Digital in B2B and traditional industries and sectors
Freestyle founder and new business director Alan Cooper explains why traditional business sectors needn’t be left behind in the world of digital B2B.
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at CIMSPA…
A: I'm Spencer Moore, Director of Strategy for CIMSPA. We are the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity. I have responsibility for short, medium and long term strategy and direction of CIMSPA. Day-to-day, I look after our Education Standards and Policy team, Digital Strategy team, Project Management team as well as Governance and Infrastructure.
Q: Can you tell us a bit more about CIMSPA Itself, what do you do?
A: We're a professional body, so like any other professional body we are also a membership body with two broad remits. The first arm sets the regulations and standards for the sector around education and training, the kind of standards for deployment, CPD policies and so on. We are really starting to drive professionalism and get those standards and policies embedded in the sector.
The second arm that we have is a membership arm. We provide membership services to a range of people. Our sector is really, really broad; it goes from health and fitness to community sport. We have elite sport, health and wellbeing and outdoor education. Anybody who works in that space, either in a front line role, in a supportive role or a managerial role, are all eligible for membership within our organisation. In total our sector has about 500,000 people. 300,000 of them are eligible for our membership. It's pretty broad and wide ranging, which is great but brings its own challenges.
Q: Can you explain some more around what makes CIMSPA's responsibility so complex?
A: Whilst we are one sector, our biggest problem is probably the culture, the experience and it’s background. Within our sector, all of those areas are six separate industries. For example, in health and fitness there is a culture and a history of standards and regulations and qualifications, less so in maybe health. We're creating new jobs and new qualifications.
In community sport you can imagine there's a huge volunteering element to it. Whilst we don't deal with the volunteers, there are five million of them, so there's a different cultural nuance that goes on there. The sector is split up, and they all have their own nuances that we have to work within. You also have some really big leisure providers that we work with, that actually employ people in each of those different bits of our sector as well. Trying to manage each individual sector and then big businesses that go across all the sectors makes it difficult.
We also have a higher education endorsement scheme, so it's not only just the breath, it's the scope. We literally go from student to CEO. The needs of each of those, and the stages they are in within their career and what kind of services and support they need from us vary massively as well. That's just one area of our membership. We have partner members as well: universities, colleges, training providers, awarding bodies and employer partners; there are six partnerships that all underpin the individual areas. The inter-relationships and the complexities of how they all join together, and to try and standardise that across a single sector, is challenging at times.
Q: What is the scale of CIMSPA?
A: We're currently 43 strong. I've been there six years and at the time, we had 900 members and seven people working for us. In those six years we have managed to grow to 43 members of staff and just under 20,000 members. It's quite a rapid growth, as well as trying to service the whole sector at the same time.
Q: How do you manage all of the complexities within the different audience types?
A: We've been successful by undertaking a "leading by listening" approach. We spend a lot of time understanding the problems, operating more by treating the causes than the symptoms. If we really start to understand the causes, it actually narrows down the issues that we have to deal with. We start to get a level of commonality. Each respective part of our sector thinks they're different, and our sector as a whole actually thinks it is fundamentally different to any other sector. Once you actually listen and you understand you get behind the problems, you realise that there's probably half a dozen common sets of problems that we're dealing with. If I give you an example, we don't have a clear policy on what is "qualified and competent". There are lots of urban rumours. People make things up, the insurance isn't quite clear either. One of the big jobs is setting those professional standards and starting to set that policy so that everybody is really, really clear. This is something everybody's asked us to do across the whole sector, from student to CEO, because once we've identified that, the next problem is getting into the sector and moving through it. We can start creating career maps and career ladders. Then it's, "what's the mechanism for me to move through the sector and into the sector?". We then start to look toward the education training provision.
There's some really three, four, five big boulders that we’ve got across all of the issues. We're more looking at systemic change rather than interventionless change. I think if we can rebuild or remodel the system at the back end, then actually, a lot of the symptoms that we're seeing or being challenged with will contribute toward a very long-term strategy. If we hadn't have taken that approach, you can imagine we'd have been running around trying to put fires out all over the place and they would have just been springing up everywhere else. I think we just have to really pare back the issue and really understand the problem that we're trying to fix.
Q: In 6 years, do you think your audiences’ needs have changed or do you think they were always the same?
A: I think they've always been there. I've been around the sector for 20-odd years and the same symptoms have always been there. Therefore, what the audience wants and what they need has always been there. I think what they've never had is a chartered institute.
With a chartered institute comes a chart and a statute, a level of power and regulation to do things. Having an instrument to actually do all of these things has never been there. I think the needs have always been there, we just never had the wherewithal to actually make a difference and make those changes that the sector has been crying out for. In terms of the last year with the pandemic, we see a lot of membership organisations struggling to retain their membership, struggling to continue to be relevant to their members.
Q: What have you seen in terms of consequences of the pandemic, particularly on the membership side?
A: We've been actually quite lucky. I will give praise to our CEO who called it very, very early. We actually locked down early, probably a month before everybody else did. We literally pivoted the business. Our CEO said, "this is going to hit the sector hard, it's gonna hit the UK hard". She's one of the few people that did predict this is going to go on for a long time, she said “this could be a year, at the end of it, we need to be relevant”. We literally paused our strategy and pivoted the whole team. We restructured the team overnight and came up with this concept of ‘Stronger Together’, which was much more of a philanthropic approach and through leading by listening we went out early. We’re speaking to our members, we’re putting out surveys. We asked ourselves “what's the issue? What are we trying to solve?”. Factors like the lack of money for self-employed, people not understanding the furlough scheme, not understanding all of the policies and not understanding the latest guidance from the government; very early on, we started to get a feel of what the sector actually needed.
We pivoted the business and basically provided those services. Every time the government makes an announcement, we're right at the forefront, we're talking to DCMS (Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) , we're getting the interpretation. We were able to publish the guidance in layman's language within 24 hours. We'd then hold a Facebook seminar and go through the guidance and we ask questions. It's made us more relevant. Our profile in the sector has never been bigger, which has allowed us to probably stay steady with membership. We've lost some, and that's understandable. There are estimates that 20-30% of people had actually left our sector, that has a knock on effect.
We pivoted and kept ourselves relevant. The buzzwords that I haven't used yet, but I'll probably be using from now on, is that we've added value. We added value to the whole sector. Suddenly people who didn't know about us went "oh my God. I can't live without you, you've done a great job". We've been filling up with as many new members as we've been losing. We've been fairly steady and I think it's giving us a new way of thinking, of moving forward. Again, we want to take what we've learned in terms of that approach, in terms of how we can build on that. How can we support the sector getting back on its feet and then make that relevant?
We built a Facebook group from zero to over 5000 inside in a matter of months and it keeps growing. It's now suddenly become a real key communication forum for us despite we've never used it before. How do we grasp webinars? How do we keep that engagement going? It's been a great learning exercise for us but I think we've come out of it pretty strong.
Q: How have your communication channels changed, have you adopted more digital techniques?
A: Yes, I would say so. I'd say we've had a greater emphasis on social media. Facebook has probably been our biggest win. At some points, we were running weekly webinars for different partners, and we're going to continue to do monthly webinars. We have always been pretty strong on our Twitter and social media, but again I'd say our digital communications has advanced. It's an area where, based on what we've learned, we're going to really feel we need to invest further into that area and grow our capability and capacity to do more.
Q: What's your focus for this year?
We are funded by Sport England, who are sort of the sports council. As we're a UK body we work across all of the areas but we get some significant funding from Sport England and they have just launched their new 10 year strategy. The next year is basically to "reinvent", it's to "come back stronger". It's all about recovering the sector, ready to bounce forward.
Looking as a sector, how do we get the members coming back? How do we get the facilities back open? How do we give confidence back to the public? Our role, as sort of the workforce leading the sector, is figuring out what elements people play in that. We already have a free COVID online CPD training that we make available, it's about keep pushing that out. It's working to try and get more training qualifications out there. As I said, we probably have lost 20% of our workforce, again, how do we fill that tank back up again? How do we galvanise that training sector? It is literally “recover and reinvent”. I think that there is a determination across the sector to learn the lessons and make sure that we are not as fragile as we were and try and become more resilient... Look at what's worked well, reinvent and do things differently. There's definitely an entrepreneurial innovation feel to the next 12 months as well.
Q: It sounds like the next phase for you is less one of pushing the new accreditations and the chartered status and more about achieving normality, do you agree?
A: Yeah, absolutely. It's going to be interesting in terms of a work programme. It's almost given us 12 months grace to, actually, look at all of those products and services, and some of them are on the verge of being launched. I probably had about five projects that we were going to be pressing go last year that are just sat there ready. It's enabling us to finesse them a little bit more and go back and run a few more pilots. We're still going to be working on those types of things but most of our focus will be on sector recovery and supporting it, the individuals that work there and, once we get ourselves back on our feet, to bounce back stronger with a lot more exciting accreditations and start drive chartered membership. At the moment the focus is to get the sector open and get it back on its feet again.
Q: With your relationship with Sport England and the fact that you're both waiting on governmental guidelines about what happens, how are you able to react to changes you cannot predict?
A: That's been something we've learned. We are pivoting frantically and the issue is, especially in physical activity, the home nations all have different guidance as well. Our comms team are constantly aware that every time Boris speaks we have to make sure, and know, what are the implications, and then Nicola Sturgeon speaks or the Welsh government speaks. Pivoting constantly is going to be key and responding to those changes, lobbying and making sure our message is heard has been a real key piece of work that we have helped support. It's not just CIMSPA, we've had Sport England, UK Active and others. What we've also found is that as a collective, an eclectic landscape of partners or policy makers are coming together to provide that “Stronger together“ front and lobby government. That's been a real big learning exercise for the sector. So if we do come together, and we speak with one voice then we can be heard as well. I think that's something we want to, as a sector, carry on with.
Q: When lockdown ends, Spencer Moore, what's the first thing you do?
A: Go on holiday, I think. Or take the dogs down to the coast, I'm very boring, I've got quite a simple life, but we do enjoy walking our dogs on the coast. We live in the middle of the country. Getting out to North Yorkshire or the East Coast or somewhere like that and just spending a few days is probably the thing I'm looking forward to most.