(Excerpted from the November 1999 Callahan
All managers know: There are too many conferences that beckon. Many
are worthwhile; some are not. But the very torrent of them is causing
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.