Here to serve
From continuing modernisation to clearer communication, Grand Secretary Dr David Staples reveals some of the major improvements being made to the United Grand Lodge of England
You spoke in the Winter 2018 issue about the ongoing modernisation of UGLE. What improvements were made in 2018?
The biggest change has been bringing together masonic and commercial staff at Freemasons’ Hall, which started with the Board’s appointment of a CEO. This meant that for the first time in a number of years a single person would be in charge of and responsible for delivering for the organisation as a whole.
Staff have taken part in a number of workshops to understand what we stand for and why; what our values are as the ‘headquarters’ – a distinct organisation separate from UGLE or Supreme Grand Chapter. They have agreed a set of organisational values and goals which have resulted in the introduction of new appraisal processes, mandatory training, pay scales and benefits. Alongside this, regular communication with our staff through ‘Town Hall’ and departmental meetings has ensured people know what is going on and how this fits in to the bigger picture, all of which will help us attract and retain the best possible staff. A restructuring of the organisation and of the various business functions held within the building has allowed me to establish clear lines of accountability and allowed the new directors to facilitate change and improvement in their respective areas. This work has resulted in us being awarded Investors in People accreditation – a ‘kitemark’ not only of excellent people management, but also of normality for how a professional organisation is expected to run.
All of this may sound like management speak, but what it means in reality is that we have ensured the ‘Centre’ is up to the task of both serving our members and representing them effectively in the modern world.
In addition to these changes affecting staff, there have been many other smaller projects aimed at improving how professional we are, and enhancing what we can do and how we deliver. These have touched virtually every aspect of our operations. For example, an archiving project has examined the kilometres of shelving and paperwork stored in Freemasons’ Hall and helped us to develop a document retention policy. Clearing shelving from the main office has allowed us to consider exciting new options for the space that has been created.
A web-based booking and payment system has gone live for those attending Supreme Grand Chapter and Quarterly Communications, drastically reducing the number of cheques we need to process and bringing us in line with the modern-day expectations of our members.
In preparation for an increased focus on communications, we have brought FMT in-house and appointed a new editorial team, while the Directory of Lodges and the Masonic Yearbook are now online living documents. We have trained a number of members as media ambassadors to represent us at events and in the press. We have commissioned a communications capability assessment and have undertaken polling of the general public to find out what people really think of us, and what opportunities might present themselves to improve their understanding of who we are and what we’re about.
We now have new phone systems and video conferencing suites to improve communications across our worldwide organisation, and these are saving both time and money while improving engagement with our members. The new Events Management Team has been tasked with engaging with our members and encouraging them to use and visit Freemasons’ Hall – a home for all English Freemasons, and we are starting a programme of community engagement projects to broaden our public footprint.
We have converted disused flats into three new lodge rooms in response to an ever-increasing demand for temples, and supported the Improvement Delivery Group in the creation of Operational Membership Dashboards, the Solomon online learning resource and the Members’ Pathway. All of these will directly inform our drive to improve our attraction to potential members and our retention of existing ones.
We have anticipated changes in the legal framework and have issued guidance on transgender members and data protection. We have blended the Grand Ranks system into ADelphi, thereby saving both our Provinces and Districts days of back-and-forth letter writing.
A huge amount happened in 2018 and has continued to do so in 2019 to ensure that we are a professional, fit-for-purpose and efficient central organisation which is held in high esteem by the membership and the public and which communicates an appealing, confident, relevant and consistent message to the outside world.
What are the key objectives of this process of modernisation?
Simply put, to better serve the members of both UGLE and Supreme Grand Chapter. UGLE needs to be ready for the challenges set by the Rulers and the Board, but also needs to meet the expectations of our members. When I was a lodge Secretary a few years ago, I wanted my Grand Lodge membership fees to be wisely spent, and I wanted to see some tangible benefit for what I pay for in terms of a confident organisation ready to represent itself on the public stage and to stand up for its members. I also wanted to interact with it in a modern and accessible way. That principle still holds true now that I am the CEO.
You also spoke about making the headquarters more ‘transparent’. How is this being done and why?
More open communication between the Provinces, our members and UGLE allows us to ensure an aligned approach to our common challenges – how people perceive us; how we represent ourselves to the outside world; how we normalise Freemasonry in the eyes of the public; how we attract and retain members. We are developing a new communications strategy with an appropriately resourced department to deliver it. We have a new Member Services Department to help streamline the relationship between our members and their organisation, and to implement the various initiatives being carried out by those groups with a care for Freemasonry.
What methods will the organisation be using to put a greater focus on attracting new members?
I see this very much in terms of normalising the environment from which our members are drawn in terms of public opinion. I’m a scientist by training and I like to see the evidence for something before we invest resources in it. We know that 87 per cent of the public know of our organisation, and 49 per cent of the public have a firm opinion of us. We also know that the majority of those do not necessarily hold an opinion that we might like! That is despite all the good works we do, despite all the money we raise for charity and despite everything else we are doing to rehabilitate ourselves in the public eye. We recognise that the majority of new members join after personal conversations with those who already enjoy Freemasonry, but we must make sure that those to whom we speak already have a fair opinion of us. To these ends we will be embarking on a focused series of interventions to bring about just that – an understanding of what Freemasonry is, what its values are, what we stand for and why we are relevant in today’s society. In conjunction with the newly rolled-out Members’ Pathway, we hope to ensure that no opportunity is wasted.
What are some of the more important changes planned for 2019?
We want to find new ways to open up our headquarters to as many people as we can, and to ensure that every one of those contact moments affords those individuals a greater understanding of Freemasonry. Staff will be moving out of the old central office space, which we hope to develop into a public area containing a temporary exhibition space, a café and a very public-facing office for Metropolitan Grand Lodge.
The introduction of an expenses policy, travel policy and purchase order system will improve our financial controls, but the most important change will be our ability to deliver an overarching communications strategy aimed at taking back control of the public narrative on Freemasonry.
In terms of day-to-day processes, you will have already read about our ambition to revolutionise how we administer the organisation. Changes being planned through Project Hermes aim to replace paper forms with web-based systems, removing the need for endless form-filling and drastically reducing turnaround times. In short, we want to make the lives of lodge, Provincial and District Secretaries much easier. We want to streamline our ability to collect dues and improve our ability to analyse and spot trends in membership data, which will help us to identify and propagate best practice wherever it arises. I truly believe we have exciting times ahead.
‘Simply put, to better serve the members of both UGLE and Supreme Grand Chapter, UGLE needs to be ready for the challenges set by the Rulers and the Board, but also needs to meet the expectations of our members’