HCI 2007 National Human Capital Summit

Event: HCI 2007 National Human Capital Summit

When: March 19-21

Where: Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort, Phoenix

What: The Human Capital Institute says it is “a global think tank, educator and professional association defining the agenda and setting the pace for the new business science of human capital management. With more than 52,000 members in more than 40 countries, HCI offers a new association framework that cuts across the silos of recruitment, HR/OD, finance, sales and marketing, operations, manufacturing and IT. We provide key executives, line managers and human capital professionals with the newest education, most effective tools and best practices in talent strategy, acquisition, alignment, engagement, deployment, measurement, and retention.”

Conference info: For information about the Human Capital Institute, go to www.humancapitalinstitute.org.

Day 3—Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Conference end notes: If I were a conference consultant—and I probably could be given how many I attend in a year—this single most important point I would make would be this: Make sure your conference runs no more than two days.

Too many conferences run on for three or even four days, and the end result is that attendance drops off dramatically after the second day. The Conference Board, which puts on some of the sharpest and most compelling events anywhere, understands this and ends its sessions at noon on the second day. Even with that, there is a drop-off in attendance on the second day.

The worst part of conferences that run on too long is this: Some good speakers with interesting messages get relegated to what amounts to fourth-quarter, run-out-the-clock garbage time. Not only is this bad news for the speaker, it’s also bad news for the conference organizers who have done a great deal of work to put together the program and perhaps even are paying a chunk of money to have the speaker or panelists impart their wisdom to an ever-dwindling crowd.

The worst example of this was last fall when I attended a four-day conference. Dave Ullrich, a great speaker on just about any management or HR topic (he is speaking at the Workforce Management Talent Management Conference in New York on March 27), was scheduled to be the last speaker on the last day, a Friday afternoon, at a conference at a casino-hotel in Las Vegas. In addition, the power to the main ballroom went out, forcing the dwindling group of conference attendees into a room that had windows and natural light for the final presentation from Dave. Of course, no power meant no PowerPoint slides or amplified microphones, but Dave managed to make a great presentation despite all the challenges—to probably fewer than 50 people.

Day 3 of the HCI event seemed to have a larger group of attendees hang on through the final sessions than at the typical conference, but again, there were a lot fewer people than during the first two days. I wish HCI had worked to pack more, especially the last day’s panels, into the first two days and just ended it at that. Not only would it have made for a little bit better conference, but it would have helped to send a message that more days do not do much to enhance the quality of the conference experience.

Keynote speaker, Day 3: Fast Company founding editor William Taylor is the author of Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win. His keynote speech on the last day of HCI’s annual conference is full of examples from his book (which was given to all attendees at his session), but his main message is that businesses can’t just do things a little bit better in this age of disruption. They must completely rethink the business and use originality to fuel strategy and create a disruptive mind-set.

That may sound like a lot of management gobbledygook, but he points to Southwest Airlines as a company that disrupted the airline industry by redefining the nature of things. Southwest, Taylor observed, didn’t think of itself as being in the airline or transportation business; it thought of itself as being in the freedom business and built the company from that strategic perspective. Not only has Southwest been one of the top three performing stocks during the past 30 years, but a $1,000 investment in Southwest’s 1972 IPO would now be worth $12.5 million, he noted. That’s proof of how successful the company’s disruptive thinking has been.

Taylor also coined an interesting term: vuja dey. It’s the flip side of deja vu, and he said it refers to viewing the same situation through different eyes. It’s critical in developing disruptive thinking, which fueled the success of Southwest.
—John Hollon

Day 2—Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Conference chatter: When you attend as many conferences as I do, you get a good feel for what goes on in a conference setting—what works, what doesn’t; good sessions, bad sessions; good venues, bad venues—as well as picking up the chatter about what attendees think. To that end, here are some observations from the HCI 2007 National Summit:

• Phoenix is a hit. Conference-goers seem to like the combination of the relaxed Southwest lifestyle, warm temperatures (highs in the 80s with single-digit humidity), and the layout of the conference rooms for easy access. Only a few people have complained about how dry it is, or the allergy-related issues from the spring bloom here in the desert.

• Conference attendees seem engaged. Unlike conferences where there is more to do outside the conference (think Las Vegas or Orlando), the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort is a bit remote and removed from Phoenix proper. This keeps people focused on the conference and attendance up at all sessions—even those late in the afternoon.

• The HCI sessions seemed to get mixed reviews. I’ve heard complaints that sessions didn’t drill deep enough, as well as others who raved about how amazing the last speaker was. Like in all things in life, it is a little bit of luck as to what you get. Sometimes a session that sounds good turns out flat, while others that don’t have as sexy a title turn out great.

• The HCI National Summit is a work in progress. I’m impressed by the conference, given that this is only the second time HCI has put one on. I heard good things about last year’s inaugural event in Chicago, and this one has been good enough to make me want to come back next year. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room to improve, but rather, that I expect the conference to improve a lot more in the years to come. The biggest need? From my view, it would be getting higher-profile keynote speakers who could not only serve as a bigger draw, but would also have a little bit better message that targets the needs of the attendees. The crowd in Phoenix seems to be largely made up of HR directors and above, and I got mixed reactions to the first two keynote speakers.

Bottom line: I’d recommend this conference, since it is much more strategic than SHRM, but perhaps not quite as targeted as some Conference Board events. It is worth putting on your schedule for next year, because I believe it will continue to grow and get better. And, it’s already pretty good.

Keynote speaker, Day 2: Dr. Vijay Govindarajan is a professor of international business at Princeton’s Tuck School of Business and founding director of Tuck’s Center for Global Leadership. His keynote was based on his book 10 Rules for Strategic Innovators, and got into the subject of business transformation.

It’s a tough topic to start off the day, but Dr. VG (as he likes to be called) engaged the audience by talking about the three boxes that businesses need to focus on: managing the present (Box 1), selectively abandoning the past (Box 2), and creating the future (Box 3). Most businesses, he said, over-focus on Box 1 when, really, they should focus on Boxes 2 and 3, since that’s where the real strategy takes place. Managing the present is important (particularly maximizing your current business model), but managers can’t do that exclusively and forget the strategic planning necessary for future growth and success.

Too many companies, he noted, focus on the here and now and don’t think where their business model will be in 2025 and what they need to do to ensure future success. He pointed to companies that had strong, market-dominating products (like the Encyclopedia Britannica and Xerox), but let defending their strong position blind them to real planning for the future. They eventually lost their dominant spots because they failed to feel the “tremors” of the earthquake-sized changes to come.

Dr. VG pointed out that the more a business succeeds in Box 1, the more difficult it is to be successful in Boxes 2 and 3. Core competencies become core liabilities, and as he noted with the Encyclopedia Britannica, management was so focused on current customers that they didn’t see the digital revolution and Microsoft’s Encarta CD-ROM product as a threat until it was too late.

More from Dr. VG: The most interesting part of his keynote speech focused on business transformation, using the change in Olympic gold medal-winning high jump techniques to make his point. From the scissors jump in 1900, to the Western roll in the 1920s, the straddle (or Eastern roll) in the 1940s, to the famous Fosbury flop in 1968, gold medal-winning high jumpers not only innovated and changed their techniques but set new records each time they did. Dr. VG’s point was this: Make your current business model world class in performance, but look to transform and innovate it for future business success, even if it means completely changing all the rules of the game (as Dick Fosbury did with his Fosbury flop in Mexico City). You can’t always re-engineer, Dr. VG said. You must work to reinvent.
—John Hollon

Day 1—Monday, March 19, 2007

Conference kickoff: Allen Schweyer, president and executive director of the Human Capital Institute, kicked off the second annual national conference with a few surprising numbers. HCI, he said, has jumped from 24,000 professional and community members last year to more than 54,000 this year. And he expects the organization to grow to nearly 100,000 members by the third annual national conference next March in Scottsdale, Arizona. He also said that corporate members (which include American Airlines, Valero, CitiBank and the U.S. Army) have jumped from 25 in 2006 to nearly 100 this year. These are impressive numbers, giving a clear sense that HCI is an organization on the move.

Keynote speaker, Day 1: Clyde Prestowitz, founder and president of the Economic Strategy Institute, spoke on the subject of “Three Billion New Capitalists.” ECI is a Washington-based think tank that focuses on international trade and how key sectors of the U.S. and world economy adapt to change and globalization. So, Prestowitz should have a lot of good things to say.

He does, but it takes a bit for him to get rolling and really engage a conference crowd at 8:15 on a Monday morning. Prestowitz is an old-school speaker—no PowerPoint slides, no script, no written notes, no audience-grabbing vocal or visual tricks—and his gravelly voice takes a little getting used to.

But the premise of his speech—that we are at a moment of historic, dramatic change given the re-emergence of India, China, and other Asian economies on the world stage—is a timely topic. As Prestowitz notes, North America and Western Europe has been the world’s economic driver only for the past 600 years. For 5,000 to 6,000 years, Asia drove the world’s economy, and China had the largest economy in the world as recently as 1960. In his view, today’s focus on Asia just shows that the historical imbalance is just being rebalanced.

Like Tom Friedman and his book “The World Is Flat,” Prestowitz talks about the new world we’re now in and the enormous growth going on in Asia that’s largely fueled by demographics and education. “All of the most successful societies have a high focus on education,” he says, and this is where America falls short. The U.S. has a huge education problem—”secondary and high school education is largely a disaster”—and we need measurable national educational standards if we are going to be able to remain highly competitive in the years to come.

Prestowitz had a lot of important things to say that we ought to hear, but I’m not sure how many people were ready for such a high-level, grad school-style lecture so early in the day. Unfortunately, from what I heard from the audience afterward, I’m afraid that his lack of a real engaging style made it hard for many to follow the important message he had to give.

Talent management from the business perspective: Dr. Peter Cappelli, director of the Center for Human Resources at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, packed the room for his presentation on talent management. This is clearly a huge issue for lots of people, so they jammed in to hear what he had to say.

What he mainly had to say was that nothing today in talent management is new, and that everything that is talked about today was done before from the 1920s to the 1950s. The “corporate” career model, he said, with lifetime employment just doesn’t work anymore. The new challenge in today’s business world is “managing uncertainty,” a difficult proposition because the demand for talent is not only difficult to forecast, but in addition, the supply of talent is highly mobile and won’t stay put.

One of the keys to creating value with talent, he said, is to spot it early and give talented people the opportunity to grow before they can get it somewhere else. This means pushing people into more challenging tasks, helping them learn as they go, and always looking to match development needs to available opportunities.

Cappelli gave some interesting statistics that illustrated the nature of the talent management problem today. The companies on the Fortune 500 currently employ only half as many people as the firms on the list 20 years ago did. CEO turnover, which can drive turnover throughout the ranks of a company, is up 53 percent since 1995 and is rising two times as fast in Europe and the U.K. as in the United States. In other words, talent management is also a global issue that is difficult to manage. The key, in Cappelli’s mind, is to develop talent naturally (aka internally) because it reduces upfront costs, improves employee retention and shaves overall development costs.

Keeping the talent pipeline full: An afternoon session on “Leading Your Talent Market” by Cindy Mayer, executive director of staffing for Cingular Wireless, walked through the process by which Cingular hires 6,500 to 7,000 retail sales consultants each year. Here’s how it works:

• Start with 100,000 candidates.

• Do a skill and job assessment screening. Sixty-six thousand are left after this (66 percent).

• Have recruiters phone screen the remaining group. About 49,500 are left after this (75 percent of the previous cut).

• Bring the rest of the pool in for behavior-based interviews. About 29,700 remain after this (60 percent).

• Extend job offers to 8,320 candidates (28 percent).

• Some 6,600 actually accept the position and start work (80 percent).

—John Hollon