The last week in February was again witness to the annual Human Capital and Learning Symposium (HCLS), hosted by Boomer Consulting, Inc. for the 14th year. This year’s theme—"Where Heroes Are Made!”—was appropriate, because nearly three days with this group of phenomenal speakers and professionals unmasked a host of super-powered individuals—with no villains to be found! Here is a summary of what you may have missed …
As hosts, our first duty was to challenge every attendee to use his and her "super powers” at the conference, including:
- Communicate – Network and absorb as much as possible
- Observe – Gather knowledge applicable to one’s firm and take it home to initiate change
- Rejuvenate – Build confidence and leave with a renewed sense of hope for the future
Basic Training: The HCLS "Danger Room”
Picture a room of 20 learning professionals eager to get a running start by discovering how to best spend their time, what initiatives will be most valuable for their firms and with whom to network about their roles within the accounting industry. Now picture Linda Steele, a veteran learning professional front and center, sharing the wisdom and knowledge she has acquired during her 15 years on the job.
As time passed, questions, laughter, sympathetic gasps, the occasional rolling of the eyes and a desperately needed connection for this highly intelligent group were all present. The energy was plentiful, and participants who came seeking knowledge and practical advice left with an abundance of each. They acquired tools, a network and the confidence to go back to their firms and devise a plan to accelerate training and learning with their firms.
Networking in a Flash
What do you get when you take 70 Human Capital and Learning Professionals, put them in a room together, ask them to stand up armed with a piece of paper and pen and instruct them to find three others they do not know and make a connection?
The answer: The appearance of chaos, a loud room and an experience that was one of the highest rated at the event! This activity proved one thing LOUD and clear – these folks are hungry to network with peers. Most participants had a page of new ideas before the first hour of the event was complete – not a bad start!
Life –Work Balance is for Wimps
As anyone who has planned a conference can attest, the nightmare of all nightmares is if your keynote speaker is unable to attend and cancels at the last minute. Unfortunately, that happened this year. Rebecca Ryan – a good friend and amazing speaker – was afflicted by the dreaded flu bug and could not attend. However, due to some exceptional brainstorming and teamwork, Rebecca joined us via a pre-recorded session.
You know you have a winning presenter – Rebecca – and a winning audience – our superheroes – when the only "negative” reaction noted on evaluations was, "Boy, I wish she could have been here in person—she was amazing on the screen.” (If you would like to learn more about Rebecca, visit her website.)
Employee Benefits: No Double Edged Swords Allowed
Michael Kridel, CIO at Daszkal Bolton, facilitated a session for Human Resource Professionals about the state of employee benefits. As you might imagine, this was a "hot topic”, and the room was abuzz with discussion about potential "cuts” and what may be added in light of concerns about the economy.
The group expressed the sentiment of "choke hold” when it comes to benefits. Costs are soaring, profits are leveling off, employees are trying to hold on to their jobs and there is a general feeling industry-wide that cutting benefits - rather than people – is the best way to move forward.
However, as all of the participants readily admit, they are still recruiting, and a big part of recruiting is offering a competitive benefits package. Everything from health insurance to holiday parties was discussed, and the consensus was that every firm must do what’s right for its long-term plan and market. Nevertheless, firms should exercise caution when considering benefit cuts that employees identify as being important.
CIO Roundtable for Learning Professionals
Jim Bourke, CIO at Witham Smith + Brown and Jerry Justice of SS&G Financial Services facilitated the Learning Professionals breakout and shared their concerns and observations about technology’s impact on training. They cited increasing communication between IT and learning professionals as paramount to facilitating a more helpful learning experience for end users.
The group agreed that more communication—from the time a training need is identified through building the curriculum to delivery—would benefit significantly if IT and learning professionals worked better together in concert.
HR and Learning "Hot Topic” Breakout Groups
As with speed networking, the "Hot Topic” breakouts for HR and Learning were among the most popular and highest rated events at this year’s HCLS. We asked participants to brainstorm topics for discussion, and they filled a full page with ideas. After determining the group’s top four topics the facilitator said, "Let the games begin!”
Ninety minutes of lively and intense conversation passed, but the groups could have easily continued with 90 minutes more. The experience of idea-sharing and wisdom-building was extraordinary. The list of new ideas and problems solved by each participant continued, and the only negative we received on this session was – make it longer next year!
The obvious winner for most important topic this year was the "dreaded” economy. As professionals whose entire days are spent focused upon Human Capital, our most important job is to raise the confidence of others when things look bleak.
In this session we discussed the dangers, opportunities and strengths of the profession along with tips on what we can do to ensure employees in our firms increase confidence no matter what the world outside is doing. Those tips include:
- Devise Strategies – Develop or continue to follow strategic plans for the firm, IT, Human Resources, Learning & Training and Marketing. Now is not the time to stop thinking strategically.
- Over-Communicate – Owners should compose a confidence-building message for staffs and clients—and communicate it often. From weekly staff meetings to regular correspondence and client meetings, the message should be clear and consistent.
- Commit to Learning – A firm should not back away from learning initiatives. Yes—they might have to watch the budget, but assessing the most important training needs and finding ways to improve individual performance strengthens the firm now and sets the stage for future success as the economy improves.
- Insist Upon Accountability - The message from the HR community is loud and clear – "We finally get to do what we should have been doing all along!” Refining performance evaluations to incorporate all areas of a balanced scorecard including financials, client service, training and process measurements is important for two reasons. First, it will help determine the firm’s "best of the best.” Second, it will help determine how the best can be motivated to get even better. The result will be the strongest team your firm has ever employed.
- Connect with Clients – The next few months will present many occasions for you to develop deeper relationships with clients. Don’t waste these opportunities and merely wish that you would have spent the time. Build bridges and pave a road to the future by taking care of business today.
- Network More than Ever Before – Take the time to connect with everyone: peers, community contacts, team members and old friends. If you burrow and ignore any outside pressures, you (and ultimately your firm) will give into negativity. Connect with people and find new and positive ideas along with opportunities to help get you through challenging circumstances.
- Take a Media Vacation – You and your staff may be feeling like you are on a roller coaster right now. At the office you are doing the work you have done for years, and you feel busy and positive. But go home, turn on the news and you see bad things happening and feel like you’re on a downhill slide. Take a vacation from the media for a few days and enjoy the good feeling of great clients, team members and lots of work!
- Innovate – Some of the most innovative and progressive ideas emerge when we are pushed out of our comfort zones. This is certainly one of those times, so find ways to identify new ways of doing what you have always done before. New services, new processes, and new clients are all potential avenues for your firm.
- Maintain Traditions – Do not stop doing everything your firm has done in the past. If you have celebrations during tax season, don’t stop. If you conduct staff evaluations quarterly, don’t stop. If you celebrate April 16 by taking the day off or having a firm-wide party or open house, don’t stop. You might have to change things a little and find more cost-effective ways to hold the events, but not having them at all tells your staff and clients that you are not confident. That is not the message you want to send.
- Show Gratitude – Tell those who mean the most to you that you care and appreciate them. Family, friends, team members, clients and peers in the industry will all find their way onto your list, and it may be long. Write a note, call just to say "Hi” and "Thank you” or send a text message or email. If you start thinking about and acting upon your gratitude, you will undoubtedly feel more positive.
- Devise a Strategy for "You”– Take care of yourself. The single most important thing you can do to help your firm right now is to stay healthy. Exercise, eating right and a little relaxation will keep you in the game and help reduce the stress levels that can wreak havoc on attitudes during challenging times.
Mentoring Is Not A Myth
Rita Keller, owner of Keller Advisors and one of Accounting Today’s Top 100 Most Influential People in Accounting, took the stage with a few questions on her mind. "How many firms in the room have a mentoring program?” she asked. Many raised their hands with an obvious feeling of pride. She asked a second question, "How many of them are written?” Only a few lowered their hands, but the feeling of pride was still evident.
She asked a third question, "How many of your programs are functioning well and ‘healthy’ in the firm?” The hands fell. Many had developed a mentoring program only to realize that maintaining one is a real challenge. Understanding this reality, Rita spent the next 90 minutes sharing ways to strengthen mentoring programs while inspiring the group to press on.
(Check out Rita’s blog for regular tips on mentoring and firm management.)
Lunch was complete, the end of the day was in sight and people were weary from information when Paul Endress arrived to reinvigorate the crowd. Paul is owner of Maximum Advantage, an "organizational development company helping companies to hire, develop, and retain superstar individuals and employees.”
Audience members had no time for a nap, as they found themselves pulled into communication activities that identified a system for better personal communication. Partners beware—you may be at a disadvantage when debating with a returning HCLS participant!
With the 2009 HCLS complete, our league of superheroes returned home to process all they had learned and initiate new ideas. They rose to the challenges we put forth—communication, observation and rejuvenation—with gusto and received a few bonuses for good measure. Knowledge is the greatest power, and armed with an increasing measure of this power they are prepared to lift the people in their firms to greater heights than ever before!