CFA Institute

Industry

Association

Size

Over 142,000 members

Location

Charlottesville, VA

We knew right up front that we wanted everyone to feel a part of strategy. People needed to internalize our mission and commit to the energy in our new strategy… Great strategy discussions can inspire and engage people to accomplish great things.

Barbara Higgins

Chief Planning Officer

To put its new mission into action, the CFA Institute created a strategic change agenda that clearly and simply showed the strategic shifts the organization would have to make. Then the strategic planning team held intensive facilitated workshops for employees—just as it had done for leaders and board members—to get them on board, aligned, and energized. The results? In planners’ own words: “phenomenal.”

Founded in 1947, the CFA Institute educates and certifies investment professionals worldwide through its Certified Financial Analyst program. Following the ethical breaches and vulnerabilities in the financial system exposed in the economic crisis, the CFA Institute was mandated to take a proactive role in emphasizing ethical behavior and helping restore public trust as it began work on updating its long-term strategy.

Onboarding Stakeholders

When the Institute embarked on this effort, members of the strategic planning team understood they would need the complete support and buy in of the board and leadership team, and they could not expect the change to take root without involving employees as active participants.

So, the team established a systematic process for gathering and assessing input from every stakeholder segment. The team held focus groups with the leadership team, surveyed CFA members, and canvassed volunteers and staff for input. The leadership team deliberated over the extensive findings and distilled their strategic focus.

Now it was time to get staff on board. They invited work groups to participate in facilitated sessions to help people understand the strategy and the organization’s goals.

Each group created a purpose statement that aligned with the CFA Institute’s overarching mission statement and worked on their own shift chart. By involving people in defining and prioritizing their plans, people became invested in the strategic change agenda and empowered to execute.

Integrating Adaptions

ClearPoint has played an important part in advancing the strategy, helping the organization integrate its scorecard, change agenda, workplans, and multi-year, high-level metrics. The system provides the ability to easily create customized outputs for leaders without having to rely on internal IT resources for development.

The journey is far from over, but from the outset, CFA Institute leaders were familiar with the literature insisting that strategy and operations be aligned. “We knew right up front that we wanted everyone to feel a part of strategy. People needed to internalize our mission.” says Higgins. “Great strategy discussions can inspire and engage people to accomplish great things.”

The Whole Story

It’s a broader, bolder, bigger aim.  The newly forged mission of the CFA Institute is to raise the standards of ethics, education, and excellence for the investment profession “for the ultimate benefit of society.” Underpinned by the organization’s carefully crafted strategic change agenda, this mission is now in full swing.

Founded in 1947, the CFA Institute educates and certifies investment professionals worldwide. It has more than 500 employees in four offices around the world, 138 societies in 60 countries, and more than 114,000 members, most of them CFA charter holders.  Currently, more than 220,000 investment professionals are candidates in its Certified Financial Analyst program, working to earn the investment industry’s premier educational designation.

The CFA program curriculum emphasizes ethical practices, and CFA Institute members must sign an annual pledge to adhere to the Institute’s Code of Ethics. Members do not take this commitment lightly, either. The ethical breaches in the financial industry and the vulnerabilities in the financial system exposed in the global financial crisis clearly concerned them. Their strong response, through an annual survey, became a mandate for the CFA Institute to take a proactive role in emphasizing ethical behavior and help restore public trust. This emphasis also became the organization’s rallying cry in 2011, as it began work on updating its long-term strategy.

When they embarked on this effort, members of the institute’s strategic planning team understood two realities: they would need the complete support and buy in of the board and leadership team.  In addition, they could not expect the change to take root without involving employees as active participants.

The CFA Institute already had a strategy map, which was a model of simplicity. Designed to be clear and memorable, it was enthusiastically adopted by board members and leaders to communicate to the world the institute’s purpose and goals.  The map’s three perspectives—Enablers, Actions, and Outcomes—are each populated with three strategic objectives. Actions—the organization’s core strategy—encompasses education, engagement and ethics. Supporting these are the Enablers (financial strength, global talent, and operational excellence). The two perspectives together serve the CFA Institute’s mission Outcomes:  educated, ethical investment professionals; financial markets that reflect the Institute’s beliefs; and ultimately, global financial markets that serve the public interest.

In the spring of 2011, the institute’s planning team established a systematic process for gathering and assessing input from every stakeholder segment.  The team held focus groups with the board and leadership team, surveyed CFA members, and canvassed volunteers and staff for input. It queried them on their perceptions of the industry environment and on actions that the CFA Institute could take to improve industry performance and reputation.  The team also clarified roles for this process: the board would identify the strategic direction, the leadership team would decide how to get there, and work group teams would develop action plans to align with the new strategy.

The board and leadership team deliberated over the extensive findings and concluded that the organization needed to go “beyond the boundaries,” as Chief Planning Officer Barbara Higgins describes. “We wanted to make a difference in a broader environment—as our mission says, to move toward a financial market system that serves the public interest.” They distilled their strategic focus to what they call the “3 B’s”: have a Broader Mission, have a Bolder Voice, and reach a Bigger Community.

The next step was for board members and leaders to create a strategic change agenda. Higgins and her team borrowed a simple tool used successfully by the FBI (among others) known as the “shift chart” or “change agenda.” Organizations note the current state of their strategy and where they would like to be in the future, listed according to strategy map area. So in the area of Ethics Recognition, for instance, CFA Institute leaders noted the organization is currently seen as a “credible source,” but in the future aims to be a “recognized leader with global relevance.”  In its Ethics voice, it is “conservative” today, but aims to be “bold, inspirational, impactful, and recognized” in the future. Leaders populated the shift chart with objectives for education, engagement, ethics (the core objectives in the Action perspective) and for the three Enablers. “The shift chart,” says Higgins, “was like magic.  People could finally—easily—articulate where they wanted us to go in the future. The vision it created was amazing.”

The new long-term strategy won approval in May 2012. So how exactly would the CFA Institute get to its future state? The team began identifying outcomes that would constitute a work plan within the framework of a three-year future plan. The three-year plan would represent achievable steps toward the more inspirational (and aspirational) 10-year vision.

With its message now clearly articulated and easy to communicate, the CFA Institute invited its members to offer their ideas on how it could rebuild trust in the marketplace, using the ethics issue as a rallying point.  This input was the basis for the “CFA Institute Integrity List: 50 Ways to Restore Trust in the Investment Industry,” which publicly launched the organization’s new focus on its broader mission and strategy.

Now it was time to get staff on board. Higgins and her team replicated the same strategy alignment process that had worked so seamlessly with board members and leaders, adapting the same tools. They invited work groups to participate in one-day facilitated sessions to help people understand the strategy and the organization’s goals. They would cascade the enterprise work plan into activity plans, one for each group.  Sessions were voluntary.  “We wanted to be a resource for those who are ready and motivated to connect to the energy of our new strategy,” Higgins notes.

In breakout groups, each group created a purpose statement that aligned with the CFA Institute’s overarching mission statement. The statement cited an objective, explained its advantage, and defined its scope. Then each group worked on its own shift chart, identifying its current state (“How do we currently serve the organization?”) and future state (“How would we like to operate in the future?”). Groups inventoried existing projects, noting how each one contributed to the overall strategy as defined in the strategy map. This exercise was an eye-opener: most people hadn’t realized how many projects were under way. Immediately, people recognized the need to focus on priorities.  Then groups constructed activity plans, creating measures and targets to gauge progress.

The sessions proved successful beyond the planning team’s wildest expectations. People moved beyond understanding and acceptance. “They recognized this was a positive change, and one they wanted to be a part of,” says Higgins. The results, she says, were “phenomenal.”  By involving people in defining and prioritizing their plans, people became invested in the strategic change agenda—and empowered to execute. As one participant claimed, “I’m now able to connect my job to the company strategy and how I can make a difference.”

With work plans drafted, groups are now in various stages of defining accountability, incorporating the new language and tools into their meetings, and creating one- and three-year plans. Planning documents are being used to create future budgets and plan resource allocation, as well as to share with other work groups. Already the linkage between strategy and budgeting is paying off:  whereas before, departments tried to do the best they could within budget, today they can prioritize for impact.  The marketing division’s 2013 campaign “It Starts with You,” an initiative designed to engage members to advocate for improving industry practices, was facilitated by the new link between strategy, budget, and resource allocation.  Meanwhile, management is working on refining a dashboard, as well as moving forward with enterprise initiatives (notably its high-profile “Future of Finance” project).

ClearPoint has played an important part in advancing the strategy and strategy management, helping the organization integrate its scorecard, change agenda, and workplans. The system provides the ability to easily create customized outputs for leaders and the board without having to rely on internal IT resources for development. The ability to track multi-year, high-level metrics is valuable for strategy and governance discussions.  Higgins notes that regular review of measures isn’t only about showing impact, but also provides a barometer for important changes in the external environment. In that respect, the system enables leaders to stay abreast of change and have the necessary strategic conversations sooner rather than later.

The journey is far from over, but the CFA Institute has made rapid progress in its strategy change agenda. And it has done so with few, if any obstacles, thanks to a unified and active leadership, a clearly defined and disciplined approach, and the active participation of its people.

Might they have done it differently? Higgins has to think hard about that. From the outset, CFA Institute leaders were familiar with all the literature insisting that strategy and operations be aligned—that one will flounder without the other. “We knew right up front that we wanted everyone to feel a part of strategy. People needed to internalize our mission and commit to the energy in our new strategy.“  Strategy, says Higgins, is first and foremost about communication and engagement.  “Great strategy discussions can inspire and engage people to accomplish great things.”

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