Every CEO knows the lament: Conferences and meetings are important, often very
valuable, but they take away time from operating the credit union. Sometimes
it seems as if they take away far too much time.
Some of these conferences are very difficult to forego. They have been around
forever (teachers’, telecoms, GAC, etc.) and there are vested interests
in keeping them going. Even when CEOs decide a meeting is not going to be particularly
worthwhile, the Board might say he or she has to go. That’s lots of time
in airports, on planes and in convention hotels.
“Webinars” are becoming more of an acceptable substitute for these
time-gobbling conferences. Webinars allow for the discussion of a topic and
points to be made, even consensus and action. They seem to be most successful
when they focus on a specific content issue.
But face-to-face meetings — being there in person — is exceptionally
valuable, if not immediately, then at least over time. We believe this owes
basically to two things: ideas best percolate face-to-face, and relationships
develop that will serve the movement in unforeseen ways.
Conferences normally have a prescribed agenda, often including speakers whose
task it is to inform with news or offer perspectives on novel methods. These
are helpful to a point. In fact, many people make decisions about going to the
meetings once they have convinced themselves that they will come home with,
say, two “deliverables for each thousand dollars spent.” If they
don’t see something on the program for their credit union, they won’t
But the best value is usually not in the program anyway, or even in engaging
with people who are fixated on “deliverables.” It is in the confluence
of good people and free time. This is when the ideas bubble up, get kicked around
and get mentally tested, and when preliminary plans are laid for putting those
ideas in place. Webinars cannot replace face-to-face. The force of an idea is
often initially the function not just of the idea itself – which can sometimes
sound fantastic, even incredible — but of the tone of voice, body language
and eye contact. Given enough “brainstorming time” – and often
meeting planners set aside too little for this – you can never predict
the benefits that are going to come out of a conference.
People need to engage, and they need to know what is happening in other parts
of the country and what the people are like who are making those things happen,
along with what makes them tick. Even if you see a person once a year at a conference
and speak casually for a bit, you are going to feel more comfortable telephoning
that same person five months later and more assured that your point will be
Knowing people, and brainstorming with them, has been a credit union hallmark
for a hundred years. We believe it has made us more nimble and flexible than
our competitors in the financial services industry. It’s not just our
small size that makes us better able to react when challenged or lead the way
with new services. We can also get on the telephones and know whom we are talking
with, whom we can count on and for which skills. Our people pool has been invaluable,
and it cannot be built by electronic communication alone.
Still a Problem
That said, how does this solve the “time dilemma” forced upon CEOs?
It doesn’t. CEOs need to get out and talk, and find out what is on the
minds of others in different regions.
So CEOs still have to choose their meetings with care and budget their time.
They also have to hire subordinates (CFOs, CIOs) who not only have good skills
in their principal areas but also the talents to be able to take the place of
CEOs at conferences, to speak for the CEOs and the credit unions and to absorb
as much as the CEO would, then be capable of reporting all of the information
back to the CEO. There is the brainstorming element, too. Subordinates need
to be able to usher up those good ideas not only from themselves but also from
others they meet at conferences. That increases the pool of idea people, broadens
the coast-to-coast people network and strengthens the whole movement.