Looking Back – And Looking Forward
A Very Personal Perspective, by Peter Thomas
Not long after I was made a founder member, at the London Congress, of ICMCI’s new Meridian Order (which, I may say, I view as a great honour and privilege), Aneeta asked me if I had any reflections on the dozen or so years of my involvement in ICMCI. This set me thinking. I know that nostalgia (as the old joke has it), nostalgia isn’t what it used to be – but nevertheless here goes, with a strictly personal perspective, looking both back and to the future of ICMCI.
I first became peripherally aware of ICMCI through my involvement on the Council of the UK Institute in the mid nineties – and I was baffled by it (I struggled even to get the initials in the right order). What on earth was it about, exactly? Then I became a UK trustee, and in 1999 went to my first meeting in Bonn and Congress in Amsterdam– and I remained pretty much just as baffled. But baffled as I was, one thing impressed me greatly –. the mutual understanding, the comradeship, the sheer quality, of those consulting professionals from vastly different international backgrounds, and the intellectual stimulus of meeting and debating (and quite often disagreeing) with them. That (and its extension through ICMCI’s electronic networks) has remained a continued pleasure (as well as an occasional exasperation, of course)
But back to my story. I soon came to understand that ICMCI in those (for me) early days was really a club. – a typically British (or rather Anglo-Saxon) club, run largely on unwritten rules which everyone understood without having to spell them out (I know, I exaggerate somewhat, but not much). Don’t misunderstand me – this early ICMCI was in its own way highly professional; but it did not really have in place the basis for a worldwide professional organisation. It knew this, however, and was working hard on it, through a handful of really impressive people. Very stimulating, it was for me (and still is). And I saw it as a worthwhile (indeed noble) enterprise – building a worldwide organisation and defining and distilling what it was about, on the hoof (largely), and with pretty near zero real resources. (Does that still sound familiar, by the way?).
No organisation can be successful without a clear understanding of what it stands for at its core, and the ability to articulate and communicate this. This core is always largely about values, particularly for an organisation like ICMCI – and for ICMCI its values are predominantly and above all expressed in its Professional Standards and everything that goes with them. That for me is why they are so important
From start, ICMCI had the aspiration to create an international professional standard and qualification – an incredibly audacious aim (how many professions do you know which have even attempted this?). The initial version of CMC was, in reality, little more than generalities (I was, frankly, quite embarrassed by how little real substance there was in the standard when I developed the initial country assessment QA system). But that is, of course, the problem in getting agreement to anything specific across 20 odd countries (let alone nearly 50, as now).
There were three breakthroughs, in my view, which transformed this situation for ICMCI (and also proved significant in the hugely successful growth of ICMCI membership in the last 10 years), and I am proud of the role I played in each of them. The first was ICMCI’s acceptance of the “equivalence” principle – the recognition that, given the many varied cultures, languages, backgrounds and histories of ICMCI members, there were valid differences in the way in which essentially the same professional standard could be defined in detail. Consequently, the ICMCI CMC standard was structured in a way which allows variations within a defined framework – with the onus on each member to demonstrate that its own standard is “at least the equivalent” of ICMCI’s. This gave the CMC standard enough flexibility to make it acceptable to all its members, without undermining its fundamental integrity. National CMC standards can therefore, in one sense, be seen as particular, local “implementations” of the ICMCI standard.
The second breakthrough was the move to a competency framework based standard, which gave CMC a much more objective and solidly based core, on which it has continued to build successfully. And the third breakthrough was implementation of the ICMCI quality assurance system, assessing triennially the CMC standards of each member – providing assurance, both within ICMCI, and to the world at large, of the integrity of CMC as an international qualification. But equally as important, it has been a hugely positive support structure for ICMCI members, I believe. It has helped to share best practice, to stimulate the improvement of national CMC standards, and to “converge” them more closely around the ICMCI standard – thanks to the unstinting dedication of some of the most experienced consultants in the world, acting as unpaid assessors.
So I believe that ICMCI should be proud of what is has achieved with CMC – a professional standard of real substance, recognised in nearly 50 countries worldwide, and backed by a serious quality assurance system: a complete transformation from the situation of 12 years ago. But is this success secure? Well, no, it’s not, unfortunately – indeed it is, I think, distinctly fragile. For one thing, CMC numbers world wide are at best static, if not shrinking; and for another, in spite of our efforts CMC is still not really known or recognised by clients, influencers and governments (or indeed some of the largest firms in our profession).
The harsh fact is that, for any organisation, success is only temporary and provisional, and has to be continually worked for; and that in any case, success just reveals new challenges to be faced. That’s the way I see ICMCI, and it certainly has challenges enough (as the latest ICMCI Breakthrough Strategy report demonstrates). Apart from our failure so far to grow the CMC community and widen awareness of CMC, ICMCI has long had an acute problem of shortage of financial resources – and the two are clearly linked. There is a paradox here: the relatively large and established member organisations, who have reasonable resources, may in principle be supportive of ICMCI but don’t particularly feel they need it (and have many internal calls on their resources, anyway). And those smaller members, who do need and value ICMCI most, don’t have much in the way of resources to offer. ICMCI urgently needs a compelling value proposition (or propositions) which work for all it members. And it equally needs to harness effective ways of generating serious external revenue. ICMCI has really reached the limit of what can be achieved by unpaid volunteers alone: to be a really serious organisation it needs serious finances.
And then there are questions concerning ICMCI’s management structure, or rather management effectiveness. Much as this has improved in recent times, there are clear issues, in the light of everything that ICMCI wants to do, concerning speed of decision making, and above all an executive resource to carry actions through (which brings us back to finances again). Behind this, lies a much larger and more fundamental question, I believe, concerning the future nature of ICMCI which only its member can answer. Is ICMCI simply the forum for sovereign national bodies to co-operate together in areas where they choose to do so?; or is it a supra-national entity, with an autonomy and existence of its own?; or whereabouts along this spectrum do its members want it to lie? A set of questions here, which are fairly familiar to those of us within the EU! ICMCI certainly has one “supra-national” attribute – the ownership of the CMC standard. But I’m certainly not clear what the eventual answer will be.
ICMCI has the declared aim now of turning its attentions outwards and making a real impact on the external world of clients, governments and influencers, which I applaud. But it has to find the means to address these challenges if it is to be successful – and it equally cannot afford to neglect its core assets, in particular its professional standards. So there you have it - one particular and highly personal perspective of the relay race which is the evolution of ICMCI. Each team hands on the baton to the next (as has recently happened), and with every hurdle which is successfully cleared, yet more hurdles come into view. It’s a relay race without an end or a winning post, I’m afraid – but it’s never (or at least seldom) boring, and I can think of few more stimulating or worthwhile challenges!