Establishing a Special Interest Group : The Core Principles, the Approach and the Will to Make It Work

The establishment of a special interest group (SIG) is often a fine way to further promote a particular emphasis for a professional body, society, association or club. It has, however, to be carefully thought through and its core principles need to be identified and communicated in a regular and on-going way.

Furthermore, the approach a professional body or society adopts in working with specially identified target publics need to be appealing as well as practical to the particular group being targeted.

Need to Commit to the Endeavour

Equally important is the need for the people who are put in charge of making this SIG work to really believe in the approach and commit to the endeavour wholeheartedly. These people must be prepared to employ fresh, out of the box ideas so that there is also a novelty appeal to the idea of working with the professional body or society.

When I was heading an international professional management accounting body i.e. The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), Malaysia Division many years ago, I was invited to consider pioneering such a SIG in Malaysia. The proposal was to establish a CIMA Malaysia Employers’ Group (MEG). There was no pressure applied by my head office in London to establish this SIG and it was left to my better judgement whether I wanted to embark on this initiative. None of the other four international CIMA divisions in Sri Lanka, South Africa, Republic of Ireland and Hong Kong volunteered to undertake the establishment of such a SIG.

A Strategic Partnership

I consulted with the president of the local divisional council and he was supportive of the idea if I felt that it was a workable proposition. The divisional president had also proposed a modest target ( ten to twelve employers ) in terms of the number of corporate members to be invited to join this new initiative.

This was the sort of excellent three way partnership ( HQ, Malaysia Divisional Council & Divisional Director ) we enjoyed in those, good old days! Much was achieved because we were all on the same page on most issues of the day. Central to this was the fact that there was mutual trust and goodwill between all three parties… a key ingredient for any long term success.

Decision to Establish CIMA Malaysia Employers Group (MEG)

Once the decision was taken to establish this SIG, I began work in earnest to visit and invite the chosen corporate employers to be the first members of the MEG. CIMA set out a few clear objectives for this SIG. One objective was to increase the number of qualified management accountants. Another was to actively consult with corporate members of the SIG in Malaysia when the time came for the regular review of the professional accounting syllabus. A third objective was to assist employers to meet their future needs by setting up specific training programmes meant to ensure a steady supply of competent management accountants for the company. A fourth objective of the SIG was to assist employers with the recruitment of para-qualified and duly accredited accountants to fill vacancies at various levels within the company.

As you can see, these were clear cut and attractive objectives worthy of the efforts by both the professional body and the MEG working in a true partnership.

Visit to Finance and Human Resource Directors

Once we were clear and confident about the objectives, I set out over a three month period to visit about sixty five individuals in the chosen companies. These senior management individuals were either finance or human resource directors. The employers’ group was also going to be a nationwide one, not a regional group!

By contrast when the Employers’ Group was pioneered in the United Kingdom a couple of years earlier, it was on a regional basis. In the process, the type of individuals who attended the EG meetings were usually at middle management levels.

Truly Representative Body

I also chose to deliberately ensure that the MEG was a truly representative body from various sectors of the economy. In this instance, I made sure to visit senior professionals from the manufacturing, farming, agriculture, plantation, pharmaceutical, engineering, trading, banking and finance sectors, to name a few. I also scheduled visits to a few top government and quasi-government departments.

I further chose to invite multinationals who have a strong training culture as well as leading local companies. This was because by their proven leadership, commitment, corporate culture and example they were in a unique position to influence the others in the group.

In some other professional accounting bodies for instance, the employers came mostly from public practice firms. For CIMA, the model chosen had to be representative of where our members actually work and make a contribution. That is why CIMA members are known as the accountants for the business world!

Launch of the MEG

At the end of the three month period, we had succeeded in recruiting forty members from a good cross section of the economy. The SIG was officially launched at an impressive ceremony at a leading hotel in Kuala Lumpur by the Minister of International Trade and in the presence of top officials from CIMA United Kingdom as well as CIMA Malaysia Divisional Council Members. Also present was the duly elected chairman of the MEG from an MNC and deputy chairman from an established Malaysian company and the forty members.

Meetings of the MEG were subsequently held on a quarterly basis. The agenda for the meetings was decided after consultation with the chairman. These meetings were well attended and productive. Decisions were also made with relative ease because all those at the table were in senior positions and thus able to make the important decisions.

Other Relevant Matters

For new initiatives like the MEG, it addition to having compelling and worthwhile objectives, there must be a desire and a strong will to really make this SIG work. There must also be an ability to ‘ think outside the box ‘ and come up with a variety of interesting and much needed programmes.

On CIMA’s part, it supported the MEG with a range of much needed Institute literature on timely topics such as ‘ A Framework for Internal Control ‘ and ‘ Non- Executive Directors – Their Value to Management ‘. These CIMA produced booklets were distributed to members of the MEG on a gratis basis. In the process, we received many requests from members and other employers for additional booklets!

With careful planning, dedication and an ability to think creatively, the MEG proved to be a valuable asset to CIMA Malaysia Division. The decision to aim high and invite senior personnel also paid off handsomely. When I left CIMA way back in 2000, the membership of the MEG had grown to over 200 employers and many of these members had instituted training programmes within their companies.

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2 thoughts on “Establishing a Special Interest Group : The Core Principles, the Approach and the Will to Make It Work

  1. Yes, we had a really good platform then.

    Today’s platform is confined to the heels of the executives

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