The WIIFM of membership

By Claude Balthazard, Ph.D., C.Psych., CHRL
Vice-President, Regulatory Affairs and Registrar at HRPA

WIFFM stands for “What’s in it for me?”  The term is used in sales and marketing to remind salespeople to see the products or services they sell from the point-of-view of the buyer.  WIIFM can be applied to membership in HRPA, where the idea would be to look at membership from the point-of-view of the member or prospective member.  WIIFM is also linked to value and value proposition.  Wikipedia defines value proposition as: “a promise of value to be delivered and acknowledged and a belief from the customer that value will be delivered and experienced.” Value, of course, is in the eye of the beholder; value is more psychological than economic. Different people put different value on the same product or service—some value low price, others value certain features, and still others may value the trendiness of the product or service.  WIIFM can refer to the filter through which individuals view the value proposition; in the sense that value is value as perceived by the customer.

Membership in a professional organization—especially one that is both professional association and professional regulatory body—is complex. This is because much of the value of membership in a professional organization involves intangibles.  It is also complex because of the variety of filters that can be applied to membership in a professional organization.  In other words, membership in a professional organization means different things to different people.

Two value propositions

What is value? Is it simply ‘what you get,’ or is it something more?  The ‘what you get’ is important, but the ‘what you need to give to get’ is equally important.  We can define value as net benefit, or the difference between what one gets and what one needs to give to get.

Net benefit = What you get – What you need to give to get

In regards to membership in HRPA, there are two value propositions. HRPA is a dual-object professional organization: it is both the professional association and the professional regulatory body for Human Resources in Ontario. Professional associations and professional regulatory bodies have distinct value propositions. Professional associations and professional regulatory bodies have different ‘what you get’ and ‘what you need to give to get’. Let’s explore this idea a bit further. Table 1 below gives some of the key ‘what you get’ and ‘what you need to give to get’ value elements for membership in professional associations and membership in professional regulatory bodies. This list is not exhaustive by any means.

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Professional associations are borne out of common interest—individuals practicing the same occupation coming together and sharing information about various issues or interest to members of the occupation. Typically, the requirements of membership in professional associations is minimal—essentially the payment of dues.  In exchange for payment of dues members of professional associations have access to events, networking opportunities, mentoring opportunities, publications, affinity programs, and other membership services.

Membership in a professional regulatory body has a different value proposition. Of course, when a profession is licensed the essence of the value proposition is the right to practice the profession or the right to perform certain acts (i.e., authorized acts).  Nonetheless, even when the profession is not licensed or does not have any authorized acts, the value proposition is similar.  Here, the ‘what you need to give’ goes well beyond the simple payment of dues.  Members of professional regulatory bodies must accept a number of obligations in addition to the payment of dues: being answerable to a professional regulatory body, limitations on privacy and other rights, the requirement to carry professional liability insurance, the requirement to participate in quality assurance programs, being subject to practice inspections, being required to inform the professional regulatory body of bankruptcies and other insolvency events, the requirement to answer to any complaints made with the professional regulatory body, accepting various constraints on professional practice, and so on.  On the other hand, the ‘what one gets for what one gives’ for professional regulatory bodies is pretty unique: access to a title protected by statute, status of being a true professional, the satisfaction that comes from being a true professional and being recognized as such, better remuneration, and a more interesting and fulfilling career.

To summarize, membership in a professional association and membership in a professional regulatory body have very different and distinct value propositions. Each has a different set of ‘what you get’ and ‘what you need to give to get’.

In many professions, the professional association is separate from the professional regulatory body. Individuals will usually belong to their professional regulatory body, but many choose not to belong to their professional association.  These become separate decisions.  For what are known as dual-object professional organizations (accountants, architects, land surveyors, professional geoscientists, professional foresters, and Human Resources professionals), the professional association and the professional regulatory body are the same organization.  For dual object professional organizations, membership in the professional association and membership in the professional regulatory body are linked—it become a ‘package deal’.

WIFFM as filter

As noted above, the WIIFM can be understood as the filter with which an individual sees the value proposition. All of the elements in Table 1 are in play, but individuals can assign very different weights to the elements on either side of the table.  Depending on the weights assigned, individuals can arrive at very different values of net benefit.

Specifically, for each of the elements in Table 1, an individual could assign a value (this could be done as a fixed-sum exercise, where the sum of the values for all elements must add up to 100). Two individuals could assign very different weights to the various elements.  One can imagine an individual who derives more value from membership in a professional association whereas another individual might derive more value from membership in the professional association.  Even within one of the value propositions, individual could vary significantly.  For instance, within the professional regulatory body value proposition, one individual could find value in the ability to put initials after his or her name, whereas another individual may find value in the sense of professionalism and contributing to the advancement of the profession.

It is also the case that individuals can put different value to the ‘what one has to give to get’ side of the equation. For some, the obligations of being a member of a professional regulatory body are no big deal, they are just part and parcel of being a true professional.  In fact some may see value in the obligations of being a member of a professional regulatory body as a reflection of their commitment to professionalism.  On the other hand, some may accept only reluctantly such obligations.

Economists would then note that any decision is relative to other options in the marketplace. Other options would have their net benefit also, and an individual would choose the option with the greatest net benefit.  Again, this plays out differently depending on the weights one assigns to different elements.  For instance, the professional regulatory body value proposition is more unique.  If an individual is looking for a group to belong to, there may be more options in the marketplace; however, if an individual values being a true professional, then there are fewer options.

Indeed, there are vastly different reasons for becoming and remaining a HRPamember.

Another complicating factor in regards to WIIFM is that individuals don’t always know what their true weights are, and just asking them doesn’t always work. Indeed, psychologists would say that individuals do not have direct access to their motivations.  Practically, this means that just asking individuals what they value doesn’t always yield accurate answers.  In other words, some individuals will say that certain aspects are important to them, but make decisions that suggest that other aspects are more important.  This makes figuring out the WIIFM for any individual a bit more difficult.

So let’s recap.

  • The key idea behind WIIFM is to look at membership from the point-of-view of the member or prospective member.
  • Membership in a professional organization has complex value propositions—especially in the case of dual-object professional organizations which are both professional association and professional regulatory body.
  • It is important to consider both the ‘what you get’ and the ‘what you must give to get’.
  • Membership in professional associations and membership in professional regulatory bodies have different value elements (‘what you get’ and the ‘what you must give to get’).
  • The WIIFM is like a filter through which one sees the value proposition. Individuals can and do put different weights on the various value elements, both on the ‘what you get’ and the ‘what you must give to get’ side of the equation.
  • There are vastly different reasons for becoming and remaining a member of the HRPA. In other words, there are many different WIIFMs at play.
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