21 May 2014

How I met your mother (and other great reasons for an internal conference)

In these challenging times for recruitment agency owners and managers, the issue of costs is one that tends to consume a lot of attention. Nigel Harse’s Facts, Not Fiction presentation to RCSA audiences around Australia this past month has highlighted the importance of managing costs effectively.
One of the most significant lump sums you may have incurred (or are considering incurring) is for an internal conference. The direct costs of flights, accommodation, food & beverages and (if relevant) conference presenters together with the indirect costs of employees being out of the operational business for a day or two, are significant. Often just as significant is the internal time invested to arrange, and prepare content for, the conference. Both of these types of costs combine to make an internal conference a very significant investment. And, as such, an investment that is easy not to make.
My experience, from all sides (ie organiser, participant and presenter) of this investment, if done well, is that the potential returns far outweigh the costs.
Here’s what Australia’s wealthiest recruitment entrepreneurs, Andrew Banks and Geoff Morgan, have to say about this topic:
One of the most important annual events was the Morgan & Banks conference, (my bold) where ‘Morgies’ were awarded for various achievements – it became a tradition and our people loved them.
The Morgies were awarded at a black-tie dinner at these annual conferences and it was fantastic to see the effect – some people were in tears thanking their parents, their families, their partners. It was wonderful to see the power and emotion that the recognition of effort unleashed.
Source: Flourish & Prosper by Geoff Morgan & Andrew Banks (Penguin, 2005), pages 57 & 58
Here’s why I believe an internal conference is an invaluable component of your company’s learning & development program as well as a critical plank in your employee recognition and retention strategy:

  1. Initiates and powers internal networks: My observation was that internal cooperation and inter-office lead generation accelerated significantly after every conference. No matter what you might do with your intranet, conference calls, Skype and webinars there’s nothing like working intensively beside a colleague from another team during a workshop or sharing a drink at the bar to build genuine cooperation. You have to know and like, or at least respect, a colleague before you actively seek opportunities to help them or collaborate with them.
  2. Best practice sharing: Rarely are all offices or business units across a company equally successful. Inevitably there will be a standout office or team. These teams and offices have an opportunity to share with the rest of the company the things that they are doing to make their team more successful. It’s highly likely that this success formula can be replicated by other offices or teams.
  3. Review the scorecard, consider the future and re-set goals: One of the things I always found very motivational was hearing how the company was going against the targets, both financial and non-financial, that had been set. When everybody hears the same message and understand the role that they play in the accomplishment of goals it creates a stimulating atmosphere within which to consider the future of the company, and its respective business units, and to set stretch goals.
  4. Bring in, or clarify, company-wide processes or values/behaviours: Company-wide consistency constantly eludes many recruitment agencies for the simple reason that many people hear the message differently, or maybe not at all, from different people at different times. When everybody is together the platform for the communication of an unambiguous standard or message is maximised.
  5. Build skills: The critical skill for the new economy is the capability of employees to learn faster and more effectively than your competition. This is your only genuine competitive advantage. An internal conference is a perfect opportunity to build these skills and accelerate that competitive advantage, whether through internal or external presenters.
  6. Acknowledge and celebrate achievement: Peer recognition (as highlighted in the above Morgan & Banks quote) is an incredibly powerful motivator for most people. In the very competitive world of recruitment, annual awards (whether they're monetary or otherwise) are a sure-fire way to motivate the right people to become (or stay) high achievers. Stopping once a year to reflect on how far individuals, teams and/or the whole company has come, and/or how much further there is to go, creates a much-needed context for what every member of staff does each day.
  7. The unexpected: Who knows what might happen when you get a group of focused and motivated employees together for 24 to 48 hours?. One recruitment agency conference was in the same hotel as another company’s conference. That company was about to embark on a rapid expansion. An unplanned interaction between the two different companies’ employees at the hotel bar lead to business discussions and, subsequently the recruitment agency billed $250k with that new client in the following twelve months. I met my (now) wife at an internal company conference! I am forever grateful that Aquent invited me to speak at their 2005 conference on the Gold Coast. Who knows what else great, may come from an internal company conference? 
As the new financial year looms barely seven weeks away, now is a great time to carefully consider investing in an internal conference.
It could be the best investment you make for the 2014/15 year.
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