IACC's Transformation Story: Being Bold, Agile & Utterly Obvious

IACC's Transformation Story: Being Bold, Agile & Utterly Obvious | MCI Group | Events

Calendar icon October, 12 2020

IACC is a global community of passionate people and companies delivering innovative meeting experiences. The organisation offers certification based on quality standards, networking and education to its membership representing over 375 small to medium sized business event venues worldwide.

As the world evolves, the leadership realised IACC needed rapid and radical change if it wanted to survive. Some of the significant changes included the appointment of the first non-US CEO and the implementation of a series of adaptations along the way such as an inspiring ambassador program. 

Mark Cooper, IACC’s CEO shares with us the radical steps taken towards the association’s successful transformation. 

What are the key elements to take into consideration for transformational change? 

Cooper: You have to be very clear on the situation you are in today before attempting to take a journey of transformational change.  

For us it was critical that we understood we were in a declining situation and the likely, if we didn't have rapid and significant change, that we would continue on that path as the world evolved around us. So radical change was identified.  

The other elements have got to be that you have a leadership and a Board that are respected in terms of their views.  

When you want to evoke change in an Association, you have lots of different opinions. And unless you've got a strong Board and a strong leading president, then, that change will not come about. The other element you have to take into consideration is the need to be globally aware of what is happening out there and the missed opportunities that there are from the current structure that you have.  

You said radical change was identified. Can you specify how you have identified this need for change? Did you survey your members?

Cooper: We did survey our members globally. We also engaged with the leadership and ambassadors to understand their viewpoint.  

We knew from our representation in certain parts of the world that they felt like passengers on a train that was heading in another direction and was very US focused.  

We also knew that everything that was created for the Association communications initiatives would be driven by a strong, well-financed, well intended America's staff and Board and until we changed that focus from a staffing perspective, we were never going to realise or hear the voices of those that could create very successful parts of the Association and in other parts of the world.  

What are the different steps you have taken towards IACC’s successful transformation? 

Cooper: First of all, we had to be bold, as bold as we could be. There were no timid initiatives. We could not leave any off the table, just because we were concerned the naysayers wouldn't sign up. So really, we had to take and build an image of what the perfect global organisation would operate like in five years’ time, what it would need to do to be successful.  

We also had to be utterly obvious. We had to create an incredibly clear destination that everyone could sign up for.  

We had to be vocal in our excitement and use and push those people out front who were well respected in all parts of the world to be showing that they are excited, committed to delivering the change. 

As we were doing all of that, we had to be very maintained as well in our communication. So we had to be careful not to over promise. Always do what we say we're going to do.  

And then we would build that trust if we made our commitment stick. We always explained the stages we were in and communicated every time we had a quick win, this creates the needed excitement. 

In the end, it comes down to having a task force that's fully committed behind the cause, that is willing to step up in front of their peers and say, “you're wrong”.  

The previous CEO had been in his role for 26 years, so there was a huge and very strong culture heritage that we had to consider seriously. We brought back those involved in the association who had since retired. We brought them altogether in New York, engaged with them and got them excited about the organisation’s transformation. Their highly respected influence and presence in the room had a positive impact on the current members.  

You want to discover more about our services? Discover our services

Can you share more about your ambassadors’ program and how you selected them? 

Cooper: We identified the 20 most critical people, members and industry leaders, to bring them on board with the vision to be our influencers and ambassadors, and then we spent careful time with them. Just keeping them up to date, asking their opinion, asking their advice, although they were not the driver for change directly, they had a voice in the industry. 

We carefully selected the ones that would confidently speak up if we had a debate at a conference about changing the Association to becoming more global. Some of these debates were very tough because we had a community that were vocal, because they cared, so you have to be thoroughly prepared with data, with the picture and with the reasons why the organisation needed radical change. 

Name one key factor in your transformation?  

Cooper: An important part of the success here is that we provided interpretation and meaning behind every action throughout that transformation journey.  

It's almost like we were prepared with every decision that we made and communicated about it. It wasn’t about individuals right or wrong, it was about recognising this fantastic opportunity to build on 30 years of success and be even more successful.  

What adaptations IACC had to do in that process (structural, business model, culture, vision…)?

Cooper: We had to adapt the structural and business model change of the organisation. Representation used to be based on the number of members and chapters we had in each continent and we changed that very early on in the review to a global Board that was equally represented. 

We then undertook a review of the governance structure. We created a clear license between the global organisation and the chapters, protecting the intellectual property. All of the key Global Services initiatives that would be undertaken that needed to have global presence or global perspective were retained by the global organisation and the chapters then took on their own activities. 

The staffing model was also one area that required a rethinking. As a newly appointed CEO and the first non US CEO, it was critical for me to understand very quickly if we could achieve what we needed to do with our current staff and evaluate the alternatives around that.  

So we looked at an AMC model and we also looked at retaining our current staff. We did have to be nimble, that was critical, and the AMC provided us this opportunity.  

Were you looking at a new profile type to support IACC’s transformation? 

Cooper: We are an Association in the hospitality industry, so our members are all incredibly relationship driven. Our structure had too much of a divide between staff and operational competence as opposed to personalities. That structure didn't work for us, so we changed our model.  

Nobody knows whether it's the right or wrong model. However, what I can say is that this year with the huge disruption to our industry this new model has allowed us to move incredibly quickly. We could stop the services under contract that were no longer relevant with a view to bring them back again when we wanted to.

We could move responsibilities around those involved that we needed to maintain, and we could just drastically reduce our financial commitments where we have a more flexible and agile solution.  

Today, we continue to be nimble. We don't have a physical HQ and the Association has grown in the last seven years to the point that Europe is now as large as the Americas, which has never been the case before. We've reached a number of our goals, and now we are much stronger.  

In three words, what is IACC’s new normal? 

Cooper: Agile. Focused. Supportive. 

Is your association struggling to keep up with the current fast-changing environment and are you in need of some professional advice?

Our association experts have designed F.A.S.T., a 12-week virtual consulting programme to help your association stay relevant, effective and agile. Click here to find out more.


karine desbant

karine desbant
Karine Desbant

Global Marketing & Communication Manager - Association Market

Send me a message



Subscribe to the latest news & insights

The text you enter here is displayed at the end of the form.