UPDATE: I participated in the Q&A that IABC held this morning, and I do not need to attend the one they're holding this afternoon. I've heard enough.
Here's the score: IABC is being run by two people who do not know or care very much about the organization's culture or its past. They also don't know much about its future.
How do I know? They speak in business jargon that grates on the ear of an IABCer. They are not killing the print edition of Communication World. They are, according to chairman Kerby Meyers, "moving Communication World into the all-digital space." And paid president Chris Sorek uses consultantspeak, dismissing questions about staffing decisions by saying, "it was a business judgment," and referring to the gassiest concepts as real things, as in "a professional development strand."
Not that it's uncommon for assocation heads and business leaders to talk in such terms. It's just offensive to the ear of most IABC members, who appreciate clear communication and straightforward language. Meyers and Sorek don't understand how they sound to IABC members, because they don't understand IABC culture.
Meyers vaulted from IABC obscurity into his position as many longtime IABCers wondered in a catchphrase, "Kerby who?" In his announcement yesterday, Meyers said he learned some things from the controversy that ensued following the stuttering announcement of the IABC restructuring. I asked him what he learned. Here is what he said: "The stakeholder awareness needs to be better. We looked at that and were not as good and thorough as we should have been. And for that I apologize to those who felt that we didn't communicate that well enough. We did communicate to leaders, and we did not follow up with all members."
I followed up and asked whether or not Meyers had perhaps misunderstood the tight-knit, hands-on culture of IABC, but he did not respond to that point.
Whatever you think IABC was or is, these guys don't much know or care. Which doesn't necessarily mean they don't have a vision for what IABC will be. They do. But it's a hazy vision at the moment. For instance, they have little idea of what the new IABC accreditation program will look like, and there was some confusion and marble-mouthed talk about whether the old "ABC" designation would still apply to members who have earned it, even after the association develops a new "global standard" for accreditation. There's a committee involved, and rest assured, "a considerable amount of work will be going on within that consultation."
Look: Maybe a couple sets of cold eyes is just what IABC needed after years of dowdy work. It strikes me as likely that maybe some drudges needed to be cleared out of the headquarters office and some cobwebs needed to be cleared out of the programs they'd been running. Associations don't always attract the most crackerjack people, and when folks stay around anywhere too long, they get sleepy.
Also importantly: No one is arguing (yet) with any of the actual changes Meyers and Sorek propose to make.
But if you're gonna make big change in an organization whose main product is its culture, you've got to know precisely what it is you're changing and have some idea what the reaction is going to be.
I don't think these guys had a clue. Let's hope for IABC's sake that they have one now. And further, that members of IABC's executive board realize that their participation and counsel is sorely needed by these leaders at this precarious moment in the long and useful and meaningful history of IABC.
A little more than two weeks ago, members of the International Association of Business Communicators learned through a mumbling Friday announcement and then a grumbling Monday follow-up that the association was laying off half its 32-person headquarters staff. (Later to hire differently-skilled replacements, we learned later, for a net loss of only five employees.)
In the days that followed, many high-profile IABC members expressed their disappointment at the way the announcement was done; Ragan.com has an account of how the controversy grew.
But no one spoke more adamantly than Roger D'Aprix, widely considered the father of modern organizational communication. "I have literally spent a career fighting the sort of Friday afternoon massacre carried out by new IABC executive director Chris Sorek," D'Aprix commented on this blog. "I join Brian Kilgore, Shel Holtz and Tudor Williams in condemning the way this has been handled. Smart CEO's spend some time learning the lay of the land before they launch massive change. They also prepare their constituencies and offer compelling rationales. Aside from a few platitudes about 'exciting change,' what is the persuasive rationale for such drastic action? The membership should demand accountability and candid explanations for why these actions are being taken."
Last week IABC announced it would release more information this week. To which Kare Anderson, who identified herself on this site as a "five-time IABC speaker and former WSJ reporter" commented: "More news on the 18th? Does that appear to be a low standard for transparent, timely communication to you or is it just me?"
On the 18th, members received an update from the association as promised. Read the whole thing for details, but mainly:
1. IABC is going all electronic, the last print issue of its 40-plus year-old magazine Communication World slated for January. Soon, CW will be reintroduced as a "new, content-rich Communication World experience. 2. All IABC "premium content," previously $99 per use, will be available for free; IABC will also stop publishing books altogether.
2. IABC is doing fine financially.
3. The Gold Quill awards program will be easier to enter and judges will offer "greater feedback and insight to entrants."
4. IABC's accreditation program, currently suspended for revamping, will be reintroduced in the second half of 2013. The new and improved program will "address the needs of communication professionals across the career road map by providing benchmarks along the path to professional excellence."
As for the way all the changes were announced, chairman Kerby Meyers said:
"Could we have done some things differently? Yes. Should we have done some things better? Yes. Personally, I have learned a number of lessons. Our communications fell short and messages did not land well. We tried to be respectful, considerate and sensitive to the needs of our departed colleagues as well as those who continue to serve our members. Now, however, I believe it's time to look forward."
IABC has invited members to join a conference call/webinar at 7:00 a.m.PST and/or at 4:00 p.m. PST, for Q&A. I'll be on the first call and will report on it here as the exchanges warrant. If you'd prefer to hear the call firsthand, the call-in information is at the bottom of the announcment.