NCRA and you: Taking on the industry’s biggest challenges together

Jim CudahyA little more than a year ago, the NCRA Board of Directors launched an effort to create a five-year strategic plan for the association. The process began with face-to-face discussions with members at the 2012 Convention & Expo in Philadelphia and continued with a comprehensive membership needs assessment in September and October. Going right to the membership, we wanted to know what you saw as the biggest challenges within the court reporting industry and in what areas you felt NCRA could have the biggest impact on the industry, on your business, and on your career.

The Board then held two strategic-planning retreats – one in November and one in March – to synthesize what we had learned through our conversations and our membership needs assessment. And then we put pen to paper and wrote a strategic plan. Our success as an organization and even as an industry will be dependent upon our collective ability to succeed in advancing six strategic priorities.

EDUCATION. There is no bigger challenge for the court reporting industry than getting more students into court reporting programs across North America and getting more qualified court reporters out into the marketplace. Education, thus, is the first priority of Vision 2018, the NCRA strategic plan. Here, initially we will follow the guidance of the Vision for Educational Excellence Task Force (VEETF) in three key areas: Assessing the long-term demand for court reporters and captioners to allow court reporting programs to shape their recruitment campaigns accordingly; attracting more youth to court reporting through an innovative Web-based initiative to teach rudimentary theory to prospective students in a low-cost manner; and, finally, isolating best practices of those schools that graduate the highest percentage of students and finding ways to incorporate those best practices into standards.

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT. The biggest reason that court reporters join NCRA is to build the knowledge and skills needed to advance in a competitive industry and to gain recognition of such achievement through certification. Keeping our certification programs strong, therefore, along with offering an ever-improving array of continuing education opportunities, is NCRA’s second strategic priority.

AWARENESS AND OUTREACH. It is difficult to have a conversation with any member in which he or she does not express the need for more people within the legal community and beyond to have a stronger appreciation for the role of the stenographic court reporter. That has been a major focus for NCRA in recent years and will remain so under our new strategic plan.

ADVOCACY. Going hand-in-glove with our Awareness and Outreach strategy is Advocacy, working at both the national and state level to represent the interests of court reporting and the constituents served by our industry.

RESOURCES. One of the key benefits that members indicate they get out of NCRA is access to information — about technology, about industry trends, about how to better promote your services to your prospective clients and beyond. In digging a little deeper, what we have learned is it’s not just about information — it’s about packaging this information into tools that members can put to immediate and long-term use.

MEMBER VALUE. Our sixth and final strategic priority is probably both the most obvious and the most ambiguous, and that is Member Value. In a way, if we deliver in the way we intend in the first five strategic areas, we will in the process be creating more Member Value. And that’s sort of the point: our strategic priorities all should crosspollinate and complement each other. Beyond that, however, we want to continually enhance the value proposition we offer to our membership in such a way that every court reporter, captioner, legal videographer, firm owner, and instructor — anyone who has a stake in the stenographic court reporting industry — would be crazy not to be a member of the National Court Reporters Association.

Finally, we are taking on some major new challenges with our new strategic plan. Our ability to do so is dependent upon our ability to mobilize the court reporting community to assist us. This year, the NCRA Board is asking our volunteer committees to take on more ambitious charges that are pegged more specifically to the strategic priorities I just described. In so doing, we hope and expect that members will play a more direct and meaningful role in executing the tactics that advance our strategy. That, in turn, will make volunteering that much more of a fulfilling endeavor and, in so doing, will encourage a new corps of volunteers to step forward to allow NCRA to do even more and to do it better than ever before. That is our vision. Now we’re going to make it happen, together.

Connecting the dots between strategy and volunteerism

Jim CudahyI began writing this column in Ghent, Belgium, in a room with two dozen Chinese court reporters quietly engaging in the Intersteno equiv alent of NCRA’s Speed Contest. With fingers tapping and pressing away as the ambient noise, I can remark that this event — Intersteno — is remarkable on a number of levels. What strikes me most notably is that an event of undeniable global scale takes place — even on a biannual basis — effectively rests on the shoulders of volunteers.

That’s asking a lot of volunteers, and NCRA does the same. And we’re now asking for more.

Over the course of the past year, the NCRA Board has assembled a strategic plan. Within this plan are six general areas of focus or, as I have come to call them, “buckets”:

  • Awareness
  • Advocacy
  • Education
  • Professional development
  • Resources
  • Member tools

Each of the strategic buckets represents areas of focus that you —NCRA members — have identified as critical to the profession over the next five to 10 years. As an example, we need for more people to know and appreciate the value of stenographic court reporters; hence, we have an awareness strategy. As another example, we need to get more students enrolled in court reporting schools and move reporters out into the field, so we have our education strategies.

We have a lot to accomplish, and we have finite resources — both in terms of human capital at the staff level and in, well, cash. So, we lean disproportionately on volunteers to execute on the tactics in fulfillment of our strategy.

The Board has outlined aggressive new charges for our volunteer committees and attempted to align their activities with our strategy. Virtually all of our committees now will rely on individual NCRA members to carry the responsibility of not only coming up with great ideas, but executing them as well.

Think of it this way: If we, as an organization, have 1,000 lbs. to carry, our old way was to rely on 10 people to carry 100 lbs. each. But with our new direction, we’re seeking 100 people to carry just 10 lbs. each, thus distributing the weight and perhaps, over time, enabling us to carry even more than we ever have in the past.

For our awareness strategy to work, when we come to you, the members, to spread the word about Court Reporting and Captioning Week, we will only succeed if you are inspired to get involved. For our education strategy to accomplish its ambitious goals, when we come to you to engage with prospective students in your area, we will be far more effective if you are willing to make a presentation at a local high school or take part in a career day with a neighborhood court reporting school.

You’ve given us direction. We have taken action. Now, we need you to be on guard for your marching orders. It’s the best way you can serve your profession and its future. It’s the best way you can engage with your court reporting community. Soon, we will bring these volunteer requests to you: Are you ready to lift your 10 lbs.?

NCRF corner: Why do a strategic plan?

Strategic planning is the process by which an organization envisions its future and develops the necessary procedures and operations to achieve that future. A good strategic plan will not only tell you where you’re going and why, but also how you’re going to get there. Strategic plans should probably, at a minimum, be updated every five years.

NCRF’s Secretary-Treasurer Jan Ballman, RPR, CMRS, and I had the privilege of participating in NCRA’s strategic planning session in March 2013, where the NCRA Board of Directors and invited guests created a vision for NCRA through 2018. It was a fascinating process, and NCRA has many exciting programs and projects in the offing.

NCRF last conducted a strategic planning session in 2008, and the outcome of that formed the basis of our three major program areas: Oral Histories, Legal Ed, and Student Initiatives. These have been very successful. But as every leader knows, it’s important to evaluate and strategize every few years to think about the future and adapt as necessary to remain or become more relevant. Accordingly, NCRF’s Board of Trustees and several invited guests met the weekend of May 18-19 to think about where NCRF needs to be by 2018 and what it needs to do to get there.

Everyone’s thinking caps were working at high speed! I can’t go into many details here, because the May exercise was the first step. There is still much work to be done to finalize our new plan, which we’ll do at the August board meeting in Nashville. However, I wanted to share with you a few of our findings.

We began by conducting a SWOT analysis to identify Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. The group determined that our greatest strength is our status as a charitable organization, offering tax-deductible contributions. It’s nice to be able to claim that tax deduction, isn’t it? And our number one weakness is that we need more to offer NCRA members so that they’ll value NCRF. Seems so obvious, doesn’t it? We identified lots of opportunities, things that we could be doing that would benefit NCRA members, but the number one threat is limited resources. It’s a “Catch 22.” However, we’ll be working diligently to find additional resources and to develop more programs of value. The Board of Trustees is committed to developing programs of significance and relevance to NCRA’s members.

We’ll keep you updated as things progress. We’re excited about the future and hope you are, too!