Thursday, 23 July 2015

Taking the Class out of our Classification System

Rotary International President K.R. Ravindran’s speech to District Governors Elect at the International Assembly in San Diego earlier this year included the following quote:

“I believe that we have to find a way to bring back the fundamentals that built our organization: the emphasis on high ethical standards in all aspects of our lives, and the classification system that encourages a diversity of expertise in each club.”

I have always believed the intent of our classification system was to ensure diversity within our ranks. So I'm not about to question the intent of our classification system, but I am about to question the way it is often interpreted and applied when recruiting members into our clubs, some of which hold up our classification system as some sort of benchmark, and even a barrier to entry.

The average millennial (born between 1977 and 1997, now aged between 18 & 38) is expected to have 15 – 20 jobs over their working life. Can you comprehend how absurd our classification system
must appear to our next generation of Rotarians?

I want to introduce a term that I will be using in recruitment conversations this year, and that term is “Vocational Diversity”. The way I see it, our classification system seems to identify a horizontal plane of professions into which Rotary wants us pigeon-holed. Picture if you will, a line of professions: Doctor, Architect, Teacher, Retailer, Public Servant, Accountant, Police Officer. It’s true that many of us do already fit into one of these or similar professional groups, or what Rotary calls “classifications”. 

But now I want you to think of a vertical line, which better describes the stage you are at in your career, than the career itself. That line may include student, apprentice, employee, supervisor, manager, CEO, self-employed and retiree. It might even include “stay-at-home parent”. We also have representatives of all of these groups within our ranks, but the Rotary classification system struggles to cope with this method of identification, which is why I think “Vocational Diversity” is a more contemporary concept. I see the classification system solely as one of horizontal diversity, but if we want to grow into a truly diverse organisation, I feel we need to be far more accommodating of diversity on that vertical plane as well.

I recently conducted a club membership survey across the district, and included a question on the employment status of members. The result is the pie chart pictured. One of the myths we happily peddle is that Rotary is an organisation of CEOs and powerful business people. The statistics would suggest in fact that we are an organisation of retirees, although it’s reasonable to assume that some of those retirees were once from big business.

Retirees are an extremely valuable group within our organisation. They have more spare time to contribute and the life experience to act as mentors to our younger members, but they often lack the current business and professional networks to further our recruitment efforts. Executives, CEOs and managers of big business seem to lack that available time to contribute to Rotary. Perhaps the best lesson to learn from this is that rather than targeting specific groups such as executives and “big business”, we would be better off targeting the sort of people that will make the best Rotarians, i.e. recruit on personality type and motivation, rather than employment status.

I would like to leave you with a quote from another organisation that we Rotarians could learn from: “We define our leaders by the way we think, not by our title.”