Rotary International (RI) appears to have survived the ORCA and Three i progressions, but it now faces a challenge common to all surviving institutions. Before we discuss this common challenge, what are these progressions?
As research for this Rotatorial, I reviewed past Retention Central posts and read many articles on the natural progression of organizations. As I made notes, I came up with my ORCA leadership progression - Originators create, Replicators improve, Copiers follow, and Airheads mess it up. In a 2008 discussion with Charlie Rose, Mr. Buffett mentioned the Three i progression - innovators create, imitators enhance, and idiots screw it all up. I was pleased with the similarities. Unfortunately, that is where similarity between me and Mr. Buffett ceases.
Back to the common challenge. All institutions that survive these progressions must be innovative in continually creating ways and means to serve their stakeholders, innovations that often necessitate painful changes. Leading such a recovery takes visionary, strong, consistent, and competent leadership. Does RI have the fortitude and organizational structure to survive this painful process? That is questionable because RI's present practices of selecting, educating, and supporting its leaders all too frequently generates people who are popular but ill-prepared or equipped to lead People of Action. This is the ideal atmosphere for nurturing intellectual inbreeding, which again guides institutions into the last phase in both progressions, but at a more accelerated pace. Ultimately, the institutions fail.
Fortunately, RI presently has a group of imaginative, talented, and influential lions and lionesses that have been innovative in creating and leading change. These business minds recognized that RI's priority is to charter and support clubs as the clubs create and support Rotarians. They have made major headway, but their road has been, and continues to be, blocked by sacred cows and mindsets, particularly in some legacy markets. RI's present three-year Councils on Legislation and one and two-year officer terms can be serious roadblocks to progress and continuity in leadership. Many senior leaders comprehend RI's basic task is to serve and support its two-tier network. Most appear to recognize that potential members, before they become Rotarians, are already People of Action. Unfortunately these dedicated leaders continually bump headlong into practices, projects, and programs developed when the leaders at the ends of RI's ORCA and Three i progression cycles considered Rotarians to be ordinary volunteers and believed that the prime duty of clubs and those volunteers was to "feed the RI and TRF elephants".
Senior Rotary and staff leaders must evaluate every practice, project, program, seminar, assembly, award and citation RI and TRF proposes, requires, and/or supports. Each activity should deliver a value to People of Action commensurate with the time, talent and treasure they expend. If such values are not delivered, the actions should be changed or eliminated. Otherwise RI will begin struggling through the ORCA and Three i progression cycles once the present modern thinkers and innovators serve out their terms.