I want the IABC story to go away. Just for awhile, so I can do other stuff, and then maybe come back to it later. But it won't.
I wrote on Dec. 18 that the International Association of Business Communicators is being radically changed by two people who know little and care less about its culture.
After that post and one more in January, I thought I’d give the association a few months to get its shit together. I figured some of the more wizened board members would come to the rescue of the flailing volunteer chairman Kerby Meyers and uncommunicative paid executive director Chris Sorek.
They would apologize for their early missteps, explain the rationale for the changes they're making, and by the time the World Conference rolled around in New York in June, I could interview them about how they turned the thing around—I was even thinking of pitching The New York Times on the story—and then everyone would live happily ever after.
That's not just what I hoped would happen, it's what I assumed would happen. Too many people in this association know too much about communication and culture change for someone not to step up and knock the proper heads together and start making the place make sense. Don't they?
For a moment, that's how it seemed to be playing out.
In a post on IABC’s LinkedIn forum last month titled, “I’m here. And I’ve been listening,” Meyers started making the right sorts of sounds. “I feel a little like the kid who steps outside expecting to play and is bombarded with snowballs from all directions instead,” he wrote. “There’s nowhere to hide. And no idea where to throw his first snowball in response. In this case, your snowballs have been well-deserved, and most of them are on target.”
He went on to admit that IABC had “done a miserable job of communicating these changes and reaching out to you and all of our members. You shouldn’t have to learn about this through the grapevine or social media. I’m embarrassed by our failure to lead by example—with timely, candid communication—and I’m determined to make this episode a catalyst for turning a bad start into a success story.”
That’s what I’m talking about!
For the first time, Meyers also made explicit the bleeding business need for all this change. Basically, member retention sucks; the attrition rate is 25 percent, meaning IABC has to replace a quarter of its membership every year, which makes it hard to grow. Also, fewer people were entering the once-lucrative Gold Quill Awards, and IABC was having a hard time finding volunteers to administer its labor-intensive accreditation program. So it needed to rethink some of those activities and outsource a bunch of operations.
So far, so good.
Except, Meyers didn’t address members’ actual beefs about how they were going about making those changes. The most controversial issue is the wholesale overhaul he and Sorek are proposing to make to the accreditation program, but there are others.
And so on the IABC LinkedIn forum, the association continues to be hammered—squarely and fairly—by some of the heaviest hitters in the business: Roger D’Aprix, Moses Kanhai, Angela Sinickas, Shel Holtz, Jim Shaffer, Liz Guthridge and Mike Klein just to name a few.
And though one game board member, director Kristen Sukalak, has attempted to defend the changes IABC is making, and Accreditation Chair Gloria Walker has been an active, if beleaguered, participant in the conversation—most of the rest of the board remained embarrassingly silent.
As has, most conspicuously, the paid executive director of the association, Chris Sorek.
"Kerby, Kirsten, et al, you remind me of staff functionaries who have to face the criticisms of the news media while those who are getting paid to lead are hiding in the backroom in a fetal position," wrote Shaffer. "Whatever happened to the guy who was hired to lead the place? Is he still around? Has he ever led a business through significant change? What's he being held accountable for?"
And then yesterday, Meyers wrote a post titled, “You’re right. It’s time for Chris Sorek to speak up.”
Over the past few weeks, a number of posts have referred to the absence of Executive Director Chris Sorek from IABC discussions here and elsewhere. Many have explained that his insights would be valuable during this time of change.
All who posted have been right. His perspectives are important. The thing is, he was focused on doing the job the board and I were asking him to do—lead the implementation of IABC’s strategic direction.
At the same time, the board was so focused as a leadership body on getting Chris to work on implementation and improvements, we didn’t handle the communication side of it well. As the leader of the board, I take the blame for that. I'm sorry. I believe we've taken some positive steps, but as has been pointed out, there are still some gaps.
We now realize that request from the board was unfair—to both Chris and IABC members. You deserve to hear from him directly, and he deserves to have his own voice in the conversation.
Going forward, Chris will have a voice, and you will begin to see and hear more from him in the very near future.
I called IABC headquarters to see if I could hear Sorek’s own voice for myself—I haven't spoken with him since the Friday night back in November when the shocking word began to spread that IABC had sacked half its headquarters staff—but I got the automated switchboard and when I punched in Sorek’s name it didn’t send me to his extension.
Presumably Sorek will address a 90-minute town hall meeting scheduled for this Friday on “IABC’s Strategic Direction” at IABC’s Leadership Institute meeting in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Writing Boots will have reliable ears in the room, and as soon as I get my report, I’ll give you yours.
And we'll hope to answer the question on everyone's mind: "WTF?"