Michelle Hicks, SPHR, Buck Consultants
April 26, 2010
On April 30, at the Esther Simplot Performing Arts Academy, the Capital City Communicators hosted the inaugural IMPACT Awards for communication excellence. More than thirty individuals and agencies took home prizes, including yours truly. It was a wonderful evening of recognition and a chance for communication professionals to learn about the innovative accomplishments of their peers. Yet, despite the excitement of a new awards event, for the past three years, Capital City Communicators has struggled to maintain membership.
CCC is not alone. Several professionals I know say they are receiving notifications from their professional organizations about new campaigns to attract members because participation is slipping. When I ask my communication peers about why they are no longer as active in CCC as they once were, I hear common responses. One is that they no longer receive employer support to participate as they once did. It could be that their employer no longer pays their annual dues or monthly event fees. In other situations, their organization has reduced staff, so members are taking on more work and cannot fit professional development into their schedules. And, others fear that their boss or co-workers view professional development as frivolous. At a time when it is not yet certain if workforce reductions are finished, these professionals perceive an importance of “office face time,” as if it equates to productive work time.
I do not want to trivialize the significant struggles of business the last couple of years. The economic crisis was, and in many cases still is, very real. Many companies continue to be at risk of survival. At the same time, there are long-term negative consequences to organizations that do not support their professionals in their development. In this constantly changing and complex world, professional organizations and the insights and expertise they provide to their members add value that can help companies navigate through the uncertainties.
One very relevant example is benefit professionals. Rapid changes in the political environment are having enormous impacts on a company’s ability to hold down health care costs at the same time they need to redesign their health plans to comply with health reform legislation. Benefit professionals need their networks of peers, legislative experts, consultants, and other business professionals so they can make informed decisions about the best response by their organizations. The same holds true for accountants, attorneys, risk managers and others. Information is key to staying ahead of legislative and economic trends. It also prepares those individuals to know what new skills they may need in order to respond.
In the communication world, technology is making the issue of up-skilling more critical than ever. While the basic principles of designing effective communication strategies have not changed, new social networking technologies are challenging how communicators and businesses respond to key stakeholders. From suppliers to customers, managing a company’s reputation and brand is more complex than ever thanks to Twitter, blogs, YouTube and other mediums. The only way to stay on top of it is through professional development.
For example, fifteen years ago, print advertising was king. Internet marketing was in its infancy and many skeptics questioned its long-term sustainability. That is because few households had the connectivity they needed to make the online experience attractive. Today, we shop and do our banking with our cell phones! If your marketing professionals did not up-skill, they would still be exclusively designing expensive print campaigns instead of mastering how to optimize your placement in a Google search.
The benefits of encouraging your employees to participate in professional organizations are endless, although it is wise to evaluate the strategic opportunities of one organization over another. In addition, you can work with employees to define the return you can expect to see in your business if you make an investment in a professional’s membership. And then, hold your employee accountable to report out on what was learned and how it will add value. Cutting off ties to peers and the educational opportunities professional memberships provide is shortsighted. Both you and your professionals need the power of knowledge relationships. Professional organizations are the communities that foster them.
*This article previously appeared in the Idaho Business Review May 3, 2010.