Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Council Agenda - Part 1

In various reports, Council Links, EQ columns and blog postings over the years, I have made regular mention of the topics under discussion at the Council table. I thought it might be worth an electronic word or twenty to explain how those topics are chosen and how we go about discussing them.

To begin with, how do we decide what to talk about? Well, there are two types of topic on the Council agenda…

Because Council is charged with governing the association responsibly, year in and year out, there are a large number of recurring topics. For instance, it wouldn’t do to ignore the financial health of our RRSP funds and only review them after a problem became evident. In fact, all aspects of the work of Equity get reviewed every year. That way, we can identify issues while they are still small and address them proactively, rather than getting stuck wondering what just hit us.

Ad Hoc
For (almost*) everything else we rely on the “Request for Council Action”, a short agenda proposal. The RCA is the first step to being added to our “emerging issues” list, Council’s version of “new business”. It is most frequently used by Councillors or regional advisories to suggest a topic for inclusion on our agenda, but all members in good standing have access to it. At each meeting, Council reviews any recently received RCAs, and votes on whether it agrees to devote agenda time and member resources to an exploration of the topic.

Thus, filing an RCA is not a guarantee that the topic will be added to the formal agenda, but the odds are high. Of the close to 200 submitted in the last 9 years, only a handful were declined. In some cases, Council decided that, while the topic could certainly be fodder for a stimulating discussion, the issue was well beyond Equity’s ability to influence and the agenda time could be more profitably used for other matters. In most other cases, the topic is already covered off by existing policy, and the RCA is passed to the Executive Director for direct action.

When Council accepts or declines an RCA, either the President or another Councillor will get back to the initiating member or group so that they know what happened to the request. The President then schedules the topic for discussion in a future agenda, balancing the time-sensitivity of the matter with all the other things that we may have previously scheduled for discussion. At any point in time, Council typically has four or five modest-size topics on its agenda, and one or two major ones.

*Back to that asterisk. There is one other method of placing something on the Council agenda, and that is a member resolution passed at the National AGM. This is a legacy option, retained from the days when it was really the only opportunity for a member at large to propose a topic for the Council agenda.

There are several drawbacks to the resolution approach: you have to know the option exists (few do); it only happens once a year; it requires a quorum and sufficient support to pass at the NAGM; and it is most effective if presented in person, which means travelling to the location of the meeting. 

In contrast, the RCA form is accessible online year round, any member in good standing can submit one, and proposals are reviewed at every Council meeting. At one point, we debated getting rid of the resolution process entirely, but in the end decided to keep it because there was no harm in retaining it as an additional option.

And that’s what it takes to get a topic on the agenda. The next step is the discussion itself, and I’ll deal with that in a future post.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Insurance review focus groups begin

As announced earlier, Leger Marketing, working with Equity Council, is conducting a series of six focus groups on members' insurance needs.

There will be two in-person groups in Toronto on September 23, and two in-person groups in Vancouver on September 27. One teleconference group each will be held for the eastern regions and for the prairie regions on September 29. The purpose of these focus groups is to lay the groundwork for a structured survey later this fall, to be broadly administered throughout the membership at large.

Over the next week, recruiters working with Leger will be calling a random selection of members from across the country to be part of one of these groups. If you are contacted, please consider participating. The hour or so you spend helping us out in this first phase will go a long way toward ensuring that we are able to collect a full set of meaningful and useful statistics in the later survey work.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Service Standards

A large part of the work handled by Equity can be regarded as customer service. Negotiating an agreement only takes up a few months, once every three years. However, the administration of it happens dozens of times each day, year-round, every year. The Association also handles dues and financial benefits on behalf of its members, including insurance and and RRSP services. In addition, we regularly connect up with theatres, as thousands of contracts are arranged.

All these activities, and more, involve numerous member and engager interactions, some very brief and some quite extended. Four years ago, Council implemented policy to ensure that customer service of this sort met basic privacy and accessibility requirements.

At its meeting in August, and based on member feedback, Council voted to take that policy a step further: implementing published service standards.

It's worth having some sense of the context in which this change has been made. Based on the latest annual data from the office, the Business Rep department alone:
  • reviews nearly 14,000 contracts for over 2,000 productions
  • receives and sends over 12,000 emails
  • spends around 450 hours on the phone 
The overwhelming majority of these interactions are positive and productive. But when one occurs that is not, that's when Councillors hear about it. And that's when the local CPAG members hear about it. And that's when everyone else in the green room hears about it. A single bad experience can echo so far and for so long, that it ends up sounding like a chorus of common occurrence.

It isn't. Weeding out duplicate reports and retelling by others, complaints turn out to be comparatively few in number. In the first year of last term, I put my email address absolutely everywhere, and when I got my first customer service complaint, I started a special email folder for those. I just looked: four years now and they average three per year.

I'll be the first to say it: a couple of the complaints were quite troubling, and on several others we could definitely have done better. There are unquestionably some complaints that didn't make it to me, and there are almost certainly several that didn't make it beyond the green room. However, considered in the context of many thousands of interactions per year, and thousands of members and engagers, a handful per year is a pretty good average.

Council is interested in improving that average. We recognise that, while the typical number of customer service issues is very small, a single customer service problem can be a real show-stopper – pun fully intended.

In the next few months, Equity will implement formal, published standards in the areas of timelines for response to communication, timelines for provision of services, knowledgeable response to inquiry, and courteous treatment. Most complaints centre on one or another of these four issues.

We know that in most cases these standards will be redundant, as they are already being handily met. But by publishing them, the Association makes an unequivocal statement of the level of service which members and others have a right to expect in their dealings with us. They provide the organisation itself with a benchmark for its work, and if we should fail to meet the standard, provide the member or other person with an obvious metric for expressing their dissatisfaction.

The policy change to implement the standards was passed at the most recent meeting. The service standards themselves have yet to be finalised, but they will be published both here and on the main website when they are.

Council knows better than to believe that Equity will never muck up — we're all human too. However, we want to ensure that those occurrences continue to be rare, that we are fully prepared to acknowledge them should they occur, and that we will take every opportunity to learn from mistakes.

As always, we welcome your comment.