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Best in Shows Notes From Key Workforce Management Conferences and Conventions

April 7, 2006
Related Topics: Latest News

It’s All About "Engagement"

Event: The Conference Board 2006 Senior Human Resources Executive Conference–Strategic Workforce Management and Growth: Aligning People, HR and Business Strategy

April 6-7, 2006, at the Millennium Broadway Hotel, New York City

What: The Conference Board is the world’s leading business membership organization, with a global network of nearly 2,000 businesses and organizations in 61 countries. Conference Board sessions provide executives with an opportunity to share practical business experience, rather than theory, primarily from senior executives from major organizations.

Conference Info: For more information about Conference Board events, click on

Show notes:

Date: Thursday April 6, 2006

First clue this is a very high-level audience: The Conference Board is known for attracting a very high-level audience--it likes to tout that the quality of the audience is equal to the quality of the speakers--but this was a really high-level group, even by Conference Board standards. Of the 143 listed attendees, there were 44 vice presidents, 22 senior or executive vice presidents, two divisional vice presidents, 28 directors (including managing directors), two general managers, a COO and three presidents.

Second clue this is a very high-level audience: The first day of a Conference Board event is usually closed out with a cocktail party, and the lure of an open bar means that it is usually well attended. Not so at this conference, however--maybe because all those high-level executives were out checking in with the office or doing business of some sort.

Best speaker of Day 1: Top contender was the opening session, "The High Performance Organization," by L. Kevin Cox, executive vice president, human resources, for American Express. One of the key assumptions behind his speech was that the CEO of a company must understand and support HR’s role in the business. And just what does he think is HR’s role? Cox said it comes down to this:

1. To drive a business-focused talent development platform.
2. To partner with the business units to build key organizational capabilities.
3. To play a leadership role in creating an engaged workforce.

Conference buzzwords: "Employee engagement" and driving more "highly engaged" workers. If you don’t know what that means, Towers Perrin gave a list of items defining engagement that’s too long to recap here. Essentially, it comes down to what management does to fire up workers, make them want to come to work and get them to give more of their discretionary effort to the business and the work they do.

Why employee engagement is important: American Express’ Cox said that shareholder value is destroyed when a company has an employee engagement score of 40 or less (that is, only 40 percent of the employees say they are "highly engaged" in their jobs). At companies with 40 percent to 60 percent employee engagement, the return to shareholders is 9.1 percent. When engagement is above 60 percent, the return to shareholders jumps to more than 24 percent. FYI: Cox said that American Express has an employee engagement score of 65 percent--good, he said, but there’s still work to be done to improve it.

The report you need to read: Towers Perrin consultants discussed the new "Towers Perrin Global Workforce Study: Winning Strategies for a Global Workforce." It’s well worth reading. For example: "Arguably, in just a few short years, the notion of a ‘domestic’ company may be a complete anachronism. Already, fewer and fewer companies operate solely within a single country’s borders. Whether they are manufacturing in lower-cost regions, moving back-office operations outside their borders or selling their products or services around the world, they need people--full time, part time and just in time--to conduct business effectively."

Speaking of a global presence: There was a distinctly international flair to the conference, with attendees from South Korea, Canada, Finland, Australia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom--showing just how global the issue of strategic workforce management has become.

The magic formula for workforce management: The "silver bullet" of human capital management, according to Rose Patten, senior executive vice president, human resources and strategic management, at BMO Financial Group in Toronto, "is forging the link between business strategy and performance." According to Patten, the key concern of senior HR executives should be "leadership bench strength--does your company have a plan for developing it, and are you developing enough?" And, she added, a company’s "people strategy must be no different from other strategies--it must add demonstrable bottom-line value."

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