In my last column, I outlined the boundaries of TEI’s Vision 20/20 Task Force, which was chartered by the Institute’s Board of Directors to define the “ideal TEI” for today and the year 2020 and to develop a strategic plan that allows the Institute to remain responsive to the needs of the in-house tax community. The last time the Institute undertook a strategic planning initiative was at the turn of the century. It was then that the Institute formally adopted the vision of TEI as “the preeminent association of business tax professionals” — we later added the word “worldwide” at the end — and the mission of TEI as “an association of business tax professionals serving its members and their employers through education, networking, and advocacy.” We also fine-tuned the organization’s principle and purposes (which are set forth on page 300 of this issue of the magazine), and adopted the following five broad goals:
- To provide high quality education that is responsive to the needs of members and their employers.
- To maximize and facilitate networking opportunities for members.
- To expand and enhance the effectiveness of advocacy efforts.
- To attract and retain members.
- To ensure an efficient and effective organization.
Although it is too early to say whether the Vision 20/20 initiative will lead to any changes in the vision, mission, principle, purposes, or goals of TEI, I for one do not currently envision a major overhaul of the “why we exist” and the “what do we want to do” of the Institute. The emphasis we place on particular goals and objectives, however, and, perhaps more dramatically, the “how” we go about achieving those goals — the particular strategies we adopt in 2012 and the ensuing years — may well change.
The More Things Change...
The tax world and the world of TEI have changed considerably since the last strategic plan was adopted in 1999. For example, TEI is a larger organization, with total membership more than 30 percent higher than 12 years ago. This growth has contributed to a shift in the Institute’s sources of revenue (from primarily a mixture of dues and registration fees, plus investment returns and modest royalties) to a balance sheet reliant on sponsorship payments and royalties to a degree never imagined by the Institute’s early leaders. Why? Because we are larger, we are a more attractive audience for professional service and other firms that market their products to tax executives. (TEI’s audited financial statements are reprinted in this issue, and they reflect our solid financial condition and the balanced sources of our revenue.)
In addition, more and more members are receiving their continuing professional education via local chapter meetings. This is a very positive trend from the members’ perspective. Chapter meetings are both more numerous than in years gone by and longer, and they represent an economical way for tax professionals to stay up to date, especially given the budget constraints imposed on many tax departments. The development, however, has undeniably affected attendance at Institute-level conferences.
A final example of our changed environment is what technology has done (for and to us) in terms of keeping us both connected to our remote colleagues (via email, websites, etc.) and tethered to our desks. Properly harnessed, email, websites, and social media (such as LinkedIn) are powerful tools that will enable TEI to better serve its members. They are, however, only tools and should not, in my opinion, be viewed as ends to themselves.
At first blush, these changes might seem to diminish the value of the work done on TEI’s previous strategic plan. A review of the “SWOT analysis” (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) conducted in 1998, however, puts the lie on that notion.
Consider the following key factors identified “back then” — things our forebears concluded that the Institute’s operating plan had to address:
- Changing Regulatory Environment (with tax authorities’ becoming more aggressive)
- Information Overload
- Challenging Economy (and its effect on staffing, travel & training budgets, the amount of time members have to volunteer, and the general pace of work)
- Generational Differences in terms of Work-Life Balance
- Increased Competition from Other Associations and Other
It is not a stretch to say the list could have prepared last week. And, indeed, the research that TEI conducted this year as part of Vision 20/20 to assess the current environment highlights every single one of these issues. (Concededly, the language used to describe them and the granularity of concerns expressed are different.) How we address the concerns — the particular objectives we adopt and the priorities we set — is where our path in 2012 and beyond may diverge from the one taken at the end of the 20th Century.
That is what the Vision 20/20 Task Force, aided by facilitators from the consulting firm of Association Management + Marketing Resources (AMMR), will be spending the next few months on: charting the course ahead. The group’s “raw materials” will be the findings of various “scans” that we undertook to map the world in which TEI currently operates — scans that involved soliciting — getting — data from as many as 1,500 people. Specifically, AMMR conducted more than 30 in-depth interviews, 9 informal telephone focus groups, a detailed “environmental and issues development scan” that was returned by 17 members and stakeholders, and a membership satisfaction survey that was completed by nearly 1,050 members and former members. (The return rate from our members was 14.6 percent — high for a survey of this type — which should yield results with a sampling error of plus or minus 1.7 to 2.8 percent at a 95-percent confidence level.) We also solicited comments from all interested parties via our website.
If you completed the membership satisfaction survey or otherwise participated in our research, thank you. Whom did we talk to? A broad cross-section of TEI’s membership and others in the tax community. Members of the Institute’s current leadership, but also former leaders (at both the chapter and Institute level), committee members, younger and culturally diverse members, allied professionals (that is to say, individuals with experience in and with other associations), practitioners, and former government officials. We also sought the views of tax professionals who used to belong (or be active in Institute activities), but who have — for one reason or another — “moved on.”
Because you cannot adequately prepare for the future if you romanticize the past or sugarcoat the present, the questions asked were direct and hard hitting. All participants were promised confidentiality in order to encourage their candor, and they did not disappoint. We received comments about what TEI does well and about areas in which we can do better — in some cases, much better. Just one example: We received valuable feedback on the tension that exists between our goal of increasing membership (and, in particular, reaching out to tax professionals earlier in their careers) and our desire to increase benefits for Chief Tax Officers who, for a variety of valid reasons, may prefer to network with a smaller group of similarly situated confreres. I personally believe the documented tension can be a constructive force in TEI’s new strategic plan, but how we stratify and segment our membership and properly serve all our constituents will be a challenge.
I would be getting ahead of myself if I were to speculate about “what comes next.” At this point, we do not know. The Vision 20/20 Task Force has compiled a list of issues identified in the research that, after vetting, will be used to develop a draft strategic plan that, ultimately, will be presented to TEI’s Board of Directors. We are moving deliberately, but not in a peremptory way. We will keep the entire membership informed of our progress and remain open to your feedback. Let us know what you think.
TEI members Kim Berjian, Canadian Commodity Tax Chair , David Penney, International President and Shannon Baker, President of the Calgary Chapter, with the hatted Honourable Gail Shea, Canadian Minister of National Revenue, at a Calgary Chapter luncheon.
Finally, I have been remiss in not publicly thanking the members of the Vision 20/20 Task Force: Clive Baxter of the EMEA Chapter, Rod Bergen of the Vancouver Chapter, Dan Goff of the Santa Clara Valley Chapter, Paul O’Connor of the New England Chapter, Mitch Salamon of the Ft. Worth Chapter, Carita Twinem of the Wisconsin Chapter, and Katrina Welch of the Dallas Chapter. (Timothy McCormally and Dan De Jong of the staff are also members.) These individuals have already contributed mightily to the Institute’s efforts, and I am grateful for their service.
Example of Excellence
One of the trends that TEI can be proud of is the growing quality of our chapter programs. From the Institute’s founding in 1944, most members have rated our local programs as the number one reason they belong. Our chapters are the Institute’s backbone, and they can be proud of how they have collectively responded to the recession, by expanding their own programs and, in many cases, supporting their members attendance at Institute-level programs.
Month in and month out, I experience the excellence of the Toronto Chapter’s programming. Serving as president, however, has afforded me the opportunity to see first-hand the high quality of other chapters. Hence, in September, I had the opportunity to travel to Calgary for a meeting that featured a presentation by Canada’s Minister of National Revenue, Gail Shea. The chapter did itself proud, and I offer congratulations to Shannon Baker, the chapter’s president, and to chapter member Kim Berjian, who currently chairs the Institute’s Canadian Commodity Tax Committee and who was instrumental in arranging for the Minister’s participation.