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21 December 2010

CSI: More than just one - or three - types of members

In CSI membership - one more time, we reviewed the history of CSI's membership classification, and argued in favor of a single category of voting members. Although response has been favorable, two objections have been voiced, one regarding governance, the other related to practical aspects of communication with other members. The first appears to be more important, but the second affects day-to-day activities.

Board representation

As noted last month, CSI began as a group of specifiers, or, in today's terms, professional members. There also were a very few who would today be called industry members, but it was clear that this was an organization of design professionals, concerned primarily with the art of writing specifications. Over the years, the balance changed, and we now have almost equal numbers of professional members and industry members (for convenience, I'm considering industry and associate members as a single group). Along with their growth in numbers, industry members attained more rights and privileges, and there are now only a few small differences between voting members. Clearly, CSI has changed. It is not the organization it was in the beginning, but is an organization of design professionals and product representatives, with a smaller number of contractors and subcontractors.

Our bylaws presently mandate representation of professional and industry members on the Board:
The Nominating Committee shall select candidates for Officers and Directors at Large to ensure that at least three of the eight are either Professional, or Industry or Associate members.
While this may sound like a good idea, at least if you're concerned that industry or professional members might get the upper hand and drive out the other group, it ignores other factors that are at least as important when choosing candidates for office. It also does not take into account the fact that many of our professional members work for manufacturers; it is quite possible to meet the stated requirement for balanced representation, yet have only Board members who work for manufacturers.

Part of the proposed change in member classification is a new way to track members. We currently classify members in three ways: by membership type, e.g., professional or industry; by the occupation codes that appear on the membership application form; and by firm types, which also appear on the application form. If you look at that form, you will see fifty-eight occupation codes and thirteen firm types.

Combining all three classification types, we have 2,262 possible types of member. That may sound impressive, but in my three year term as Institute director, only occasionally would I see a reference to occupation codes, and then only as a statistical report; that information was not used for anything useful.

The new tracking system will have six groups:
Group 100 - Academic Occupations
Academic staff, educator, student, trade apprentice.

Group 200 - Construction Occupations
Construction craftsperson, construction manager, general contractor, subcontractor.

Group 300 - Design Occupations
Architect, BIM or CAD specialist, design consultant, engineer, interior designer, landscape architect, specifier, surveyor, urban planner.

Group 400 - Facility Occupations
Developer, manager, owner.

Group 500 - Product Occupations
A/E representative, dealer, distributor, manufacturer, manufacturer’s representative, manufacturers association, marketing, sales.

Group 600 - Related Occupations
Accounting, attorney, banker, building official, computer support specialist, financial advisor, graphic designer, inspector, insurance, labor representative, legal staff, public agencies staff, publisher, realtor, surety advisor, technical writer, testing lab personnel, trade association, other occupation not listed in any group.
These occupation groups are much more usable than the ones we currently use - more specific than three member types, and more useful and manageable than the current occupation codes.

Institute nominating process

Until recently, CSI nominating committees have been ad hoc committees, formed just before the annual election to find volunteers to run for whatever offices happened to be open in the next election. In theory, these committees give us qualified, capable candidates who will be able to run our organization and keep it current. From what I have seen at every level of the Institute, that is not always the case.

It is sometimes difficult to find volunteers for the nominating committee, and it may not get started on time. Only rarely does anyone actually volunteer to run for office, so the committee usually starts with a list of well-known members, whose qualifications may not be known; being friendly and a great guy aren't much to go on. Occasionally, the top candidates agree to run for office, but often they don't, and the committee works its way down the list. The scarcity of volunteers makes ballots with two nominees unusual.

A few years ago, significant changes were made to the Institute nominating process. It now is a standing committee, working year-round to find and evaluate potential candidates for the Institute Board. The process includes assessment of the current Board's knowledge and skills, which is considered when evaluating candidates. The nominating committee has always considered various factors, but it now focuses on finding candidates who will improve the Board's capabilities.

While it may be argued that the presence on the Board of one group or another is important, it is not the only thing to consider, and it probably is not the most important. Strong leaders have many characteristics: proven performance, good character and reputation, and, obviously, ability to lead; in comparison, what they do for a living is a secondary consideration. Availability also is important; Board service is demanding, and requires a commitment to do more than simply show up.

Gene Valentine, current Nominating Committee Chair, offers these comments about the restructured nominating committee.
"In the past two years, the Nominating Committee has embraced the spirit of the governance reform by intentionally broadening the potential candidate pool - especially for particular skill sets or experience. The committee has used the Balanced Scorecard system for attempting to identify the present skills and experience of board members, and then determining what gaps need to be addressed. The scorecard uses a comprehensive matrix for evaluating many factors, including skills, knowledge, age bracket, education, geographic location, and occupation to help identify the best candidates to fill a need or gap on the Board. The committee has focused primarily on the potential candidate's experience, background, and occupation rather than the traditional consideration mostly of immediate past service to the Institute or the organization. The committee has embraced a position that no individual is entitled to candidacy, rather that their past service is but one of the criteria used to evaluate their potential. In my opinion this has (and will) serve the best interests of CSI.

"The committee has placed greater emphasis on potential candidates' abilities to think, evaluate, and make decisions with broad perspective in their past businesses, projects, etc. I have always valued members individually for what they offered and contributed to the organization, and I think we all believe that one of the features that make CSI special is the synergy that is created by all members of the construction team."

Some industry professionals have expressed a more practical objection to the elimination of the current member categories. Put simply, they use those categories in their businesses. As one member said, "When I want to send out promotional mail, I give the secretary the mailer and the member roster, and say 'Send it to everyone with a P after their name.'" The same thing can be said for communicating other information. A chapter certification committee might want to contact specific members about a CCPR or CCS class, or a chapter might want to target students and teachers for a specific event.

A compromise between specificity and usability will always be necessary; the six occupation groups are a reasonable refinement of the three categories we now have. They make it easier to target specific members than is possible by relying on the current associate, industry, and professional categories, but are much more usable than the current occupation codes, which appear to be ignored in any case.

It's not that simple - or that difficult

Meaningful representation on the Institute Board requires consideration of more than a member's basic occupation. While it is important to include the perspectives of both those who write, and those who use, construction documents, it is more important to find leaders who are able to think, to lead, and to determine what is important for the organization as a whole.

Communication will be improved by refining member categories. Three categories aren't quite enough, but if the number gets too large, it is likely that several groups would be combined for most purposes. The six proposed groups are a good compromise, and will serve us better than the three we now use.

There is no perfect solution, but the proposed changes will help the Institute Nominating Committee to choose the best candidates, and will make it easier to target communication to specific recipients. And, by removing mandatory representation based on a single criterion, it will be easier to respond to changes in membership and needs of the Board. Yes, we must consider the needs of large groups of members, but we also must have the flexibility to respond to changes as they occur, without the need to poll the members every time there is a change in those groups.


  1. My problem is how will the occupation codes be used by the Nominating Committee? Is there any directives? Any requirements? Any guidelines? Having the occupation groups information available to the Nominating Committee doesn't necessarily mean anything unless we are assured that the information will be used to maintain a balanced representation of the various elements of the industry on the Board. We cannot rely on the discussion of today regarding the bylaw amendment vote to provide guidance for a nominating committee 10-15 years from now.

    As I have stated many times, I believe that ensuring that the Board includes representation of the various elements of industry is crucial to CSI. This is what is unique about CSI that anyone related to the industry may be a “member” – not an associate or similar lower class member, but a regular full member. This puts us in the unique situation of being able to deal with industry-wide issues and problems within our membership. All viewpoints are available within the membership. You cannot be derogatory about some other participant without someone representing that viewpoint coming back with a response. It is just as important to have that varied representation on many of our committees and task teams.

    During my long varied career I have been a member of the design team, the owner team, and the contractor team. I can testify that you have to “have been there” to really understand what it is like to be in those positions. You make think you understand the position of someone on another team, but your depth of understanding will always be limited unless you have had to perform in that position.

    Does Integrated Project Development (IPD) change this? I don’t think so. The four different positions are still there under a different contractual arrangement meant to dramatically improve the cooperation among them. To me it is even more critical to hear and understand the positions and opinions of the others in order to have a high-performing cooperative team.

    In most other construction industry organizations it is “we” versus “them.” “All our problems would be solved if “they” did the right thing and treated us the way we should be treated.”

    To be continued.

  2. Continuation

    To make this work in CSI we must ensure that all the voices of the industry will be able to express their opinions and make suggestions on how to solve industry-wide problems. Our present membership classification system provides a tool to partially accomplish this with a bylaw requirement requiring Board membership of both professional and industry members. It is a step in the right direction, but it is in reality quite limited. The industry member representation is dominated by product reps with not nearly as much constructor representation. There is no assurance that owners will be represented, though that does happen.

    The PRM refers to the Owner Team, the Design Team, the Contractor Team, and the Supplier Team – these are the four main categories of people/organizations involved in the design/construct/maintain process. Four of the proposed six occupation groups relate very closely to those four teams – Facility Operations, Design Occupations, Construction Operations, and Product Occupations. I think this could be a big improvement over the existing system. We will now have a simple tool to use to ensure that we maintain the representation of the various elements of the industry on the Board.

    Why not come up with a requirement that those four occupation groups have a minimum representation on the Board? A very minimum requirement would be that each of the four groups have at least one representative on the Board or something similar. This would ensure that we would continue to have a Board that has a representation of all the various elements. Having an occupation requirement on four members out of 18 is not very restrictive in terms of nominating people well qualified to serve on the Board. If it was thought that having at least one representative from the Facility Operations and/or the Construction Operations groups was too restrictive because of the smaller membership base; the requirement could be reduced to a representative on the Board every second or third year. It seems obvious to me that a minimum requirement can be made that will not be too restrictive to provide candidates who will complement other members of the board, and provides a balance of the experience and expertise required to lead the organization.

    Where should such a requirement reside? My preference would be a bylaw requirement, but I know that it is too late to make that part of this bylaw amendment vote. I think I could accept it is a Board Policy requirement if it included a requirement that any revisions to that policy requirement and reasons for the change will be made known to the membership in an Institute website announcement and in the other means of communication to the membership regularly used by the Institute. In that way the membership would be assured of knowing that the requirement was in place.

  3. From the 2011-2015 Strategic Plan:

    Collaboration and knowledge sharing across the building team is central to CSI’s value proposition. This helps to define CSI’s brand and is a critical strategic driver of its success. For maximum impact, CSI’s strategic initiatives should leverage the diverse nature of its membership and reinforce its unique role among members of the construction industry.

  4. Is the most important part of that "diverse nature" a member's occupation? Is one's perspective determined by occupation or member classification?

    If that is so, a one-time industry member would be a poor professional member, and a one-time professional member could not be a good industry member.

    On the other hand, if perspective is not determined by member classification - if members are able to consider things that are not part of their occupations - member classification is not valid as the most important factor in determining eligibility to serve on the Board.

    To say that member classification is the most important consideration is to say that members are robots, whose thoughts are predetermined by their jobs. I have a higher opinion of our members than that.

    If anything, it seems a member who had been both a professional member and an industry member would have a better view of issues. I know one member who served on three of the "four teams" and was an excellent president; perhaps we should nominate only those members who have been in both classifications. ;-)

    Isn't it better to search first for candidates who have the best leadership qualities and the most valuable experience, and who represent a variety of many perspectives, including occupation as one of the important perspectives?

    Statistically, with a Board of eighteen, it is highly unlikely that there would be no members now classified as professional, or none classified as industry or associate. If it did happen, it most likely would be because one group or the other was not interested in participating.

    For the conspiracy theorists: It would be difficult to rig the Board, as ten of the members are nominated by the regions, and only eight by the Institute nominating committee, and only half the offices are elected each year. A plot to load the Board would require cooperation of the Institute nominating committee and all region nominating committees. And, as I have asked before, "To what end?" (See the post with that title on this blog.)

  5. Fascinating thread folks. May I interject a couple of thoughts since I worked with Sheldon and some other very thoughtful people in putting together the recommended changes to the bylaws? Please remember that I raised many of the concerns that Bob Johnson has voiced at the start of this process, including in our LinkedIn discussion several months back.
    1. In our discussion there was general agreement that the wording used in categorizing members was deficient at best and that finding consensus for new naming protocols would be problematic; someone would find a way to be offended if they wished. There was great care in not ‘throwing out the baby with the bathwater’ when considering the wording of the bylaws in the amendment.
    2. Among the most important positive aspects of using member designations was the 'Balanced Board' concept. Interaction with the Nominating Committee brought about the realization that, while maintaining balance was part of the criteria in selecting candidates, it was only one of many. The Committee was aware of the validity, and importance, of this requirement but also was finding that many other important criteria, not included in their current official charge, were lacking. In fact the balance currently being sought is intricate and complex, considering more factors than can be included in the bylaws without collapsing under its own weight. Our discussions yielded the same conclusion that Bob came up with; it must be by means of a directive from the Board, not the bylaws, to ensure that the Nominations Committee receive clear direction as to the balance of the Board. I have yet to hear anyone on the Board, the Nominations Committee, or our Task Team disagree with the belief that a balanced Board must be considered a core value. So far there has been consensus by everyone I’ve spoken with.
    3. I was surprised to learn that the Nominations Committee doesn’t use most of the information included on our membership applications other than our classifications. I was also surprised to see, during a random viewing of several Chapter rosters, that many members had failed to classify themselves correctly. The negative feedback I’ve heard from these members, regardless of classification, was that they weren’t sure how to classify themselves based on the application form. I believe that some people will be relieved if this amendment passes.
    4. As to those who search using the current member classifications, there are many ways that members can continue to list themselves (see the 6 classifications included in the recommendation). Certainly Bob’s suggestion has merit; our group discussed the possibility of just using 4 classifications based on The Building Team but found the need to add ‘Academic’ and ‘Related’ Occupations to round out the field. After all, CSI is all-inclusive.
    5. Our diminishing membership is a significant concern. Reinforcing the feeling that all of our members are truly equal seems to be appealing to many regardless of classification. In fact the perception of hierarchy seems to hurt us more than help us.
    6. ‘Keeping It Simple’ was another consideration when reviewing and modifying our Bylaws. There are many requirements currently in our Bylaws which seem to be better suited to Board policy. The effort made in presenting this amendment considered that as well.

    I’m hoping that, with this issue put to bed, greater focus can be spent on bringing in those who are poorly represented such as developers and constructors, even (dare I say it) attorneys and insurance folks. This needs more of our focus. With the changes we are facing in our industry, more diversity can make us stronger. I hope people will agree that this is a better strategy than trying to strengthen our more traditional bloodlines.

  6. Sheldon: "To say that member classification is the most important consideration is to say that members are robots, whose thoughts are predetermined by their jobs."

    Who has said that member classification is the most important consideration? Certainly not me. There are multiple important considerations in choosing a leader.

    No one is saying that all design professionals, owners, suppliers, or contractors think alike - what a world that would be! But each of the participants looks upon and participates in the design/construction/maintain process from a different perspective. You only have to attend an AIA and a AGC meeting to understand that very quickly (as Sheldon noted I have experienced both in my career). The only way to fully understand those different viewpoints is to have experienced those roles. This again is one of the unique characteristics of CSI to have all of those diferent viewpoints available within the organization. Not to ensure that those different viewpoints are not represented adequately on our govening board is a major mistake.

    I don't think that ensuring a minimum representation (didn't recommend balanced repesentation) of an 18-member board is going to be a hindrance to finding people with a variety of perspectives and good leadership qualities.

  7. Ken: "I have yet to hear anyone on the Board, the Nominations Committee, or our Task Team disagree with the belief that a balanced Board must be considered a core value. So far there has been consensus by everyone I’ve spoken with."

    What is needed is not the lack of disagreement but something in a long-lasting policy/directive that ensures that it will happen, not only now but 10-15 years from now. What the nomination committee understands today may not be the case 10-15 years from now.

    "Certainly Bob’s suggestion has merit; our group discussed the possibility of just using 4 classifications based on The Building Team but found the need to add ‘Academic’ and ‘Related’ Occupations to round out the field. After all, CSI is all-inclusive."

    I think the 6 classifications are very good - better than any other proposal I have seen. I just think that the 4 classifications representing the project team are the ones that it is important to have a minimum representation of on the board. Certainly not against having educators and related others being on the board.

    If I saw a statement from the board that they were going to include a minimum representation requirement in Board Policy, then I would be inclined to vote for this amendment. Without such a statement, I will vote against it.

  8. Bob, I wouldn't have heartburn over the policy you suggested, which would require one representative from the two largest groups. But when you set a minimum based on a single criterion, it does mean that one thing is more important than anything else!

    I agree that, with the size of the board, a couple of mandatory seats probably wouldn't be an obstacle. Carrying that a step further, it would be unlikely that even without mandatory representation, we would have it. With eighteen members, it's hard to imagine that we won't have at least one person from the design side and one from the producers side. I'd like to see more contractors, but I wouldn't want to set a minimum.

  9. Sorry, Bob, I don't think I got that right. If I recall correctly, it was to have one designer, one supplier, and a third alternating between owner and constructor. Is that right?

  10. Ideally it would be great to have a minimum of one each from design, supplier, contractor, and owner teams. Based on their lower membership numbers, it is probably necessary to reduce the requirement for contractors and owners but still have some minimum requirement.

    Having the Board Policy include a mininum occupational requirement does not preclude the Board Policy from having any other requirements or recommendations and does not make that requirement the most important. It may be the only requirement that can be quantified.