Observations on a Transformation

Second Open Letter From the President

When I spoke at the recent AGM and then at the DX Forum in Halifax this last August, I started my address to the Forum by telling three stories ..  which describe RAC in my eyes.

First, I told the story of the group of blind men that approached an elephant.

The first blind man grabbed the tail and said that an elephant is like a rope .. the second blind man grabbed a leg and said .. no, no an elephant is like a tree.. the third blind man grabbed the trunk and said ..no, no the elephant is like a great hose, a fourth blind man grabbed an ear and said .. no, no it is like a large palm frond while the fifth blindman grabbed the body and said .. no, no the elephant is like a huge barrel in the air! They were of course all correct and all wrong at the same time .. it was the totality of their experiences that described the elephant.

The second story that I told about RAC was that I had heard that the helicopter could be described as  a collection of spare parts flying in loose formation with pieces flying off from time to time.

The third story that I told about RAC was about  the carnival game `whack a mole` which is a  game in which the contestant stands in front of a large piece of plywood with many holes cut in it .. and waits for a mechanical rodent to pop out so that he can hit it. That could be a description of  management at RAC … issues past and present arrive unannounced and the urgent replaces the important.

I tell the stories because I felt that they are my mental pictures of RAC and a picture is after all worth a thousand words.  You can find the Power Point of my address at http://www.rac.ca/en/rac/2010-agm-presentation/. There are several slides of issues that, în my view, needed to be addressed. It was not intended to be a complete list as others would approach the elephant from different directions. 

That presentation was the opening of the transformation discussion. But why should we bother with a transformation discussion at all someone may ask?

By the time that I became President in January of this year taking over from Ian McFarquhar in his acting role, I knew, and the Board knew, that RAC as it exists is not sustainable.  For one thing there was too much instablity .. no President had finished their term since Earle Smith, VE6NM, and his term ended at the end of 2007. There had been little continuity of office staff in two years, key records had vanished and some portions of the financial records were qualified. Fiscal losses had occurred at least two years in a row. (do not panic, we have  contingency plans but want to make the best choices and our Financial over-site committee is now meeting monthly). Yeoman work had been done in 2009 to address these issues but more of the same was not going to cut it … one of my favourite sayings is a quote from Einstein:

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

This is a quote that I have used many times in the past in many reorganizations.

By January I had already collected all past planning and fiscal documents and reviewed them. There are two main forms of strategic planning – one assumes that the outcomes are fundamentally sound and therefore the platforms are correct – platforms being the organization and its systems including financial, IT, policy development, marketing, governance, etc.. We (Board) were not happy with the outcomes and decided to use the second major strategic approach -we called it “burn the platform” at Queens Executive School. Burn the platform means ignore your platforms … consider the outcomes that you want .. i.e. determine the dream and then work backward to determine what your platform needs to look like. In my collected pile of documents was  the John Bartlett 2008 PowerPoint to the annual BoD meeting. It was a well written document, one of the two best in the pile in my view and when from out of the blue John emailed me to offer to help I was pleased to have John address the Board and the Board agreed to proceed.

The blog became the tool of choice when in a telephone conversation with Peter he asked how we would get the Bartlett material out and I said use the blog .. our fastest flash to bang communication device. It has limitations however, while we can be over 200 hits per day now it still  is still only a fraction of our membership and we will need to frame some form of consultation that reaches all of our members (just shy of 5000).  TCA reaches all members but has a long cycle time compared to the blog or website.

Much material has been back and forth on the blog … we are receiving a tremendous amount of  constructive comments and some evidence of what I have called scar tissue from members. Scar tissue from persons who reached out to work with their colleagues in RAC in the past but were rejected, persons who hold memories of past slights and persons who worked hard but felt that their contributions were minimized.

One theme that has surfaced is that our approach and the discourse is that we are  too negative and we are undervaluing the good things that RAC has done. Our approach has been to attract critics in order to capture a body of information that will inform discussion and decision.

We often tend to compare ourselves to the ARRL in terms of services and performance standards. When I attended their Board meeting earlier this year in Connecticut (at my expense) I learned that they had around a hundred paid staff and dozens  had decades of seniority.

We punch above our weight in international affairs and TCA, our contests and QSL services are first rate. RAC has worked hard and successfully to prevent distracted driving legislation to impact hams in almost all provinces [Ontario still needs a good fight] and more.  RAC would be the envy of most Ham associations in the world [the US, Japan, Germany excepted]. However, this process is about improving RAC, not being defensive and satisfied.

Another theme that arose is the issue of  “old boy’s club” … someone asked me though “well OK then who are the Old Boys?” … hmmm good question. (Might be me as I am now technically a senior).

I have been called many names since this started, both privately and publicly  (ranging from stupid for doing it, to courageous în the Yes Minister sense, being understanding, picking the wrong partners, a liar, brave, foolish, a 1965 manager (boy, that was the only one that  hurt),  letting some people put a target on my back, I could go on). The process has faced hostility, apathy and eager take up. I have been told that this process is the action of a corporation on its death bed (we are not). The majority of the blog comments are addressing our current platform and are not getting into the dream aspect … the desired future state. Perhaps we will hear from clubs in the next two months as they enter into their early fall meetings.

Thanks to this process and Peter’s hard work we have reconnected to many RAC members.

We will need to loop back to our membership and test the outcomes of our deliberations to all 5000 members not just the 200 plus that blog. In previous communications I had asked how we can best communicate to our members …  the question still stands.

A comment on the issue of customers vs members … everyone at RAC is a member who volunteers their time and money (if  you want to end up with a small fortune at RAC – start with a large fortune). Virtually all of the services are done by people who give their evenings and weekends and who can leave RAC at the drop of a hat … no pay, benefits or pension nor signing bonuses for volunteering at RAC.  Most are not retired and have families. There are no secretaries to collate, rank and BF your emails and so sometimes they are lost. RAC to me is a cooperative. A group of people with common interests working together for mutual benefit. Hams helping hams. (Is cooperative a prairie thing?).

This process has had some casualties … at least two. The Assistant Director who believed in the process, and gave a presentation in Kingston feels badly burned by being sandbagged by a process that we authorized and has resigned. I have told him that he has my full support and understanding and have asked him to stay.  We cannot burn our people. No process is so important or pure that we can allow our line volunteers to be burned or be callous when that happens. As an executive for more than two decades I can tell you that when someone in good faith undertakes a task for you they must be supported and defended, period.

Peter West VE3HG has resigned.  His reasons are his own but it followed my clear statement that  no process is so important or pure that we can allow any volunteer to be burned. To be clear, however, if anyone is to blame for the burning of a volunteer it is me for authorizing the process.   I hope that both men reconsider their respective resignations. Peter West VE3HG is a hard working intelligent idealist who has brought strong value to RAC and who is pushing the boundaries of social networking in the interests of amateur radio. I would like to think of him as my friend.

We will continue .. I urge clubs at their meetings in September and October to consider all of the prepared materials and forward their results to their respective Directors.

Geoff Bawden VE4BAW

President and Chair, RAC

5 Responses to “Observations on a Transformation”

  • First off Geoff, please understand that my issue herein lies with those who felt it necessary to sandbag me as you so aptly put it and not the fact that I made a mistake or rather, mis-spoke. I am only human (my wife may care to disagree with me from to time)…

    As noted, our past seems to dog us and in some cases, our actions have caused us harm as is the case here. We need to get past the past in order to work on our future.

    That said, Peter West wrote me and helped me realize, as have you, Ian McFarquhar and Bill Unger, that although a negative issue arose, something positive can be made of it, a lesson learned to help improve our future, and is that not ultimately one of our goals in the effort to transform RAC?

    We cannot and should not hide or shirk from our failures or errors, nor can we afford wallow in them, but rather learn from our mistakes and move on. You have proven that RAC has truly begun the process with your transparency and honesty so I stand to say yes, I erred, yes I learned and here I wish to say that if RAC still wants me to work to help grow into, and strengthen the future of amateur radio in Canada then I say, I AM IN.


    AD North & Eastern Ontario
    & Coordinator of Philanthropy

  • “We cannot burn our people. No process is so important or pure that we can allow our line volunteers to be burned or be callous when that happens. As an executive for more than two decades I can tell you that when someone in good faith undertakes a task for you they must be supported and defended, period.” …Geoff Bawden VE4BAW

    I might suggest another related principal -

    We cannot burn or people. No process is so important or pure that we can allow our line volunteers to be “strong armed” into volunteering at the expense of family, livelihood or health.

    All too often we beg, cajole or guilt trip our capable volunteers into doing too much for the amateur radio community. Sometimes at huge personal costs. Once burned they almost never come back. This is usually (but not always) because there are not enough volunteers to step up and fill the role or share the work load. This issue is not unique to RAC but permeates the amateur radio community in Canada.

    If we cannot support all of the current or legacy activities of RAC with the currently available volunteers then we need to rescale the activities such that we do a few things well rather than many things badly. If the volunteer experience was a positive one, we might have more volunteers. If that means “burning the platform” and redefining new sustainable goals then so be it.

    Garry McCallum VE5PNQ

  • I don’t quite understand what happened here, but, initially, we’ve lost two dedicated individuals.

    One has returned to help continue the transformation. I would request – actually beseech – Peter West to do the same.

    We need you Peter, whatever mistakes were made. Please rescind your resignation and continue to guide us in your important area of the RAC transformation process. I think all parties probably now feel the same way.

    Dave Hayes VE3JX.

  • Hi Geoff,

    Thank you for your second open letter.

    You stated & asked: “We will need to loop back to our membership and test the outcomes of our deliberations to all 5000 members not just the 200 plus that blog. In previous communications I had asked how we can best communicate to our members … the question still stands.”

    The best suggestions I can think of to answer your question is:

    1. Use the extensive AD network that presently exists;
    2. Enlist the Field Organization to spread the word to their volunteers;
    3. Utilize the bulletin editors of local clubs throughout the country;
    4. Have all the above point to the RAC Blog for up-to-date info.

    Point #3 is a very important and extensive network that cannot be ignored in this process. Give us the info and we’ll spread it locally.

    That’s my answer anyway.

    Thanks for your insights and hard work.

  • Geoff
    What has happened to the Blog?? Since Peter’s departure the silence is deafening! I had been receiving emails on a regular basis keeping me informed (and peaking my interest) on the current status of issues surrounding RAC.
    Since the blog was moved I have received no mails and checking the “”new blog”" I find very little has been added, if anything at all.
    The posts that had been sent to the “”old blog”", I found very interesting and informative. That type of open dialogue, I feel, is what is needed for the Canadian ham community to understand the issues and form their opinions on what they feel is needed for “”their future”" in ham radio. Ultimately, to support RAC and membership, or not.
    To this end, it appears Peter’s departure from the scene was very untimely. Only knowing of him from the blog and his posts, his dedication to RAC and determination to sort the issues and make it work was obvious.
    Whatever his reasons for leaving are his own, and best of luck to him. However this has left a void and noone has picked up the gauntlet, silence prevails. This does nothing to disspell the image of “old boys club” and “secret society”. Some may even look at it as a form of censorship.
    The “old blog”, as it was, was working. The “new blog” seems dead.
    I can only hope that RAC does not have the same fate as the new blog, death by lack of interest.

    Logan, VA3DLE

Leave a Reply