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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Ritual sacrifice at Joint Councils meeting

The Councils of the Faculty and Institute met jointly on 15 December 2003 to review the strategic themes underlying the corporate plan for the profession, and to decide on the next steps for project Profile (improving the profession’s delivery on matters considered as actuarial thought leadership). We actually achieved a lot more than that.

There were 42 Council members present, and achieving consensus with such a large, intelligent, and independent-minded group of people is a tall order. That the day was one of the most productive we can remember reflects great credit on Brian Wood and his team from Telos Solutions, who planned and facilitated the day. (For some years Brian, a FFA, and his firm have specialised in managing the delivery of business results – an interesting ‘wider field’.)

The morning session examined the first draft of a corporate plan – surprisingly the first such formal plan that the profession has ever produced. Caroline Instance, chief executive, described its evolution, building on the original functions of the profession – for example, to educate, to innovate, to regulate, to promote – on the underlying strategic themes that should inform what we do in the years ahead and, from the opposite end, on the diverse activities currently undertaken. She stressed that the first plan will inevitably draw heavily on where we are now. In future, however, the planning process will be more forward-looking.

Subgroups of Council members reviewed and commented on the proposed strategic themes contained within the plan. There was widespread agreement that the priorities should be the setting and enforcing of standards, education, and expansion of the profession. The output of these work groups has provided valuable feedback for Caroline to incorporate into the next draft of the plan in time for the Faculty and Institute Management Committee (FIMC) meeting in January. (Once approved, Caroline will be writing about the plan in a future issue of The Actuary.)

The afternoon session was more eventful. Brian Wood summarised the work done to date on project Profile, with a particular emphasis on the development of a set of ‘design principles’ for Profile (examples of these were given in Brian’s article in The Actuary, December 2003 and the current set is at www.actuaries.org.uk/link/members/jcouncils /design.html). Prior to the meeting, effort had been put into introducing and discussing these design principles with as many Council members as possible. As a result, there is a high degree of support for the principles – but some rumblings that ‘thought leadership’ needed a wide definition to cover work on public interest issues, public policy and intellectual capital.

Brian went on to introduce Compass, which was a ‘straw-man’ of a mechanism for implementing the Profile design principles. The reason for having a straw-man is to take a discussion forward by introducing a tangible example: in effect the straw-man acts as a catalyst.

Compass was pretty straightforward. It consisted of a steering group – effectively a senior subset of FIMC members – who would be charged with taking the decisions and actions required around thought leadership, including prioritisation, harmonisation of issues across the profession ensuring the proper management of work, etc – with appropriate support and accountabilities.

The surprise effect was to shift the whole discussion to a new level, in a way that was more rapid and radical than any of us expected.

Although there was strong support for the design principles and many of the components of Compass, the Compass steering group idea was rejected. This was because it did not deal with some of the wider difficulties that the profession has in getting things done – and the solution is not to add a new committee or task force (or ‘mechanism’ in Brian’s language!), no matter how efficient, to a governance structure that is already under strain. A typical comment was ‘This should really be the job of FIMC’ and ‘If FIMC is currently not structured to do it effectively , then we should look at restructuring FIMC’.

This was a real bolt from the blue – a strong and explicit mandate for some fundamental changes to the way we work within the profession: the whole profession specifically including FIMC, not just ‘thought leadership’. The two of us only just recovered in time to ensure that we turned this mandate into some action points for the future, and secured four volunteers (Paul Greenwood, Sally Bridgeland, Tim Gordon, and Harvie Brown) to take the first steps. This group will be looking at all of the profession’s structures from top to bottom,with a clear message from Joint Councils that we need to slim down and be more focused to be effective.

The Profile design principles were widely supported, so they form a logical starting point – they can now be developed into a ‘core’ set of design principles which articulate how the whole profession should work, with ‘satellite’ principles for more specific activities (eg thought leadership, education, standards, etc). Once this is done, these will form a solid foundation for redesigning the profession’s mechanisms (eg FIMC, the role of the presidents, a possible new actuarial standards body) to cope with the challenges that the profession faces today.

Given this solid starting point, it should be possible to come up with formal proposals well before the next meeting of Joint Councils in the middle of this year. In the interim, FIMC has been given the job of taking thought leadership work forward proactively. Some of the design principles and components of Compass can be implemented immediately for this purpose and project management disciplines will be followed by the profession’s staff.

So it was an eventful day, but also an enjoyable and productive one. Once again, our thanks to Brian for all the time and effort he has put into bringing us this far. We couldn’t understand how he managed to keep a smile on his face while his straw-man was being ritually sacrificed – until we realised that this was an essential step in forcing us to recognise the bigger issues!