profession’s membership

The proposals for boosting membership – the creation of a Chartered Governance Professional scheme and extension of affiliate membership – are good in theory, but not necessarily straightforward in implementation

The Institute did itself no favours by presenting the proposals as a fait accompli, and inviting members to briefing meetings, to be followed by a vote at the AGM – offering no opportunity to shape the agenda. While such an approach may have been acceptable in other parts of the world, the failure to organise an initial consultation rankles

The proposals are not evidence-based (there has not been any market testing of the proposals in the UK and Ireland) and there has been no research conducted to model the benefits or disadvantages – the welcome progress made by Australian colleagues in introducing similar ideas in their jurisdiction may not be more widely applicable

That said, if either scheme is voted through it will be on a permissive basis, allowing the UK and Ireland freedom to implement or not, and/or maybe to amend the proposals to their liking. Such flexibility is helpful. The disadvantage is that the global brand will potentially be diluted as different territories pursue different approaches

This raises the issue of the brand itself and the position, in the market, of the Institute, its members, the qualification, and the work we do – will the new qualification add lustre to the brand, or create confusion; will it complement, or cannibalise, existing membership?

The new qualification will remove the much-disliked term of ‘Secretary’, but the use of the term ‘Professional’ is equally problematic – no other profession feels the need to include the term in its description/title

Combining the terms, to create the title of ‘Chartered Secretary and Governance Professional’, might partially resolve these conflicts

Modules in the new qualification, or in the existing qualification if its title were changed, need careful (re)consideration

Increased marketing, outreach and relationship building by the (UK) Institute continues to be identified by UK colleagues as the priority – irrespective of what happens with the vote

The affiliate scheme may be more straightforward in its application, and it already exists in this part of the world – but its introduction is not without controversy, and it would be useful to have the chance to review the scheme and its operation so far

In conclusion, we do not have a sufficiently-informed set of proposals, particularly in relation to the Chartered Governance Professional qualification, to allow for an informed decision/vote, with sufficient visibility of the potential outcomes

In these circumstances, a vote in favour would represent a leap in the dark, an act of solidarity with international colleagues who feel they need these proposals to develop strategies to grow the profession in their local jurisdictions

This might be worth the risk if

1. Colleagues feel sufficiently comfortable with possible downsides affecting the brand locally, in the UK and Ireland

2. There is a formal consultation process in the UK and Ireland after the vote, with members empowered to decide how they want the profession developed locally

In the face of such high levels of VUCA – volatility, uncertainly, complexity and ambiguity – that we are having a discussion about the future of our profession is a silver lining to the cloud. But a cloud is still a cloud, and we are not out of it. The Institute needs to offer reassurance on points 1 and 2 above, for us to feel comfortable supporting such a radical set of proposals.

The Leadership Development Programme provides coaching, mentoring and networking dinners to help colleagues reach the ‘next level’. It offers individuals the opportunity to develop and differentiate themselves, and their career, in a challenging professional environment.

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