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“Four” Your Information

Department Spotlight

"Four" Your Information

This spotlight article highlights four groups that are all working to move the SOA's strategic agenda forward.

By Sam Phillips and Jacque Kirkwood

Four departments are highlighted in this part of the series intended to familiarize members with SOA staff. This article features staff working in Strategy Management, Marketing and Branding, Communications and Project Management. The Actuary talked with key staff from each group about responsibilities, challenges, successes, their teams and short– and long–term goals.

STRATEGY MANAGEMENT

Kara Clark, FSA, MAAA, Managing Director

Key Responsibilities

The Strategy Management department is responsible for helping the SOA's leadership to establish, evolve and effectively execute the SOA's strategic agenda. We are involved in updating the strategic plan and then communicating and overseeing its integration throughout the organization.

Main Focus

Right now we are updating the SOA's strategic plan. The prior strategic plan covered 2004–07. That plan helped us begin to focus the SOA on long–term objectives. Many of the initiatives in the old plan have been completed, and our business environment has changed, so it's an appropriate time to review and reset our strategic direction.

The Board approved a draft strategic plan at its June meeting. The plan is being exposed to the membership for comments over the summer. We expect the Board to adopt a final plan at its October meeting.

One area we particularly want to improve is integrating the new plan with the operations of the organization. Previously the strategic work was run separately. In this generation of the plan, we're trying to integrate strategy fully and seamlessly with operations.

As part of this effort, we will be taking a look at our strategy management system—the volunteer leaders and staff responsible for implementing the strategic plan. We'll make any adjustments necessary to ensure that strategy drives operations and that members and other key stakeholders get the benefits of the plan.

The Team

This is a relatively new department for the SOA—it was established three years ago. It started with one person and now has two. I moved into this area as the managing director of Strategy Management about eight months ago. I had previously been the managing director for the Actuarial Marketplace Solutions department, and prior to that I was one of the staff fellows.

I was involved in many of the organization–wide initiatives over the last several years and was a member of the prior Strategic Planning Committee. What I bring to the team is the experience of being closely involved in developing the prior plan and helping design and implement the strategy management system. I have seen first–hand what has worked well and what hasn't and can apply that knowledge to the work we're doing now.

Crystal Ray joined the organization in January as a strategy project manager. We're working to be consistent in how we approach issues, provide information for decisions and ensure follow–through. A lot of our strategic development and implementation is conducted in cross–functional teams. This department works closely with the Board, other elected leadership and members of the strategic management system. So, there's a need for a lot of coordination and efficiency when it comes to dealing with such a large group of individuals and giving them the tools they need to keep the SOA on track. Also, it's a significant communications effort to keep groups of that size up–to–date and informed about what the other groups are doing.

One of the advantages of having this department is specific accountability for execution of the strategic decisions of the Board. We help the organization stay focused, accountable and transparent in our decisions. Our roles help ensure those processes are integrated throughout the work of the organization.

Successes

One of the successes of the Strategy Management area has been to bring more focus to implementing the strategic plan than we had previously. That's really why the department was established. We think it helps bring issues to light so the Board can focus more effectively on setting the strategic direction for the organization. The Board has been able to tackle and make decisions on some pretty messy, thorny, challenging and potentially controversial issues over the last couple of years. I also think that with the use of the balanced scorecard as our strategic planning methodology, we have greater organizational focus on what we're trying to do. I think those are all success stories.Challenges

Most of our efforts right now are going into updating the strategic plan. It's a challenge to communicate the plan effectively throughout the organization, but it's important. If members and staff don't know what the plan is, if they don't buy into it, then it won't be effective.

Another challenge is the strategy management system itself—because it's a relatively new way to keep the organization aligned with the plan. Our challenges are in some ways the flipside of our successes. We often find we're breaking new ground and learning as we go. How do you take these new systems and processes and have them take hold throughout the organization so everyone understands them, knows how to use them and has faith in how they work? We're trying to get better at institutionalizing this throughout the organization. It's a story of continuous improvement.

Goals

My short–term goal is to produce a strategic plan that the Board can adopt in October. That's our main focus. As part of that, we need to take a look at some of the processes and the structure of the strategy management system and make some adjustments over the next several months—so it's well aligned with the new plan and integrates throughout the organization.

The long–term goal is for the SOA's strategic direction to identify initiatives that provide real value to our stakeholders, align and direct our resources to implement those initiatives, and provide accountability for results. This goal speaks to understanding stakeholder needs and the importance of communication to make sure our key stakeholders—candidates, members and employers—understand our strategy.

2009 Projects

As part of the strategic planning process, we are starting to look at initiatives that would drive that strategy forward in 2009 and beyond—for example, defining and developing the role of academia. There are other issues in the pipeline that will be integrated into the next generation of the strategic plan, but specifically what those initiatives will be is yet to be determined. One of those issues deals with capitalizing on opportunities for actuaries in the health care environment, and another has to do with looking at market changes around the pension and retirement systems practice area.

MARKETING AND BRANDING

Karen Bresson, Director

Key Responsibilities

Our team is responsible for the marketing and branding functions of the SOA. What this means is that we engage in an "agency/client relationship" across the organization to successfully market and brand SOA programs, products and services. What most members recognize is the consistent branding of SOA continuing education events. We've put a rigorous marketing process in place around everything we do. When I arrived at the SOA in September 2004, this really didn't exist. In effect, we were viewed as a production department that designed brochures. Today, there's a great deal of planning to get consistency in how we market and brand SOA events, publications, content posted on the Web site and in other related materials.

Another important part of our team is our creative work. This includes our brand manager, Susie Ayala, and designers Julissa Sweeney and Erin Pierce. They are responsible for designing all SOA materials. Susie ensures the branding is incorporated across the organization, including the design and branding for the new Chartered Enterprise Risk Analyst (CERA) credential. I also partner closely with Lisamarie Lukas, the director of Communications, on the development and implementation of the marketing and market development plan (MMDP). More recently, the market research function and a new corporate sponsorship program have moved to our team. In addition, we are hiring a market research analyst to help us learn a lot more about our members and candidates and what they need.

Significant Projects

From a brand perspective, Susie and Julissa are working across the organization with Meg Weber, director of Section Services, and key members on the development and implementation of brand guidelines for the Sections. One of our key organizational goals in 2008 is to have 50 percent of the Section newsletters re–branded. For the remainder of 2008 and into 2009, we're also going to take steps to brand The Actuary even more. Erin Pierce has taken the magazine to a higher level in terms of design—it's really a different publication than what it was 18 months ago.

The Team

On the branding side, Susie, Erin and Julissa have championed the brand work and been responsible for implementing the brand across the organization. Susie is also instrumental in working with our partners in the North American Actuarial Council (NAAC) to assist, when requested, in implementing the actuary brand for those organizations. We work closely with our NAAC partners and share the success of the marketing initiative with them.

Glenda Maki is our marketing specialist for the grassroots program and is doing a wonderful job with it. She also handles the member communications: ImageWatch e–newsletter; ImageoftheActuary.org, Actuaries In Action, Living the Brand and our Speakers Bureau. In addition, Glenda works with the SOA's presidents and other leaders on speeches for our larger meetings and events. She also is staff editor for two Section newsletters.

Leslie Cummings is our continuing education marketing guru—the marketing lead for 16 different CE events. She's led the development of the new FSA welcome package that will be sent to all new FSAs following their Fellowship Admissions Courses. It's turnkey and began going out in the spring. With the FSA package complete, Leslie will develop a package for new ASAs that will be available later this year. She will also be participating in the development of the Leadership Resource System (the former Volunteer Management System).

Chaundra McGill joined the SOA in January and is responsible for marketing the CERA credential. As a result of her work, we're already starting to see positive results in the number of applications for the Experienced Practitioner Pathway and overall awareness of the credential among members. Additionally, she has also taken on the responsibility of marketing SOA webcasts.

Joni Baylis joined the organization a year ago. She is responsible for implementing the process for streamlining SOA exhibits. In addition, she will be focusing her efforts on developing a consolidated blast e–mail process for the organization. Joni will also be providing support with regard to the implementation of the Corporate Sponsorship Program.

Challenges

One of the challenges we have is disseminating the value of the brand, launched in 2006. There's still a lot of work to do to integrate it throughout the organization. We have made this a key departmental goal in 2008 and, as an example, are working collaboratively with the Sections to develop guidelines for implementing the brand while they maintain their individual identities.

Another opportunity is demonstrating that we are a value–added resource across the organization. We have a great deal of marketing and branding expertise, and our goal is to collaborate and help package the SOA's information and knowledge so they are consistent and branded—so we're all speaking with the same voice. In three–and–a–half years, we have moved from decentralized to centralized marketing and branding. We believe members and their employers will see value in this work.

Successes

The launch of the brand is a testament to the dedication of our team and the support of the SOA's leadership and Board, the Marketplace Relevance Strategic Action Team, other actuarial organizations and staff, just to name a few. Many people were involved in this effort—it truly does take a village!

Strengths

From a design perspective, the creativity and experience of the design staff are first–rate. From the marketing perspective, again, it's the level of marketing and project management experience that staff bring to the plate that gives us a strong foundation. Everyone is extremely team oriented. It's not that we don't have challenges or differences of opinion—everyone does—but at the end of the day we always put on our member hat and say, "What would the members think of this? Remember, this is about them, not us."

Goals

In the short–term we want to increase the number of CERAs and have the CERA credential recognized and valued by employers in the marketplace. Also, we'll be launching the corporate sponsorship program and hiring the market research analyst.

Long–term, we'll continue to build credibility with the members. I enjoy this work immensely because it is continually changing and evolving, making all of us better at what we do on behalf of the profession.

2009 Projects

A major project for 2009 is likely to be continuation of the MMDP. Additionally, the launch of the new Corporate Sponsorship Program has great potential to provide non–dues revenue and will be an effective way to develop and maintain relationships with organizations involved in the profession. It is an exciting time for the SOA, and I am looking forward to 2009.

COMMUNICATIONS

Lisamarie Lukas, Director

Key Responsibilities

As Karen shared earlier, a central focus for the Communications team is the strategic implementation of the MMDP. The main driver for the Communications team's involvement with the MMDP is conducting proactive public and media relations outreach to promote the profession's image as relevant, dynamic, 21st century thought leaders.

In addition, we are responsible for content management of the SOA's Web site, SOA.org. This involves working closely with many SOA departments and, of course, our members and candidates.

Editorial and project management oversight of The Actuary magazine, 18 Section newsletters, SOA News Today, the North American Actuarial Journal (NAAJ), the Actuarial Practice Forum (APF), The Future Actuary, research monographs, book publishing and reprint permission requests fall under the Communications umbrella. We also partner with the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) staff to provide support for initiatives guided by the Joint CAS/SOA Committees on Career Encouragement and Diversity.

Finally, and equally as important as the other responsibilities of our team, is providing communications support to other SOA departments. This includes assisting in the development of communications plans and implementation of those initiatives. Some examples that immediately come to mind include projects like the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) materials, the forthcoming new strategic plan, research papers and related projects. All of these projects have high–level visibility with the SOA's key stakeholders—our members, candidates, employers/clients and the public.

Significant Projects

Advancing the MMDP as it relates to the execution of programs, proactive public relations and media pitching of subject matter experts, providing media training to member experts, and related issues is certainly high on our list of priorities.

Other high profile projects we're emphasizing include:

1) promoting SOA research through the media and member communications; 2) making content enhancements to the Education section of SOA.org so candidates can better navigate a significant volume of content; 3) helping our leadership introduce the new strategic plan for member review and comment; 4) conducting an assessment of print and electronic communications; and 5) ensuring regular, consistent communications with members to deliver important news on upcoming SOA elections.

The Team

The Communications team is very conscientious. We work well as a team and demonstrate a strong work ethic. This group consists of some of the most down–to–earth people I've had the pleasure to work with. We enjoy working with each other. Individually, each person brings his or her own witty, sharp humor that always adds levity to the demands of the day. The team is focused on delivering our best for the SOA. Communicators at heart, we are an expressive bunch, always sharing new ideas.

Kim McKeown (not pictured) is our public relations program manager and works very closely with our member spokespersons, staff and research actuaries and the business, trade and general media. Usually seen with a phone to her ear, Kim oversees a number of significant public relations initiatives that keep her incredibly busy. We've been very successful in placing positive, influential media stories showcasing the profession's expertise in longevity and retirement, enterprise risk management, long–term care and career training. Kim's work has yielded placements in a variety of media including the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, MarketWatch and across the Associated Press wire.

Jacque Kirkwood, Kathryn Baker and Sam Phillips are our professional editorial staff, facing the myriad demands of a robust publishing operation. They work on tight deadlines, depend on having strong working relationships with members and need lots of creativity and stamina. They're a strong team and epitomize teamwork at its finest. Kathryn also serves as the liaison to the SOA/CAS Joint Committees on Career Encouragement and Diversity.

Two of the most recent hires for the team are within the Web staff. Gina Rutgens, our Web communications manager, and Mai Xiong, Web production associate, joined the SOA late in 2007. Chris Jordan, Web production associate, has a few more years of SOA experience and has helped orient his new colleagues. This team is responsible for publishing our Web content and meets daily with the SOA's Information Technology staff to advance short–term initiatives and long–term projects. SOA.org is our front porch to the world, so you can imagine the dedication and priority we give to their work.

Challenges

Of course, the volume of work keeps us busy and juggling multiple projects—that's an ongoing challenge like it is for everyone in today's business environment. Staying abreast of changes in communications technology and how they affect the work we do is another challenge because there's something new every time you turn around. It does make things exciting!

Successes

We've had a wide range of successes, but the ones that stand out include winning the PRWeek's 2008 Corporate Branding Campaign of the Year Award for our work on the MMDP. The SOA also received the 2008 Silver SABRE Award for our work to revitalize the profession's image, and we're very proud of that.

Strengths

The department's members appreciate the value of teamwork, are passionate about their work and take great pride in delivering quality products to our membership. Through daily interaction with the profession's spokespeople, the media, volunteer member editors and volunteer leaders, it is clear that the members of my team are great relationship builders.

Goals

Short–term, our group will conduct a member communications assessment to better understand members' information needs—how members prefer to receive information. Another primary focus is the expansion of SOA.org's online newsroom to include additional content to position actuarial experts on issues relevant to employers and the media.

With regard to our long–term goals, we continue to advance the profession's image by leveraging the core work that actuaries have expertly practiced for centuries and to expand actuaries' reach into nontraditional business areas by promoting pioneering stories of actuarial experts. We'll continue to promote retirement, longevity, enterprise risk management and actuaries' expertise in health care. We'll work to further our collaboration with sister organizations on promoting the profession's image and, of course, partner on media opportunities.

Perhaps most importantly, we keep a keen eye on communications technology to enhance communications for/with/and between members and candidates. A natural follow–up is to survey our membership regarding our communications efforts and incorporate their feedback to enhance and improve our overall work in this very important area.

2009 Projects

The major projects in 2009 include:

  • Enhancing our communications with candidates to improve the candidate experience and increase satisfaction with the new education system.
  • Using the member feedback we receive on the communications assessment to guide us in our work with the Sections to enhance content delivery on Section Web pages.
  • Evaluate developments in tools and tech– nologies that will enhance communications with and between our members.

PROJECT MANAGEMENT

Jane Chlapaty, Director

Key Responsibilities

I'm often assigned responsibility for major projects, requiring long–term, complex project management. No matter what the initiative is, it is my responsibility to ensure that each of the following steps are addressed and completed: developing a project scope; working with project sponsors to define goals and objectives, identifying deliverables; identification of associated tasks; setting target dates; holding status meetings; working with project sponsors to identify appropriate resources for the team and gaining agreement on their involvement; and finally, overall monitoring of project activities to ensure the project meets its target dates and budget parameters. Major projects demand attention in all of these important areas.

Main Focus

My main focus is to ensure that we are delivering what will allow the SOA to meet members' needs, such as our redesigned Web site. Our members shared their concerns and frustrations regarding our old search capabilities, and we listened. Today, with the work we've done on this project and powerful tools such as Google, our search capabilities have vastly improved.

Significant Projects

The most significant new project is the Leadership Resource System (LRS), formerly known as the Volunteer Management System. The SOA certainly has several components of an LRS already in place as we work with nearly 3,000 members on the various committees, task forces, etc. But this project will bring our system to the next level, centralizing volunteer information, developing a consistent SOA experience for our members, understanding their interests and expertise, and development of a formal recognition process to thank our members for their efforts.

Another significant project that has been well under way is our Web site metadata project. When this project is complete, users searching for information on our Web site will experience an increase in the number of relative and accurate returns. We have been able to standardize our author names, as well as using a drop–down menu, to avoid users having to guess at the spelling of authors' names. Finally, we have added functionality that will allow a user to search for publications by year or by multiple years.

Challenges

Some of the challenges are the sheer number of projects underway at the SOA. Because of all these initiatives, I have insight into several projects that are managed by others and have an overall understanding of where the SOA is going with regard to the future. We all tend to do things a little differently. However, we have come a long way in managing projects on a consistent basis, using the same language and same tools. One of my key goals is to develop and implement a consistent project management methodology across the SOA.

Successes

Our redesign of our Web site was a great project to work on and had excellent results. While we have continued to work on additional Web projects as a result of that initiative, our newly designed Web site is a tribute to all the great people who worked on it. One of those additional Web projects is our metadata project mentioned earlier. When complete, this will greatly enhance our search capability as we review and update the search "tags" of all the content on our Web site.2009 Projects

Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is the biggest project already slated for implementation in 2009, along with the Leadership Resource System project. Projects are identified by the SOA's leadership, both members and staff. Once the identification of a project takes place and approvals secured, they can be passed my way for implementation.

Sam Phillips is a communications associate at the Society of Actuaries. He can be reached at sphillips@soa.org. Jacque Kirkwood is a senior communications associate at the Society of Actuaries. She can be reached at jkirkwood@soa.org.