Approximately 200 volunteer leaders actively participated in the inaugural IFT Strategic Leadership Forum in March in Chicago, Ill. These members engaged in strategic dialogs and leadership development activities over three days to help shape IFT’s future and the next generation of IFT’s leaders.
Attendees included Section and Division Councilors, past and present IFT Presidents, student leaders, members of the Board of Directors (formerly called Executive Committee), and members of the Task Forces on Governance and Strategic Development. Additional Section and Division elected leaders also were able to participate through a fee-based registration. Since a special Council Meeting was held during the Strategic Leadership Forum, Councilors comprised the majority of this year’s attendees. In future years, participation will be broadened to include a more diverse group of IFT members.
"We are excited about this opportunity for our organization," stated IFT President Denny Heldman in his welcome and introductory remarks. "Through this event, you will be able to engage in thoughtful discussions impacting IFT’s future. The input gathered through the conversation cafes, small group discussions, and instant polling will be compiled and transmitted to the Task Force on Strategic Development and Board of Directors. In fact, the Board of Directors and Task Force and Strategic Development will use your thoughts and ideas to frame priorities for the next year and beyond."
Sheri Schellhaass, Chair of the Task Force on Governance and IFT President-Elect 2008–09, added, "This forum brings to life one of our visions … to expand opportunities for members to participate in IFT and help shape our future, to offer leadership development training and opportunities to a broader cross-section of members, and to foster a sense of togetherness and community within IFT."
Stimulating New Ideas
One of the objectives of the Strategic Leadership Forum was to bring in outside experts to share their knowledge and experience and stimulate new ideas and thinking. Attendees heard from speakers on a variety of topics, including global social and cultural trends affecting food science, technology, and production; trends in the workplace and changing demographics; trends in not-for-profit organizations; novel membership recruitment models; leadership; and interpersonal communications. There were also several sessions focused on best practices in Sections and Divisions.
Learning opportunities involved formal presentations with audience Q&A, panel discussions, small group activities, and roundtable discussions.
In addition to the discussions, participants were encouraged to take advantage of the "Idea Wall," a collaborative tool designed to help members share ideas on concepts discussed during the forum.
Attendees had the opportunity to provide instant feedback on issues discussed using an electronic response system. This polling system was not used as a research tool; rather, it was a way to get a snapshot of what the participants were thinking about specific topics.
For example, attendees ranked water as the top emerging science issue that IFT should address in the next 18 months (see figure on p. 26).
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Several key areas emerged during the plenary sessions and small group discussions. Most attendees believed that IFT should address the following areas:
• Ensuring the Future Success of the Profession. Attendees discussed the importance of IFT’s career guidance activities to help address the pending shortage of food science professionals as the Baby Boomers retire. Additionally, they concluded that it is important for IFT to help prepare today’s graduates for their careers in industry and academia. This includes providing them with leadership development opportunities, soft-skills training, information on working with cross-generational and cross-cultural workgroups, and preparation for working in the global community.
Furthermore, the next generation of food scientists has a different work ethic and values volunteerism, work, and family differently than other generations, so today’s employers must also learn, adapt, and be prepared to coach and work with the next generation successfully.
• Global Science Leadership. Many of the small group discussions included conversation about the need for IFT to disseminate sound science to ensure that global and domestic policies, regulations, and consumer choices are based on available scientific information. The attendees stressed the importance of continuing to develop and share IFT’s science reports globally as well as use the reports to champion emerging science issues.
• IFT Membership Value Proposition. Additional discussion focused around the importance of providing a valuable and meaningful membership experience. All IFT members want to have a place in the organization—whether through formal leadership opportunities, participating in a volunteer workgroup, submitting a paper for the Annual Meeting, or accessing the latest scientific information. Membership value means something different to each person, and IFT needs to be able to provide varying levels of service to support these needs.
Attendees also noted the importance of including industry and academic executive-level leaders in IFT. These internal organizational champions could increase familiarity and recognition of IFT as a valued resource, potentially leading to membership growth and greater participation in IFT.
Furthermore, participants noted that it is important for IFT to provide value to all members—including those who work for small businesses, as well as young professional and international members.
• Communications. Clear, concise, and consistent communication is key to any organization, and IFT isn’t any different. The attendees discussed the need for IFT to explore two types of communication—external and internal (corporate). Participants noted that they are inundated with information from IFT and sometimes don’t read it. They stressed the need for IFT to evaluate how, when, and what it communicates to members to ensure that they are aware of IFT’s programs, services, events, and member benefits.
Additionally, attendees discussed their desire to see IFT take a more active role in communicating with consumers and public officials. They would like to see IFT partner with other organizations to leverage IFT’s scientific expertise and correct misinformation in the public arena.
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• Philanthropy. Members indicated that they are interested in participating in philanthropic events coordinated by IFT. These could take the form of volunteer days in their local communities or something more comprehensive like an exchange program with scientists from developing countries. Participants felt that such activities fill various needs, including the need for IFT to harness the collective knowledge of the Baby Boomers, who have a wealth of experience and knowledge, will be retiring at a relatively young age, and want to maintain their connection to the profession. Additionally, generational trending shows that IFT will be competing with other organizations (e.g., the Peace Corps), where they can make hands-on contributions in other nations. As such, attendees felt it is necessary for IFT to explore these options in order to be relevant in members’ lives as well as contribute to its position as a global science leader.
Positive Attendee Feedback
Overall, participants found their involvement in the inaugural Strategic Leadership Forum a valuable investment of their time and energy. In fact, 98% of those responding to a post-meeting survey felt that the forum was "very or somewhat pertinent to their success as an IFT leader." Additionally, 98% found the use of the electronic polling devices very effective as a tool for obtaining feedback from members.
In the survey, attendees also had the opportunity to provide input on aspects of the meeting that should be enhanced for next year as well as to provide suggestions on future topics for discussion at the 2008 Strategic Leadership Forum. If you would like to recommend a topic for discussion or suggest a speaker, please e-mail Amanda Perl, Special Projects Leader, at [email protected].
Members Ratify New IFT Constitution
At a special meeting during the Strategic Leadership Forum in March, the IFT Council approved a new governance structure for IFT and the implementing language for IFT’s Constitution and Bylaws.
In April 2007, this new Constitution was sent to all IFT voting members for ratification. A Teller’s Committee composed of members from the IFT Chicago Section met to count the votes and reported that the draft Constitution was approved by a vote of 2,042 to 108. With this ratification vote, the Bylaws that were approved by the IFT Council in March are also in effect.
The new governance structure includes the following elements:
• Change the name of the Executive Committee to Board of Directors. The Board of Directors will retain the Executive Committee’s current governance responsibilities as well as assume the governance responsibilities of the IFT Council.
• Transfer the advisory function of the IFT Council to the participants of the Strategic Leadership Forum, to encourage increased levels of direct interaction and feedback between the Board of Directors and IFT members.
• Use electronic and similar technologies to improve and increase grassroots members’ involvement and participation in all aspects of IFT activities.
• Involve all IFT members in election of all members of the Board of Directors and the Committee on Nominations and Elections.
To view the new IFT Constitution and Bylaws, visit http://members.ift.org/IFT/Communities/govdocs.htm.
One of the recommendations of the Task Force on Governance was the creation of a Town Hall Meeting to enable IFT members to hear reports from the Board of Directors and provide input and feedback to the IFT leadership. The inaugural Town Hall Meeting will be held on July 28 from 10:00 a.m. to noon during the 2007 IFT Annual Meeting & Food ExpoSM in Chicago. All IFT members are encouraged to participate in this important event.