Monday, 24 November 2014

Big questions on governance

5 November 2014, 2.30 pm

After the IGC meeting there is a Council meeting.  Luckily for everyone involved, I do not have to chair it: the President has cancelled all her foreign travels specially.  They begged her to. 

We talk about rewriting the Bye-Laws.  To do this properly, we have to agree on exactly how CIPA is to be governed.  This is a tough one, because secretly every one of the 26 Council members wants to be in charge, and so does Mr Davies, which makes 27, and there is no way we are going to agree on this unless someone steps in as a ruthless dictator.  Of course, not everyone has time to be a ruthless dictator; in fact, of the 27, probably only 4 would be able to get away from their day jobs for long enough, and one of these is the EyePeePee whose day job doesn’t really count anyway because it’s in an engine shed.  I, however, having little more in my diary than a date with a washing machine, and little more on my skills list than an endless capacity to watch it go round, am sorely tempted by the idea.

But first, let me tell you how CIPA is governed at the moment.  At the top there is Council.  Council is in charge of high-level stuff like strategy and policy and biscuits.  It does Leadership.  (By consensus, naturally, there being 26 of us, so it is a rather ponderous kind of Leadership but it is Good Leadership nonetheless.)  Next down there is the IGC, doing the management and the operational stuff, making sure that CIPA and its financial handbag continue to function properly even when Council members are busy having high-level arguments and dropping biscuit crumbs. 

Next there is the Chief Executive, aka Mr Davies, and his staff at 95 Chancery Lane.  They are in charge of just getting on and doing the things that need doing.  They are answerable to the IGC, which is good because the IGC has lots of questions, like How does this work? or What do we do about X? and the CIPA staff can answer all of these questions.  Also, when the IGC issues numpty instructions, the CIPA staff can gently remind people what it’s like in the real world these days.

But what no-one is entirely sure of is the role of the President and the Vice-President.  The current Bye-Laws are not very helpful on this point.  They say that the Pee and the VeePee can sit on any CIPA committee they like and can chair Council meetings.  It is also well known (although this is not actually in the Bye-Laws; it is more like the problem-and-solution approach which is just so obviously right that there was no need to spell it out in the EPC) that the Pee and the VeePee can wear the CIPA swimming gala medals, a big one for the Pee and a smaller, though no less ugly, one for the VeePee.  And it is accepted, although again not written down anywhere, that the President is entitled to wield the ceremonial gavel and to nick things out of the CIPA stationery cupboard.

Other than that, there do not seem to be job descriptions anywhere.  I suspect this is because job descriptions seem a tad plebeian for someone in so exalted a position.  Having a job description for the CIPA President would be like having an appraisal process for The Queen.

Now, whilst I accept that chairing meetings is a vital job around here, ditto the wearing of swimming gala medals, surely the person who has been elected to stand at the head of our Institute should be doing more than just shouting at people to stick to an agenda.  When we rewrite the Bye-Laws, this is something we need to address.

So what should the President be?  A regal figurehead perhaps, who dons the aforementioned medal and goes forth to meet and greet and smile a lot, and who says yes to everyone but then goes back and checks with Council whether they should in fact have said no?  (Even I could do that.)  Or how about a leader, who drags people kicking and screaming in pursuit of Grand Visions?  Body language suggests that the latter would not be the majority choice, presumably because all 27 of us secretly want to be in charge, and are unlikely to cede power to someone simply because they are wielding a ceremonial gavel and a stolen stapler.

Or should the President be a manager?  Managers read lots of books about monkeys on people’s backs and chimpanzees in their brains, and about doing things in one minute or seven steps so as to have more time for getting an MBA.  A manager’s job is to make everyone feel good about being dragged kicking and screaming, and also to ensure that Grand Visions stay within budget.  And if he is a woman manager, he must do this without being too aggressive because who likes an aggressive woman?

Personally I believe the President’s main job should be to ensure the uninterrupted supply of biscuits.  This is after all quite a tough remit and not everyone would be up to the job.  The self-service checkout machines will do everything they can to thwart you.

One thing we are all agreed on.  Or rather, the others are definitely agreed on, and I have been told I am also agreed on.  The new definition of the CIPA President’s role must specifically exclude straw-dropping, Morris dancing in public, excessive Red Bull® consumption and seditious diary-writing.  And it must require the President to know at least a little about at least something that is vaguely connected with IP.  I am not sure why we need to spell these things out.  Surely no-one would even dream of standing for President if they dropped straw wherever they went??


  1. What's with the straw? sounds like a horse. If you collect it all up and not waste it, you could build a house like they did here
    I can't understand your problem with what a President should do. There are many organisations with Presidents and you don't hear of people having a problem. Representing the organisation internally and externally by talking sensibly, encouraging communication and involvement. Concern for the welfare of the members, making everyone feel wanted: Nigella Lawson's mother made everyone feel important when she talked to them. Working with the constant objective of the success of the organisation and its members. Discussing issues fully with colleagues on Council. Seeing other people's points of view and taking them into account. Thinking Ghandi rather than Stalin. Hope this helps.

    1. Gordon Ramsay's auntie was also very good at making people feel at home. This is useful work I feel. There are colleagues everywhere who appreciate the value of engagement and inclusive listening. I can aspire.

  2. Perhaps I should be so bold as to chip in. I am, of course, able to do so not as the Chief Executive of CIPA (heaven forbid) but as a past President of a chartered institute. OK, it is the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering, so it may not count as a proper professional body, but as CIPHE came out of the Worshipful Company of Plumbers, one of the oldest Livery Companies, we are rightly very proud of a long and illustrious heritage. To become President of CIPHE there were few criteria and little guidance on what the role was. It was simply a given that the great and good (read that as aged) took it in turns to become President and travel the country, indeed the globe, wearing a far bigger and more pompous badge of office than CIPA’s, eating and drinking a lot and shaking a lot of hands.

    There was a waiting list, of sorts. Or, as it was explained to me when I had the audacity to enquire, you can stand for President but as you have not been on the Board of Trustees (read Council) it will take you many years to get elected. OK, I said, what about if I stand for the Board. Ah, you can do that, came the reply, but you are unlikely to be elected because the same old faces get elected every year, it’s a small turnout and mates’ votes count a lot. Can I stand for both at the same time? Pause whilst there is frantic checking of the bye-laws. Yes you can, but it hasn’t been done before.

    So in 2010 I stood for Vice-President and the Board. I did a bit of blogging. Thrust my opinion across different social media channels, turned up unannounced at plumbers’ merchants to speak with members and non-members and found myself sat in shock at the back of an AGM. The votes were read out in alphabetical order. I won the election to the Board by a landslide. Excellent I thought, I can get myself better known and be President before I die. Then the results of the VP contest, the highest turnout in living memory. There were four candidates and, even though in alphabetical order, I was last on the list. By the time the third candidate’s results had been read out I had done the maths. Yup, me by an even bigger landslide.

    There was an immediate constitutional crisis. The President cannot be on the Board, only as an observer, and I had been elected to both. There was nothing to stop me standing for both. Daft bye-laws, eh? Had the vote been rigged? How had this whipper-snapper (I was 44, unheard of) usurped the queue. The Chief Executive was accused of manipulation so that his preferred candidate was elected. That was my fault, in my state of shock I had unfortunately that it was the ChEx who had said I could stand for both. Nothing wrong in that, them was the bye-laws, but I didn’t know the politics. How could I? I was the great usurper. Turned out we had a bigger constitutional crisis than that as the bye-laws didn’t require the President to even be a plumber. A cue for the industrial associates and associated non-professional members to chuck their hats into the ring. Chaos ensued. It was all my fault. Readers will identify a theme emerging here.

  3. Eeeek - I exceeded the character count.....

    I hadn’t thought to ask for the job description before standing, why should I as I wasn’t going to win. Turns out there wasn’t one anyway. Just a single line in the bye-laws that the President cannot be on the Board of Trustees other than as an observer. Traditionally the outgoing President wrote a set of ‘this-is-how-it-was-for-me’ instructions for his successor. A sort of Presidency by Chinese whispers. I, of course, read my briefing and then entirely ignored it. I caused consternation by having the audacity to speak at the first Board meeting I attended, where I was put down by the Treasurer (a non-professional, other than being an accountant) who then felt the force of my wrath. Mine was an unusual presidency, I am told. My defence was: ah, but there is no job description, I am just making it up as I go along.

    I am sure I was not a bad President, but equally I am sure I was a bit of a challenge for the Board and possibly even the staff. Now I know that every patent attorney reading this will chuckle and think ‘hah, serves them right for not setting out what the President can and cannot do’. And you would be right to do so. But now think about the comparison: two sets of bye-laws with pretty much a single line defining the role of the President. One saying the President is not on the Board the other saying the President is on Council and can Chair it.

    My point is a simple one. If you do not provide an indication of the character and behaviour associated with the role of President, eventually you will get someone like me come along and be daft enough to get themselves elected. Of course, at CIPHE there was generally a contest for the office of VP and an understanding that the VP progressed to P in an uncontested election. That said, the VP only had to say grace at the President’s dinner so it wasn’t much of an audition or test of suitability to become P. I guess, if the new bye-laws at CIPA are successful in ensuring the members always have a choice at election time, we will always get the President the members want but we may not get the President that Council wants so it will be interesting to see how that little conundrum plays out – but at least it won’t be me!

    A final thought. From what I know of governance at other professional bodies, CIPA and CIPHE are the norm and not the exception. Most have existed for a very long time working on the assumption that the President will simply be the President and will, by and large, get it right. Some place full trust in the members to get it right come election time. Others place trust in the Council/Board getting it right by electing a President from among its number. Few have a job description, not even the largest. Just take a look at the vote of no confidence in the President and Chief Executive at the Law Society last year.

  4. شركة تتميز بجميع الخبرات في تقديم اعمالها المتميزة في الكشف عن التسريبات من خلال شركة كشف تسربات المياه بجدة التي تعطي كل ما لديها في اصلاح العديد من المشاكل التي تحدث نتيجة كسر او عطل مفاجئ في امدادت المياه لذلك ننصحم ان تعتمد علي شركة كشف تسربات بجدة لديه سباكين وفنين لديهم الخبرة في حل هذه المشكلة بكل سهولة كما نمتلك لديها القدرة علي تنفيذ اعمال العوازل من خلال شركة عزل اسطح بالرياض التي تعالج تسريبات المياه في الاسقف والحوائط كما نقدم خدمة العزل السليمة للخزانات الارضي والعلوي الخرسانية بواسطة فني متميزة لديه القدرة علي معالجة كل ذلك بسهولة من خلال شركة عزل خزانات بالرياض تمتلك مواد ذات جودة متميزة