Love the part on obsessing about clients. Naturally!
Corporate University Week Trip Report
I was dropped off by my wife and kids at 7pm for the 8:35 flight to O’Hare. My 3 year old started to cry when he realized that his trip was ending at the curbside check in and not on the actual flight. He has never flown yet and is dying to fly. Maybe some time soon. I had yet to be at JetBlue’s new Terminal and was very impressed. It’s clean, well lit and with clear signage. It took me about 15 minutes to get through security and find my gate. I have to forget at least one thing every trip and this time was no different. Luckily it was something as simple as Dramamine so I just picked up the generic brand available for 3x the price and one of the little shops.
After boarding I was extremely impressed by the Jet Blue flight attendant noticing, on his own, that my screen wasn’t working and immediately reassigning me to another seat. Great customer service involves being proactive, he definitely was. I watched the Lakers/Nuggets game and dozed for most of the trip so the flight went by pretty quickly. I took Airport Express from O’Hare to the Hyatt. It’s funny; I was the only passenger in my van, so it ended up being the equivalent of a cab at half the price. I’m not sure if everyone knows this or did I just figure this out.
The Hyatt at McCormick place is really nice and is clearly designed to handle conferences. There must have been at least3 other conferences going on simultaneously and there was no overlap. The staff is helpful; rooms are a good size although they could upgrade the TV’s. The gym was great and the rooms for the conference worked out well. The only complaint I could have had (I didn’t really care) was that I was entitled to a complimentary breakfast each morning, but I couldn’t get to it because the line was so long.
David Lamb was the conference chair and he kicked off the day discussing his 4 levels of training. I didn’t really get the distinctions, but they seemed to lead up to a more organic type of learning happening and being driven by the organization itself, or maybe that’s just what I wanted to hear. I have been thinking of organizations as a system for years now and I still can’t understand why so much learning and training still come to organizations form external sources. If organizations are a system then they should be able to provide for themselves with minimal support from the outside, no?
Phil Morel of MSFT was the first speaker and clearly he fully supported my thoughts. He talked about all the webinars and podcasting that is currently going on at MSFT. I was starting to get really impressed by what they were doing until he mentioned 3 things 1) he has 100 contractors working for him 2) he touts the ROI of his team by using a charge back model 3) everything is built on the MSFT platform. The first and the third just limit the application to other organizations. Who can afford 1 podcast/webinar contractor for every 1000 employees or afford the platform that all the podcasts and webinars sit on and are shared on (SharePoint). As for the charge back model, it is a great way to show value, but at the end of the day it all boils down to 1 P & L. You are also putting yourself at risk of “going out of business” if other departments refuse to use their budget on training. It might be safer to just build up your own budget. Does the marketing department charge back for marketing materials? Does finance charge for expense reports?
Next up was a panel about Emotional Engagement in Uncertain Economic Times. I thought the panel participants were really good. Most of their suggestions boiled back to the leadership team being honest and open with the organization. Tori-Ann Mills of Fenwal talked about how she sent reminder emails to her executives reminding them to keep checking on their own emotional health. I thought that was a good suggestion.
The next panel was about different generations in the workplace. One woman was from the Railroad industry and the other worked for an accounting firm. They both had some great suggestions about bridging the generations including: mentoring, retraining older employees, sharing knowledge, giving younger employees the opportunity to be on committees etc.
My session was after lunch and I had about 25 people there. Overall, the session was a good conversation about what social networks could add to an organization. I tried to stress that social networks are a solution to a problem not a fix for everything. There were some good questions from the crowd which led to some great dialogue. I only had 45 minutes but a number of the conversations continued throughout the rest of the conference.
I attended a session led by Bouvier Williams of MTV and Jeremy Tillman of Trainup.com. Trainup has been helping MTV Networks get their training out to the whole organization. It’s amazing when you think about just how many brands, channels and sites sit under the MTV brand! While not exactly the most energizing session, Bouvier did a nice job of explaining how he has scaled back training at MTV to find the right training that would work across the organization. His goal is fewer courses, but course that are relevant to all of their various businesses. He had some interesting data on growth and adoption. It’s really a great message; often less is more especially when you are looking for consistency across an organization.
Greg Inozemcev of JetBlue did an incredible job facilitating a session on brainstorming and problem solving. Attendees were placed in small groups and given training program scenarios that many organizations face on a regular basis. I don’t remember the specifics, but each group presented their solutions to the larger group, who then also had the opportunity to share some ideas. I love sessions like these, probably because I think I know the answers and love to talk! If done well you can walk away with 10-12 new ideas in an hour or so. This one was done well.
The final speech of the day was Ron McMillan of VitalSmarts who talked about crucial conversations. I loved this presentation because he clearly illustrated the down side of doing nothing. Managers and employees often think of meetings and conversations as good ideas. Sometimes you need a clear illustration of what happens when you don’t have the conversations you need to have and what the possible negative outcomes could be.
David Lamb started the day off with a nice wrap up of the sessions from the first day. It was nice to hear about some of the sessions I had not attended. He also somehow arrived at a 5th level for the 4 levels he had come up with the day before. I am not sure I got all the levels.
The Day 2 Keynote was Lisa Neal Gualtieri whose topic was the Learning Landscape in 2020. She spent a lot of time describing a project she had done about American Indians and the Pilgrims. I was struggling to make the connection to my own work so I took the time to talk to some of the exhibitors and other conference attendees.
The next Panel was about Innovation and Informal/Alternative Learning. Nothing really stood out to me in this session so I went to see if I could get on an earlier flight out of Chicago.
I loved the 30 Ideas in 40 Minutes session. I chose the session Moderated by Ken Shelton who had earlier introduced himself to me as the ghostwriter of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits book. I was impressed so I figured this would be the session to attend. There were definitely a lot of great ideas brought up. David Lamb and Kee Meng Yeo of Amway were on this panel so they presented lots of great thoughts and ideas to the crowd. The highlight for me was the debate between David and Kee about whether ROI was critical. David was all about ROI, Kee felt that it wasn’t all that necessary. In truth their positions probably boil back to their respective executive teams and corporate culture more than personal opinion, but it was great to hear both sides. I take both sides on this, I think learning and development have to be part of the organizational DNA, but I also think ROI is important. Marketing has to show ROI, why shouldn’t training?
The last session I attended was another problem solving group session lead by Amy Heirman
of United Airlines. I think the underlying theme for this session was how organizations need to rethink a number of initiatives they have had in place for a long time and see if they are worthwhile. One that comes to mind was United’s MBA recruiting. They recruit MBA’s but don’t really have room for them to move up in the organization so there becomes a logjam. Personally, I would spend that money on sending my execs through MBA programs or similar. They are already on staff and know the business; the education will only help them do their jobs even better.
I managed to get on the early flight. My first travel experience with JetBlue was really good. I will definitely be flying more with them in the future.