Last week, I did something I never expected to do. At the ICANN meeting in San Francisco, I stood up in front of several hundred people and the ICANN Board of Directors and delivered a full and frank criticism of the management of ICANN’s current CEO, Rod Beckstrom.
The response to this speech was overwhelmingly strong and supportive, both in the immediate and lengthy applause and, since then, in a constant stream of handshakes, twitter and facebook shout-outs, and emails – many of which were privately sent by current members of the ICANN staff. I am re-producing my comments here so that they may be more widely available and spark further public debate.
I know the Internet community well enough to say that this is not a popularity contest, and the support I’ve received for my comments isn’t personal. There is a widely shared and profound disquiet at how this organization has been managed, horror at the near-vandalism of the damage done, and a growing sense that it must stop.
“My name is Maria Farrell. I am a member of this year’s Nominating Committee, appointed by the NCUC (Non Commercial User Constituency), and I was previously a member of theICANN staff.
I have the distinction of being the first of a mass exodus of staff from the ICANN organization, in a series of forced departures which continue to this day.
I have kept silent and not spoken about this out of loyalty to the organization and respect for the leadership, and also my desire not to make a difficult situation worse for the ICANN staff. But my profound disquiet about how the organization is operationally being managed has moved me to speak to the Board today.
There has been a vast hollowing out of expertise, of relationships, of institutional memory, and of goodwill for this organization, and I believe the impact on ICANN ’s operational effectiveness has been profound. The impact on the international reputation is also quite an issue.
There is a climate of fear stalking the ICANN staff. People are afraid to speak frankly internally, and to speak unpalatable truths behind closed doors, the sorts of things that need to be discussed to allow the organization to function efficiently.
People are afraid of losing their jobs by doing their jobs.
The collegiality that we knew as former ICANN staff seems to have evaporated as we have hemorrhaged talent over the last year or so. The culture of collegiality has made way for one of managing up and managing expectations, rather than serving the community.
Operational planning is in some disarray, as budgets are made up as we go along, priorities change, and internal communication is nonexistent.
I believe also that ICANN’s relationships that have been cultivated around the world over many years and with much assiduity have been trashed.
This hollowing out of the expertise of the ICANN organization, of goodwill, and the trashing of its international reputation has come to such an extent that I believe it requires urgent board attention.
These are very harsh words. I don’t deliver them with any sense of ease or happiness, but I do believe although the board doesn’t wish to be involved in micromanagement, that it needs to pay attention to these issues.
[ applause ]
>>Peter Dengate Thrush (Chair of the Board of Directors): Thank you. Can I say the Board gets regular reporting on these matters from the staff. I’ll just ask the ceo to report briefly on staff matters.
>>Rod Beckstrom (CEO): Sure. First is we do track our turnover. Total turnover last year was below 15% for the organization. The industry comps for non-profits in the U.S. are between 20 and 30% a year for high-tech companies, a similar range. Our turnover rate is actually quite low.
We don’t publish statistics on voluntary versus involuntary turnover, for privacy reasons. We have also done a survey of our staff satisfaction, and we have an entire process that’s working on that overall. We’re very proud of our accomplishments. We’ve added some outstanding people to the organization and are very focused on execution. At the same time, I really appreciate your sharing your own views. Thank you.*
END OF TRANSCRIPTION
A few minutes later, Lesley Cowley, MD and CEO of Nominet (the .UK registry) came to the microphone to reiterate the concerns of the country code community at the loss of expertise & knowledge among the ICANN staff. Pointing out that the quoted 15% retention rate goes across the organisation, while the community’s concern is with the loss of senior staff, Lesley said her ‘back of the envelope’ calculation was that ICANN has lost 78% of its senior staff under the current leadership.
Lesley encouraged the Board to monitor and implement staff retention and morale initiatives in the overall strategic plan, pointing out that the CEO’s retention figures were based on a previous financial year, and that ‘experience is still walking out the door’.
- I’ve minimally tidied up the transcribed remarks for readability. You can listen to the audiohere.
Scroll forward to minute 23.10 for my remarks and the response to them, and 37.25 for Lesley Cowley’s.
First posted on www.crookedtimber.org, 19 March 2011