Bringing clarity and conviction to a members’ organisation
British Small Animals Veterinary Association
“David is calm and professional and he doesn’t hold back. He made us confront our challenges, which is valuable and can only come from an independent voice. Everyone came away feeling he had done an excellent job.”
Amanda Stranack, CEO, BSAVA
The British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) is an organisation of over 11,000 members, which exists to promote excellence in small animal practice through education and science, as well as providing help with issues such as health and safety and attaining Practice Standards, and representation for the profession within government and other veterinary organisations. Each year, BSAVA holds a Strategy Day, led by the incoming President (each President presides for one year). For 2020, because the day had to be virtual, they felt it would be useful to bring in a facilitator and CEO Amanda Stranack approached Action Planning, having seen David in action at a previous event for the British Veterinary Association.
David was asked to prepare an agenda and facilitate the Strategy Day via online conferencing for 21 delegates, with the objective of delivering some clear outcomes and avoiding simply having a talking shop.
With two weeks to prepare for the Strategy Day, David began by arranging interviews with all the participants, gathering their thoughts and building up a picture of the organisational position and its challenges. He then planned an agenda for the day in order to address the key issues and facilitate discussion and exercises that would lead to clear outcomes.
This required David to challenge the delegates’ resolve in terms of tackling some home truths, sharpening their decision making, examining their core purpose and focusing creatively on the arguments for a range of membership models.
In the afternoon David divided the delegates into groups and instructed each to put together a strong pitch in favour of one of seven possible membership models. Models were allocated at random, so some groups were required to pitch for models that they profoundly disagreed with. They responded so well that it was impossible to tell who really believed in their model and who was mortified by what they heard themselves saying! The exercise served the purpose of getting them to think hard about the pros and cons and really examine their arguments in depth.
While they were working on this exercise, David wrote three new slides setting out his proposed next steps. Each of these required ‘task and finish’ groups to be assembled to go away, come back with answers by a set date and then disband. So while there was not sufficient time in the day to deliver anything finite, these groups were set up to deliver clear outcomes within a set time, avoiding the creation of ‘talking shops’.
BSAVA were happy with the next steps that David proposed and meetings were set up for the ‘task and finish’ groups. The delegates came away feeling that they had been listened to and that they had a clear way forward and a conviction to address the organisation’s biggest issues.
Decision making is particularly challenging for member-led organisations, as there is a sense in which the current Board feel their role is to be ‘caretakers’ rather than ‘revolutionaries’, and preserve the organisation intact to pass on to their successors. An annual rotation of President or Chair adds to this difficulty – it is hard to take a long-term view.
However, BSAVA is operating in a fast-changing environment and is facing some fundamental issues. For that reason I felt it necessary to be quite robust and challenging in my approach, which, to their credit, they warmed to and took on board. As an outsider, with no axe to grind, I was able to challenge ‘received wisdom’ (not least because I hadn’t received it!), get away with asking dumb questions (which I am particularly good at) and provide a framework for separating out complex issues from each other, to simplify decision-making processes.
Although there were limits to how much we could achieve in a six hour virtual meeting, BSAVA Board and Executive Team rose to the challenge and agreed a clear way forward for tackling each of the issues.