Earlier this year, I ran a poll on LinkedIn, seeking to understand how professionals view their professional bodies. They’re such a big part of our professional lives, from our exams to our Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and our livelihoods. And, naturally, while we pay ongoing fees to them, often annually, our relationship with and expectations of them change as we mature in our careers.
Our relationships with our professional bodies
In addition to the membership fees we pay, some of us also volunteer our time to help shape our professions, perhaps by contributing to research on professional working parties and/or committees and/or presenting our insights for free at professional conferences or webinars. I was personally quite surprised when I learnt how small the percentage of a profession’s membership that volunteers generally is. Similarly, the percentage of those who vote in elections of council members is low… These point to a significant proportion of professionals who are disengaged, and only do what they are required to do to maintain their professional designation (such as meeting any minimum CPD requirements). It also amazes me how a substantial number of professionals kick into panic mode weeks or days before the deadline, grasping at content that will allow them to confirm their compliance before pushing CPD to the back of their minds for the next cycle.
On the other end, there are those who volunteer significant amounts of their time (perhaps supported by their employers) for their profession over years. Their dedication and ability to deliver on everything they’re involved in is phenomenal. A few of Protagion’s professional mentors have fulfilled roles as presidents/chairs of their professional bodies, or have contributed to the council / leadership team, so have first-hand experience.
Read more for the poll results and my reflections on them, exploration of the evolving role of professional bodies and examples of their forward-looking initiatives, and links to profession-specific pages we’ve put together for you sharing example career paths, selected mentors, and further resources for members of each profession.
I asked poll respondents to complete the sentence: “Professional Bodies...” and offered a range of options. By design, LinkedIn polls require only one (of a maximum of four) to be selected, although admittedly most if not all of the options could in practice be true simultaneously for a given professional body.
The results, in decreasing order, were:
I also had a number of conversations with professionals while the poll was running, and one told me she’d choose an entirely different option: “Professional bodies are money-making schemes”. YIKES.
Overall, I was astounded by the proportion of disenchanted professionals who participated, perhaps taking the opportunity to share what they really felt anonymously… Perhaps some of those feeling like their professions are out-of-touch are also those who themselves chose to disengage, and hence are less aware of what their professional bodies are up to?
Ensuring that professional standards are upheld will remain a key role of professions – in fact, this responsibility is why many professionals joined in the first place! i.e. quality control. However, this poll (and general trends) are indicating that this is not sufficient. Members who have qualified are requiring more from their professional bodies, and perhaps thinking: ‘what do I get for my membership fee?’ The risk to the body is that they resign as members, and instead truthfully describe themselves as having attained the designation in the past. In a way, this is an extreme form of disengagement.
From my own interaction with different professional bodies, a number of them are earnestly trying to shift from compliance-with-our-rules cultures to member-centric cultures, all while preserving what made them strong in the past (like their traditional domains) and stimulating progress and growth. Cultural shifts take time, and the non-profit nature of professional bodies as well as their heavy reliance on volunteers makes change more challenging. Cost management is crucial as their revenues come from exam fees, professional subscriptions, event fees & sponsorship etc, so a meaningful proportion is dependent on corporates who hire their professionals i.e. multiple interests are at play, with heterogeneity in the membership. It is particularly important that the leadership teams of the bodies understand (and ideally reflect) this heterogeneity. In fact, this is one element of the modernisation members are seeking.
Examples of these forward-looking initiatives include:
I encourage qualified professionals to be part of the forward-looking initiatives in their respective professional bodies, and to share their perspectives on the future (to help craft it). Our professional bodies are made up of us professionals after all!
Something for you
To help our professional members, we’ve put together a number of profession-specific pages on our website, listing possible career management activities, career paths in that profession, professional bodies and examples of CPD obligations & codes of ethics/conduct, selected mentors with that professional background, and further resources for professionals on that path. Currently, we have pages for the following professions:
Please let us know in the comments if there are other professions you’d like us to add.