When we left off yesterday, I had asked my Uncle Larry—who reminds me so much of IABC’s leaders that he could almost stand in as a metaphor!—how his life had been going since I last saw him in the summer. And the normally loquacious Larry had grunted a laconic few terse responses at me and headed into the other room to drink beer in front of the football game.
In my confusion and distress, I turned to other members of the family—some of the most respected figures in IABC's recent history—and asked them if I was overreacting to Uncle Larry’s sudden-onset Asberger syndrome.
“For many years IABC thought leaders have written and spoken about best practices in business communication,” she wrote. “Those best practices include being open, transparent and honest with all audiences, avoiding corporate speak and listening. Furthermore, messages have most credibility when they come from the organization's leader, not its communicator. I am confident that many of IABC members are practicing these principles. I wish that IABC leaders would walk the talk as well.”
I turned to some of the IABC Fellows. They are so designated because they have received “the highest honor that the association bestows on a member … for exceptional leadership and service to IABC. It denotes a body of achievement as a communicator or communication educator who has had a significant impact not only on the communicator’s organization and IABC, but on the communication profession.”
“I see few of the characteristics today of the organization I was attracted to as my professional organization of choice some years ago,” wrote Fellow Tudor Williams. “Loyalty is declining rapidly at all levels of the organization in the vacuum that we have been trapped in for over a year now.”
“I'm disheartened by IABC's approach to communicating—with members, with the press and with other influencers, like yourself—but I'm not ready to write the association off just yet,” wrote Fellow Shel Holtz. He explained why:
First, there is a strong core of dedicated members. At the chapter level, in the regions, among the membership at large, and in groups like the Fellows, there remains a vision of what IABC has been and could be again. Second, there are many members of staff who are committed to the membership and envision a strong association that serves its members and walks the communication talk. And third, IABC has had many highs and lows over its history. It's certainly in our DNA to survive this and come out stronger. A new executive director is coming, and there will be new volunteer boards in the years ahead drawn from that dedicated pool of volunteers that has served us well for so long.
That said, IABC's approach to communication over the last year or so has been a source of concern for me and a far cry from the kind of professional engagement with audiences that the association holds up as a standard in its professional development offerings. The lack of transparency, leadership's absence from many conversations (like those taking place in the IABC LinkedIn group), the reluctance of leaders to speak on IABC's behalf, and the woeful communications in general are hardly setting the example the premiere communications association should set.
Still, ever the optimist, I have my fingers crossed.
And his pencil sharpened. Along with a number of the Fellows, Holtz has been working behind the scenes to influence the process for conducting what he sees as the make-or-break hire of the next executive director.
“IABC’s Fellows don't see themselves as recipients of some kind of lifetime achievement award,” Holtz added. “We have a lot of experience between us, both in communications and with IABC at all levels. We intend to share that experience and to be a resource to IABC, its members, leaders, and staff, wherever we can. And as a group, we hope to find ways to influence IABC’s direction.”
(For instance, a number of the Fellows want a member of IABC's headquarters staff included on the search committee to avoid such a cultural mismatch that apparently occurred with Chris Sorek last year. IABC Fellow Barbara Puffer—who is herself on the search committee—says "staff involvement in the [hiring] proccess has not been denied"—but the suggestion of a staffer on the search committee has been rejected.)
One of the last people I heard from was a well-connected longtime IABC watcher who requested anonymity. He compared IABC leadership to an airliner where the “first class passengers … threw the flight crew off the plane, thinking they could do a better job themselves—only to realize, once it’s too late, that they have no idea how to fly, let alone land, the plane.”
He added, “I think IABC's ‘leaders’ would be a lot more chatty if the news (e.g. membership levels, finances) were good. I suspect they're stonewalling in the hope that they can turn things around before the real numbers get out.”
Uncle Larry, your family wants to help you, but they can’t until you tell them what’s wrong.