Goodbye IABC and good luck

IABCLast week, the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) held its international conference in New York. By all accounts I’ve read, some 1,400 members went and took part.

I’ve heard, too, that the professional development, networking and social events over the three days of the conference were as compelling and enjoyable as they ever have been at IABC conferences.

A different picture emerges, however, when it comes to the business of IABC itself.

You may know that I was an active member of IABC for 23 years, until I let my membership lapse in November 2012. I was dismayed by what was happening to IABC under Chris Sorek, the executive director hired in mid 2012 and who resigned earlier this month. I was no less dismayed by the lack of effective communication during a period of controversial change and what looked like arrogance and ignorance from some of the volunteer leaders on the International Executive Board  if the gossipy discussion threads in IABC’s private LinkedIn groups are any indicator.

I’ve remained a lapsed member since then  – you can read my previous posts about this to get a sense of why. And I described myself thus, ie, I wasn’t calling myself a ‘former member,’ leaving the door open just a crack so I could look for the point to tip me back in again.

Seeing the antics at the AGM on June 26 changed that. In particular, reading David Murray’s account made me realize that this is now a professional association in dysfunction – with a genuine and immediate risk of becoming completely irrelevant to the profession of organizational communication – and one that I don’t recognize now at all. The behaviour of some of IABC’s volunteer leaders and some staff towards a vocal critic was disgraceful. And see the comments to David’s post.

This is not the IABC I believed in for so many years, for which I devoted days and weeks of my time in a wide range of volunteerism and leadership roles. This is not the IABC I would advocate for as the absolute best and most influential voice to speak on behalf of the communication profession, and one whose professional development and accreditation programmes were the best in the world.

I am deeply saddened by all of this. I see no salvation for the IABC I knew. And maybe that’s okay for the folks in charge now who – to quote David Murray – “want to run IABC their way, I guess there’s no stopping them from having it.”

And one final point, one that shows that maybe there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon.

Yesterday, IABC announced on its Facebook page – but no announcement on its public website – that they’ve hired an interim Executive Director to run the association from July 1 while the Board searches for a permanent replacement for Chris Sorek.

The interim role will be held by Ann Lazurus, whose best credential for the job is described in IABC’s statement as “Lazarus specializes in working as an interim executive for nonprofits in transition.” Even better is this from a more detailed announcement on the IABC Austin Chapter’s website:

[…] The organization’s executive board believes her extensive change management experience during this time of transition will prove to be a tremendous asset. The hope she will help in stabilizing the organization while keeping it focused on building value for members and enhancing its value in the challenging marketplace.

Big hope there and very attractive-looking qualities. I wish Ann Lazarus all the best in this role.

But for me, I’m done with IABC and so I now describe myself as “a former member.” I’ll keep my many happy memories of times past.

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Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Jim Connolly

    Another interesting post, Neville.

    It’s disappointing that such a respected (and useful, by all accounts) organisation develops the kind of problems you’ve outlined here and in your previous post.

    I hope they manage to turn things around.

  2. Neil Griffiths

    Hi Neville – Clearly this is sad news. But it is your decision to make. Throughout this whole online affair I have refrained from making comments on the sites where people like Murray, O’Dwyer and others have sought to ‘expose’ the wrongdoings of IABC. There is, of course, a very different side to this situation, but one that is far less sexy and headline-worthy. And that’s the ongoing commitment of the volunteers who are running the chapters and regions, bringing the best of IABC to the many members around the world. In spite of all this online furore, in the face of vicious online attacks (and I am talking about people in our own backyard, not the IEB) and despite very uncertain times for them, they have continued to give to the profession they believe in; one that they believe IABC exists to support. From what I have read, there is very little that is actually concerned with IABC’s commitment to the advancement of the profession. I truly believe that is IS committed to that advancement and that the issues it has faced are what many organisations experience. I was at the AGM and I can provide a very different account than what others are promoting. Again, it would be far less sexy. But at least I stayed until the end. Long after dramatic exits, Fellows dinners and river boat cruises that took other people away. I helped to give out the T-shirts to people instead of heading out to dinner at the close. It was important to me to honour those who had made the effort to represent their chapter and region members.
    This coming Tuesday, I will welcome the EMENA region board as they take a(nother) day away from the office to look at the year ahead for the region and how it can support the international strategy. I am sure your announcement will come up and I am sure that people will be disappointed to see you go. As a Past Chair of that region, you will always have a very special place for us. You will always be welcome. And, as someone who can very much understand what it is to volunteer for IABC, I would graciously ask that whatever your position is about the association that you kindly honour the people who are working hard and sticking with IABC in order to advance our profession. I have to speak out for them. Thank you.
    Neil Griffiths, IABC EMENA Region Chair

    • Neville Hobson

      Neil, thanks for your comment, I appreciate it.

      I wonder whether we read the same reports or see the same videos. I’ve read reporting and commentary from the people you mention and others. I’ve seen video of some of the current IABC leaders at the AGM at the New York conference. Those videos in particular speak for themselves, not really requiring anyone’s commentary or opinion. But if it’s all different as you say it is, then you ought to add your voice to that big conversation that’s going on. All that’s there right now are the critical voices.

      Better yet is a strategic approach: maybe that will come once the new interim director takes a lead in the coming days and weeks.

      We see different sides of a coin, Neil. Maybe it’s the same coin, I don’t know. Like you. I have a high regard for volunteerism having done my bit over the years to support this association. Which, incidentally, leads me to make this point: don’t make the grave error of suggesting that criticism of IABC leadership is somehow dishonouring “the people who are working hard and sticking with IABC,” as you put it. That’s not the case at all.

      I wish you well as leader of the IABC region here. I look forward to seeing what you do and what difference it makes.

      • Neil Griffiths

        I am not suggesting that at all, Neville. I just want people to know that there is a large group of people who are working hard to move past these issues… Yours is an influential voice and I am trying to give a hopeful perspective to those who have not yet reached the same decision as you.
        I agree that there needs to be a managed approach to the new direction/vision. I will not be jumping in online though. I made one comment at the very beginning and was told that it was ‘complete bollocks’. That’s when I realised my energy was much better spent focusing on the people who want the best for IABC and to deliver on the region’s mandate.

        • Neville Hobson

          Thanks Neil. I understand your reticence to engage in conversation with critics online. Yet absent a strong and credible official-IABC voice speaking where conversations are happening – I’m not talking only about the focus everyone seems to have on the leadership in the US – those conversations are shaping and influencing opinions without IABC being part of the discussions.

          I understand, too, that jumping in here and there may not be the most effective way to address the big picture. Yet isn’t this all about little pictures where effective communication is important?

          As for the ‘large group of people who are working hard to move past these issues’ you mention, I think you’ll find that the vast majority of critics right now would count themselves in that group. You may not like their criticism but they are part of the landscape, many of them long-time IABC members. Of course there are some who seem to have some other agenda or something. But the majority exudes so much goodwill, it’s staggering.

          So, in my humble view, IABC has everything to win right now. Or lose, depending on your point of view.

  3. kevinkeohane

    Hi Neville. I share your sadness. I left the boat several years ago after predicting in some ways this was all inevitable – plenty on to look at on that account. IABC had its moment in the sun, but relentless focus on the irrelevant by a self-absorbed leadership seems to have taken its toll. I always got the feeling it had turned into a “members only” club where the same 20-30 people had turned it into their plaything and a vehicle for their personal brands.

    Will be interesting to see what unfolds.

    • Neville Hobson

      Thanks Kevin, Yes, it will be interesting to see what unfolds. It seems to me that the time now is for deeds, some clear action that demonstrates genuine leadership. Yet it’s probably all too late for me, now “the former member.”

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