Dealing with the Torrent of Conferences

All managers know: There are too many conferences that beckon. Many are worthwhile; some are not. But the very torrent of them is causing a problem.


(Excerpted from the November 1999 Callahan Report)

All managers know: There are too many conferences that beckon. Many are worthwhile; some are not. But the very torrent of them is causing a problem.
CEOs are expected to know what is going on in the credit union world and what is likely to happen in the future that likely would affect their credit unions. So associations -- and vendors who see credit unions as cash cows -- organize conferences on technology, finances, CUSOs, SEG marketing and more; the list is indeed long.

My guess is that if you compared travel and conference spending in 1989 with the same in 1999, you would find a significant increase. But what are we getting for the increase? Is it possible to travel and learn as well as manage an efficient credit union?

Many years ago for some credit unions the answer was "no," and these more or less met the problem by developing a "Mr. Outside" and a "Mr. Inside." One did the traveling and learning and the other made sure that the credit union day to day operated efficiently and effectively. One might have been called the CEO and the other the CFO or executive vice president.

Now even those days may be gone. The outside relationships have become so critical that even "Mr. Inside" has had to start traveling quite a bit.

This can't last. My guess is that the people who throw the same ol' conference with the same ol' material are going to see a new clientele; the CEOs and CFOs are simply not going to keep up with conferences that do not bear fruit for their credit unions in the near term. Increasingly, lower-level managers are going to be representing their credit unions at such conferences. Thus lower-level people are going to be the ones calling the shots and giving direction at these conferences.

Board Members and Conferences

There may be another approach to this problem, namely the greater use of board members traveling to conferences as representatives of their credit unions. Many board members after all are retired and have some time on their hands. And having board members travel to the conferences can be a highly favorable tactic. Boards are prone to balk at new notions and change. But the reason for intransigence is often the result of unfamiliarity with a subject. When board members attend the right conferences they can gain a deeper understanding of the issues. They come back highly charged with enthusiasm for a new concept and can sway the remainder of the board to action.

But of course they have to go to the good conferences and not the ones that will reinforce outworn methods. My own feeling is that board members should not go to conferences without consulting with the CEO and getting his recommendations on which to attend.

So the question comes down to which are worth attending? Here I rely on my own experience with a conference or the advice of a trusted colleague who has attended the conference the year before. That rules out most start-up conferences; they need recommendations before I would commit myself to one. It also rules out the ones that have been the same for years and merely stir the mix; such are really not getting the job done of forwarding credit unions in their mission. When I feel good about a conference, I feel I can recommend it to a board member.

Incidentally, I believe that it is important to occasionally attend a conference that is not a credit union conference. We can become too inward thinking without realizing it. By attending discussions oriented to other fields we gain a better notion of what is going on outside our small industry.





March 6, 2000



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