In speaking with other in-house counsel, it is apparent that the majority face challenges with resource constraints. Chief among these are constraints around headcount and budget, and generally being able to find ways to handle the volume of work required. In the face of this reality, common reasons expressed for not belonging to professional associations or financially supporting members of their team to do so include “I don’t have the budget,” “I don’t have the time” or “I am too busy.” In the long run, I suggest companies have much to gain by permitting, and even encouraging, their professionals to join and actively participate in relevant professional associations.
Simply joining a professional association does not automatically guarantee a favorable return on investment. Appreciating that you will be choosing to spend finite resources (money and time), how do you best ensure you unlock value from involvement in your professional association?
The value of professional associations needs to be seen by both the individual and the employer. This will only happen if both look at professional associations with the right mindset.
Ask Why. Before joining an association, you need to answer the question “Why?”. What is it in your current status quo that you want to change? It is only by figuring this out that you can choose the best association for you, determine what you want to get from it, and then make sure you remain accountable to yourself to fulfill it. Value is a subjective concept – you need to know what you want to gain in order to determine whether what you receive is worth the resources you commit. This could include:
1) Increasing your expertise in your craft
2) Bringing best practices to your organisation
3) Growing your network
4) Feeling more fulfilled
5) Giving back to your profession
6) Making a difference in your field
7) And much more!
Once you figure out what you want to get from the association, you should keep it in mind each time you are about to participate in an association event or related activity. Take responsibility and be accountable to yourself for searching out and unlocking value.
Be Present. When involved in association activities, look up from your screens! Often at association events, the first thing we do on breaks is tuck away into a secluded spot and check our email, call in for voicemail messages or otherwise engage our technology. Granted there are always going to be instances where staying connected is required, but doing so results in the loss of great opportunities to realise on the strength and value of professional associations. It is not often that you will have individuals from different sections of the country, from different industries and different companies gathered in one spot. Take advantage, and connect with one another. It is surprising how many of us deal with similar challenges despite being in different businesses. Find out how your peers have successfully dealt with some of the same issues you face, collect a toolkit of best practices and ideas, and bring them back to the office with you. I have found that sometimes as much, if not more, value from associations comes not just from the “formal” programs that bring people together, but from the interactions that result. If you knew that there was a possibility that your entire career path could change as a result of one chance encounter at an association event, would that change how much you choose to interact with your technology as compared to other attendees?
See the Opportunity. Resources are always constrained, and pressure always exists to control costs and cut non-essential spend. However, focusing only on the short term (and usually relatively immaterial) cost of participation in an association is often short-sighted. Value in having your team participate in professional associations needs to be looked at on a big picture and long term basis. Having one particularly valuable interaction that comes about because of involvement in an association can result in a positive return on your investment for several years. For instance, conversations and benchmarking that I have done for the benefit of my employer with people I have met at Canadian Corporate Counsel Association events has resulted in unparalleled insight and approaches into issues that would easily cost tens of thousands of dollars if done by external professionals. Association members, in my experience, are usually generous with sharing their time, knowledge and expertise.
Communicate Expectations. Like in most other aspects of professional management, value will only be maximized if there is a clear communication of expectations. Approving an employee’s request to join an association will not necessarily translate into a positive ROI. Communicate with your employee what you expect from them in return for your support in their association involvement. This could include:
1) Be active in the association
2) Meet new people
3) Listen to how others approach challenges in their businesses
4) Bring knowledge and new ideas back to the team
A disciplined approach to professional associations will help you feel better about committing resources to such activities, and will help make sure that your team chooses associations to which they are truly committed.
Significant value can be found in joining a professional association. As in-house counsel, it is hard to think of an association more relevant than the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association (http://www.ccca-accje.org/) (acknowledging that I sit on the National Executive for the CCCA – so perhaps I am biased!).
I encourage you all to get involved in an association of your choice, and I encourage employers to financially support their teams in doing so. With the right mindset, active participation and a willingness to share generously I am confident you will find great value in association participation, and bring back a positive return on investment to your employer.
The thoughts, ideas and views expressed in this article are that of the author alone, and do not represent those of his employer. This article was written in the spirit of contributing to the advancement of Corporate Counsel and the organisations they serve. You are invited to connect with Tyler Langdon via the hyperlink on his name, above.