Event: Taleo World 2007 (annual user conference), September 9-12 at the Westin St. Francis Hotel, San Francisco
What: San Francisco-based Taleo (Nasdaq: TLEO) says it is "the leader in on-demand, Web-based hiring and talent management solutions that empower organizations of all sizes around the world to source and manage their candidates." More than 1,200 organizations use Taleo (including a third of the Fortune 100 firms) to recruit and retain top talent, with more than 1.08 million users processing 5.8 million candidates from some 100 countries.
Conference info: For information about Taleo, go to www.taleo.com
Day 2—Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Waking Up Is Hard to Do: Getting people up for breakfast and the 8 a.m. general session was a challenge, given that so many Taleo World attendees headed for the end-of-the-day reception and customer appreciation party Monday night at Ruby Skye, a trendy and happening San Francisco nightclub.
Not only was there a lot of drinking, dancing and all-around partying, but Taleo's house band from Quebec City—aptly named the Rockcruiters—made a memorable appearance. Lots of Taleo attendees told me they planned to hit the party for a quick drink and go, but judging by the looks of the ones who actually made it up for the early morning session, that quick drink turned into a long night of fun and frivolity.
Keynote speaker, Day 2: Although fewer people turned up for the Tuesday keynote than for the Monday session with Tom Peters, Lyn Heward, the former president of creative content for Cirque du Soleil, was just as engaging as Peters was. Her message, based on years working to recruit talent at Cirque du Soleil, was simple and direct: "Everyone has a wellspring of creativity. It just needs to be tapped and developed."
Heward talked about the need to help people in their "creative transformation," getting them to peel back the layers to let the "intense flavor of their talent come out. She listed her four keys to creative transformation. These tips that can help you manage yourself, a small department or a large business organization:
Work outside your comfort zone.
Try something different and take some risks.
Never repeat yourself.
Apply creativity to everyday tasks as well as to those big new projects.
Heward spent a lot of time talking about risk-taking and the need to try something new, even if you might fail in the process. She pointed to the development of the show "O" in Las Vegas, when casino mogul Steve Wynn told the Cirque du Soleil team that he would only give them $25 million to develop the production, instead of the $60 million they thought they needed. They made the show happen, on budget, and as Heward observed: "Sometimes, the most inspired ideas spring from difficult circumstances and defined limits." Complacency, she noted, is the biggest single risk you face, and the greater risk-taking you can handle, the greater the results will be in the end.
Unfortunately, the late night of drinking and partying on Monday meant a smaller audience to hear Heward on Tuesday morning. But she was well worth getting up early for.
An All-Star Lineup at the Customer Panel: Hearing your customers talk at your conference about why they like your product can frequently be an exercise in the obvious, but the customer panel at Taleo World was noteworthy, given the customers they got to speak. Technology columnist and moderator Bill Kutik had an all-star lineup of executives from companies such as Starbucks, Honeywell, JPMorgan Chase, Weyerhaeuser and Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, and the pedigree of these companies made for a high-level and meaningful discussion—much better than the usual conference fare.
Day 1—Monday, September 10, 2007
A new push for performance management: Taleo World may sound like a silly theme park from one of those Chevy Chase "Vacation" movies, but it’s actually the annual user conference for an up-and-coming HR software company. The highlight of Taleo World 2007, held this year in the company’s hometown of San Francisco, was the announcement of a new software solution called Taleo Performance.
Taleo is known for its software that helps automate recruiting and hiring, so a new product that streamlines performance reviews, succession planning and career management is a bit of a departure. On Monday, the company touted how the new software allows for user-generated content and social networking and collaboration, but what caught my eye was the talent card—designed to look like a baseball card—that carries all of an employee’s work background and performance information. On one side is basic stuff like name, title and a photo of the person; the flip side, like a baseball card, has their statistics—information about them that helps with performance management, goals management, succession planning and career management. Eat your heart out, Barry Bonds.
Keynote speaker, Day 1: Tom Peters, well-known author, speaker and all-around business guru, gave a wonderful keynote speech that reminded me just how good a great business speaker can be. His focus is simple: "Excellence, always. People, period."
Peters makes a big deal about his age—he's 64 turning 65 in two months—but his presentation and ideas were refreshing. He talks a lot about building good people, about relationships, about managing the right way. Relationships, he says, are the real "hard stuff" of business, while accounting, numbers and the budget are actually the "soft stuff" that's easier to deal with. Why is it that all the people working in Starbucks, every Starbucks, smile? He asked Starbucks management this simple question and got an equally simple answer: We hire all the people who smile!
Part evangelist, part Dutch uncle, Peters tells stories, yells, laughs and totally engages his audience. As a jaded conference-goer who rarely is entertained or surprised by business speakers anymore, I found myself not only pleasantly surprised by Peters, but agreeing with the great wisdom he's spent 40 years developing. You can enjoy it too—his presentations and PowerPoint slides are available at TomPeters.com.
One more from Tom Peters: Business strategy is a highly overrated concept, and Peters thinks so too. He quoted former Southwest Airlines CEO Herb Kelleher, who once said, "We have a strategic plan—it’s called doing things."
Meet me at the St. Francis? Taleo World 2007 was held at the Westin St. Francis Hotel, a classic San Francisco landmark that seems to have been ruined by Starwood's never-ending push to be cool and trendy. I loved the old St. Francis, a warm and friendly hotel that survived the 1906 earthquake, but now, it feels like a bad knock-off of one of Starwood's W Hotels. I don't know what Starwood management was thinking, but sometimes, the best management is to know when to just leave things alone.