Annette Homan, CAE is not afraid of change. A willingness to face change head-on might seem surprising for someone who works in the risk management field, but she knows that embracing changes in processes or services offered is really an embrace for her association’s members. As chief operating officer of RIMS, the Risk Management Society, Homan regularly tells new employees, “there’s no reason for anyone to be working here if it weren’t for the members, so try to support them and serve their needs in the best way possible.”
During our conversation, Annette explained that change is what sustains memberships and helps associations serve members’ evolving needs better. We explored how RIMS sustains its members through an evolving portfolio of strategic collaborations, global programming, and a desire to make RIMS members indispensable to their employers.
Association Adviser: What path led you to the COO position at RIMS?
Annette Homan, CAE: My professional life started in the financial industry. For 17 years, I educated employees that sell financial products and services, such as mutual funds and other investment vehicles, about how those products work, how to sell them and how to service their clients. After several years, I found myself at the American Management Association providing education via public seminars and internal employee training. At AMA, I was exposed to a more diverse audience because I was overseeing operations for a team that worked with subject matter experts to develop and implement education programs for many different industries.
Following a restructure at AMA, I found myself in the job market. Someone from my network called me after seeing a job RIMS had posted and said, “this is you!” At the time, it was Deputy Executive Director, a common title in the association world. I asked my friend, “is this a sheriff’s job?!” Of course it wasn’t, but I still wasn’t sure if the position – for a smaller organization with a more narrow focus – was something I’d enjoy. I was familiar with risk management from various education programs my financial teams had developed, but didn’t know what it meant to educate someone in that area.
Ten years later, I couldn’t imagine going back to the financial services industry. Working for an association might involve long hours, weekends, and travel, but helping others advance their careers and do their jobs more effectively is more satisfying. My current position allows me to use what I’ve learned in all my previous roles. I use everything from financial education, to leadership and management to support our volunteers, members, and staff.
AA: A common theme among leaders is the need to think differently about an issue or challenge at hand. What are some of the ways association leaders can do that?
Associations need to develop strategic plans that enable them to sustain their current business models while looking for ways to grow and expand their reach. When we expand awareness of our discipline we engage a broader audience and enhance the sustainability of our organizations. Part of an association’s mission needs to be advocating for the members to ensure their voices are heard, whether by regulatory bodies or internal stakeholders,
As association operational leaders, we should generate ideas to meet challenges by participating in the in-depth discussions that occur on platforms like ASAE Collaborate. Together we can more efficiently identify trends, connect with vendors, and receive feedback and resources from other professional peers.
Association leaders should also focus on mission. The RIMS mission is to educate, engage and advocate for the global risk community. So our investments in people, processes and technology reflect that.
AA: How can association leaders use technology to think differently?
AH: Having worked for both for-profit and not-for profit organizations, I know corporations and associations view the role of technology differently when it comes to developing a business strategy. In the for-profit world we focused on providing solutions based on what was needed, and we looked at the cost of technology solutions in a more black and white way. In an association we look at the “must-have solutions,” but we also look at the “nice to have” technology solutions because our objective is to support our members, and they provide the income and volunteerism that is necessary to sustain the organization.
We may invest in a communication technology tool that connects members in the U.S. to their global colleagues, but we don’t do it with a goal of profiting. We do it because it adds member value. For example, the RIMS Opis platform powered by Higher Logic is an example of an IT solution our members utilize to share information and gather valuable feedback from subject matter experts around the world. Often the virtual conversations save time researching and provide valuable insight. Associations invest reserve funds to create innovative IT solutions that enable members to complete their roles more effectively and differentiate themselves within a discipline.
Introducing new technology shows you can do things differently. Years ago we brought in an external consulting firm to uncover ways to improve our processes and show our staff that it would be okay to do things differently. At one point, one person on staff was explaining their process, and another person piped up that they were doing the same thing by a different name! We eliminated that extra step. Especially in associations where you don’t have huge staffs and you’re asked to do more with less, you want to keep people from burning out. You want to let them do different things, have time to focus on something new, and be challenged.
Through technology and acceptance of change, our staff and the senior team has enabled that kind of environment to thrive. At times we still struggle with the statement, “that’s how we have always done it; why are you looking to make a change?”
AA: Do you get this more from staff, or from members?
AH: Both. I don’t get it from staff as often as when I first started because I have looked for ways to educate staff members that it’s okay to make changes. Associations evolve, and part of the evolution is that you can work smarter and accomplish what needs to get done, versus working harder, inefficiently.
RIMS works on accepting change because we know how important it is to be customer/member service-focused. This also gives us the opportunity to continually challenge current methodology and promote a culture of innovation.
AA: How do you balance the usefulness of new technology with the cost?
AH: We all struggle when we receive an IT-related request that would provide a solution for a niche group of members but may not be utilized by the core membership. We want to provide every solution our members request, but as operational leaders we need to ask ourselves, should we be spending the hard and soft resources needed to complete the solution as requested? And, is the solution in the best interest of the current and future membership? Often we need to look at the root cause of an issue to find the right solution. The right solution may not be exactly what was requested, but it does provide a resolution to the issue.
AA: What are your thoughts on third-party partners in terms of growing an association and accomplishing strategic goals?
AH: I get the best ideas from others. In the association world, people are willing to help each other out to be successful.
We can’t all be experts in everything, and we shouldn’t try to be. So we develop relationships with organizations that can do the same thing, only better. Experts in the field that have developed a platform or process can do the work that needs to be completed more efficiently. If you can find a third-party that has the ability to do administration work more efficiently, you can achieve more. The companies we work with such as Higher Logic, eShow and Naylor look at the marketplace and figure out what associations need. Then they add in all the bells and whistles, and make their product so easy to use that end users like members and staff don’t need to think about all the processes involved. One single association usually cannot afford all the research and investment a new technology requires, especially if it’s just going to be used by that one association’s members. So use a company that does have the resources to perfect a process or service.
We want to expand education, but local universities are better equipped to market to and educate people in their areas than we are, so we’ve developed relationships with about a dozen universities with the goal of offering courses that lead to risk management certifications. The universities are in the U.S, Singapore and Canada with discussions happening in China and India. How they do it – in person, online, or a combination of both – is up to them. We collaborate to develop a blueprint of what the certification is about, which topics it must cover and the skills needed. We want to support each university to develop a new income stream by providing this education.
Working with these universities isn’t really about earning revenue from course fees, but about expanding understanding of the value and importance of risk management. The schools offering risk management curricula have asked to offer these courses. We make revenue to cover our expenses but because we don’t have shareholders to reimburse, we reinvest all money earned to provide more products and services to more students. They could become members someday!
Many association professionals are concerned about how their roles will be affected if they share information and operations, but they need to think about how a partnership could benefit the whole association world, or their industry’s world. Risk management has the best outcomes when everyone understands what risk management is and uses the same evaluation processes. For example, many of the financial problems we had in 2008-09 have been attributed, in part, to improper risk management.
Furthermore, if a member’s company works with or merges with a global organization, it’s in their best interest to ensure they are on the same page as other risk managers in other countries. Some parts of the world don’t have the risk management methodologies we use in the U.S. Those risk managers have the same goals but a parallel education level. So we as an association help risk professionals around the world share info in forums, in whitepapers, and at our annual conference, that attracts people from more than 70 countries. We look for ways to enter underserved markets in a way that’s not about making a profit but about educating and expanding our reach. We also try to learn from those who do things differently than us, in the name of helping everyone become as knowledgeable and successful as they can be.
AA: How can technology assist an association wanting to grow internationally?
AH: By connecting people virtually. Years ago going to a local RIMS chapter meeting was mainly how members connected, but outside of the U.S., that may not be how people interested in risk management communicate. Ten years ago, one of the comments you’d hear from someone outside of the U.S. was “that’s great that you have all these events and education. But I can’t come to one of your classes in the U.S.” We could bring events and education to them, but that could be costly. Technology has enabled us to connect with people in a timely way without having to get on a plane.
Associations should provide an environment where people can assist others for the benefit of the community, and in many cases, technology makes that possible.
AA: What are your goals for yourself and for RIMS over the coming year?
AH: One of our key initiatives is to grow globally. I oversee operations, so I look at what we need to do differently to support our global growth initiatives. Our current key areas are China, India and the ASEAN region. In addition, 10 percent of our members are in Canada and we have relationships in Latin American and Australia. Membership isn’t necessarily the first way to grow internationally; what comes first is education and certification opportunities. The global community has told us they are focused on certifications. Certifications open doors because people are most interested in learning and developing. So we developed our ANSI accredited certification under ISO Standards. It differentiates our members and is accredited by any organization that recognizes global certifications. This way, when we enter a market we can educate and recognize members in that market, helping them stand out to their employers and make them more valuable to their companies. Becoming a member will be a natural progression, because they’ll want to continue to benefit from our association’s resources.
Additionally, we want to have risk management courses operating in a dozen universities across the globe by the end of 2019. We plan to achieve this by continuing to provide grants to universities developing risk management curricula and to sponsor other education initiatives that help local instructors operate.
AA: In terms of your job, what keeps you up at night?
AH: Our ability to continue to grow as fast as we need to. We have our strategic plan and our objectives, but continuing the momentum we’ve built and engaging our members and employees requires finding the right balance of investment in activities, technology and people. The most valuable part of any organization is your staff. The more they feel a vested interest in what they’re doing, the more that interest will be contagious to members and other stakeholders. And the more successful everyone will be in their roles.
I also spend a lot of time thinking about how RIMS can help members do their job more effectively. Our members go out of their way to know what’s happening in the risk management field and to bring that information back to their organizations. They’re stronger employees because of their RIMS membership. When an organization makes a structural change, my hope is that they won’t eliminate a RIMS member because the RIMS member is able to differentiate themselves and provide value to the organization.