Pearls of Wisdom on Leading an Association, by Heather Lishman

One of the most important and rewarding parts of running any organisation is listening to your stakeholders and reacting to their needs.  It is however even more rewarding when you are part of an association where the feedback is coming from an involved membership.  With this in mind the Association of British Professional Conference Organisers (ABPCO) holds a membership engagement survey every year to see what we can be doing better.  Over the past few years it has seen us become more efficient, more profitable, deliver greater education opportunities and add new events to the calendar.  However, this year’s message included a clear need to be more holistic and consider our purpose and core values.

As a result, during our executive strategy day, the ABPCO board embarked on a process that considered the current and future goals of the association and how best to describe it to the market.  It was a creative and exciting process that really allowed us to explore exactly what we are doing and why.  Specifically though it challenged us to think about our purpose statement.  Or to be blunt – what is the point in ABPCO?

There were a lot of ideas discussed, a lot of opinions and some truly insightful comments.  It is a process I would recommend to any organisation as it provided considerable food for thought.  Most interesting though was the fact that it took us beyond our normal perceptions.  We were no longer thinking about logistics and the organisation of events but how we facilitate better events, and how in turn that improves the wider world.

The result? ABPCO is proud to enable human enrichment through face to face gatherings.  Powerful stuff that really gets to the heart of why we exist.

Our mentor on this journey then encouraged us to explore the values behind that statement.  What is it about ABPCO that makes us think we can achieve our purpose?  What do we do that makes such a bold statement possible?  We started with a list of several hundred words that were distilled into a select group of favourites.  Their meanings and appropriateness were then debated until we had not just three words but also three statements that supported them.

  • Excellence – leading industry best practice with passion, professionalism and integrity
  • Learning – encouraging knowledge sharing
  • Belonging – supporting and connecting our member community through collaboration

All organisations should be able to effectively express who they are to their clients but before doing so they must first understand it for themselves.  A process such as the one ABPCO has been through has benefited not just us but also our membership as we provide a clearer path for the future and continue to deliver value for all.

I urge everyone to ask the simple questions – “What is our purpose?” and “What are our values?”.

About The Author

Heather Lishman is a graduate of the University of Surrey who had roles with DeVere, InitialStyle Conferences and Quality in Tourism before forming her own business in 2010 providing services to a diverse range of hospitality organisations.  Heather is also a Director of Hospitality Assured, a business which helps hospitality organisations achieve competitive advantage through business and service excellence.  Heather sits on the Executive Board of the Institute of Hospitality.

ABPCO (Association of British Professional Conference Organisers) is a dedicated industry association representing professional conference organisers within the UK.  ABPCO membership is open to professional conference organisers, suppliers, associates and destinations who clearly demonstrate the skills, knowledge and experience required to plan and organise major UK and international conferences.

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