Leaders’ Interviews: Breaking with Orthodoxies Jeff Morgan, Part I

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Asked about how he measured his successes in in his previous position, as CEO of the National Investor Relations Institute (NIRI), Morgan does not enumerate new programs, members or membership tiers but describes, instead, the outcomes he helped members achieve.

In NIRI, a professional association that supports financial communicators of predominantly publicly traded companies, Morgan was inheriting a “sleepy association, experiencing serious financial hardship due to the Great Recession.”   Up to that point, Morgan explains, “our members were communicators telling the stories of companies to investors. By the time I left, they were financial experts who were engaged in storytelling.” This is because, NIRI helped members understand their market and industry and align their competencies with them. By developing financial expertise, they were assuming a new role in their industry—shifting from tellers of stories to contributors to, and interpreters of,  these stories. Similarly, when NIRI expanded its membership to developing economies like Brazil, it did much more than increase its product sales. It provided its new, international members with strategic guidance and capability development that allowed them to access capital markets.

For many associations, “advancing” the profession simply translates into serving as lobbyists or PR agents for the status quo, often raising entry requirements to preserve it by preventing new, nontraditional entrants. For Morgan, it meant ushering change rather than blocking it, in order to integrate it with the changing needs of capital markets.  It meant having a role in influencing the architecture of professions, and shaping value generating relationships and ecosystems within industries/sectors, rather than sitting back as a passive spectator.

In today’s fluid and unpredictable environments, professionals and organizations need to be able to constantly recalibrate their roles, competencies and value propositions to survive. They can no longer operate in isolated silos of narrow technical expertise or vertical markets. Instead they have to enter into multiple relationships across functions, professions or industries and assume more strategic roles. Morgan sees the value of associations in helping industries and professions achieve such strategic recalibrations and operate in a connected world.