Watching the CPA Australia saga play out over the past 6 months or so has been excruciating to watch.  And the cringeworthy announcement overnight of Alex Malley's termination and $4.9m payout will perhaps deservedly dominate the headlines.

Looking more broadly though, for a leading organisation in any field to have allowed such an apparent chasm between leadership and membership to develop is bad enough; but it is staggering for this saga to centre around a leading organisation in a profession where accountability and stewardship are both taught and insisted upon as core values.

If the role of the organisation is for a narrow purpose, say, lobbying Government and other stakeholders to promote members' causes, the task may be simpler.  But positioning membership organisations with broader objectives like CPA Australia can be difficult: there are many stakeholders with varying objectives, sometimes that even conflict with each other.  And there is the further complicating factor of ensuring that there is meaningful representation for all membership whose involvement may range from periodic "opt in" (like a gym or club) to heavy continual engagement with the organisation and its programmes.

Such organisations should consider how features like the following are evident:

  • the vision is to be the leading organisation in their field: a leading position will attract membership, promote mutual engagement and may help resolve conflicting objectives
  • the vision and plan to execute was developed through strong engagement with members and stakeholders across diverse interests
  • the organisation structure promotes execution of the plan
  • management is active in presenting opportunities for membership involvement across the organisation structure (from the Board down) in a way that promotes diversity of thought & member perspectives as well as succession
  • governance is strong.  Any organisation cannot sustain a leading position without this.  This includes processes around determining and disclosing remuneration of the Board, the CEO and Senior Management
  • leadership (the Board, the CEO & Senior Management) communicate transparently, whether things go right or things don't go to plan.  They are accountable to the members and their vision and plan.  Leadership's continued role may even be subject to its effective execution
  • the organisation's processes provide channels for feedback and active listening by leadership

Based on how the CPA Australia saga played out in mainstream and social media channels, they obviously got a lot of this very wrong.  They will survive but it will take a long time for the new leadership to repair the organisation's relationship with members and their overall reputation. 

And as a final note: the reporting suggests that CPA's were obliged to make the $4.9m payment to Mr Malley.  Philanthropic application of this amount by Mr Malley will encourage those who lost confidence in his leadership