The Conference Junkie: Preaching to the Converted

Posted:  April 20th, 2011 by:  The Environment Site comments:  0

At the recently concluded Charities@Work conference, JP Morgan Chase’s VP and National Director for Employee Engagement and Financial Education Michael Carren challenged the attendees to return next year with a colleague.

What he said isn’t atypical for a conference. For organizers, these forums—especially annual ones—mean new business opportunities and a bigger, better event the following year.

And when one of the organizers says this, the reaction is usually one of ambivalence: Sure, of course you want to increase your attendance.

But for once I agree.

As I go from conference to conference this year (Count stands at 11 so far including two that we’ve organized), alternatively presenting, speaking on a panel or simply attending, I’ve realized that, no matter how good the events are, they’re all suffering from the same problem.

That is: We are preaching to the same crowd.

We’re talking about CSR, business ethics, social responsibility, life skills, business skills, leadership skills and so much more…we’re learning from each other’s experiments and sharing our challenges.

But are we extending the dialogue to our colleagues when we return to our desks?

After all, we are returning to a bulk load of work and an endless cycle of deadlines and deliverables. We are not sharing what we learned with our colleagues, and we are certainly not using the key takeaways to crowd-source solutions within our organizations. Even if a small percentage of us is taking the time to spread the wealth, are we doing it effectively?

Are we delivering the message across departments? Across management hierarchies? Are we making it make sense?

Because if we were, the attendance demographics would change every year: Networking breaks would have newer faces, fresher perspectives, evolving challenges. Every lunch/dinner break would mean meeting people with diverse backgrounds and experiences.

But that isn’t happening.

I know. Most of us don’t have the time.

“We’re Not Sitting At the Same Table”

At the Business Civic Leadership Center’s (BCLC) annual conference earlier this week, I happened to share a table at lunch with Microsoft’s Senior Director of Global Community Affairs Akhtar Badshah and Ann Cramer who is the director of IBM’s corporate community relations. They shared similar sentiments: Why this continued disconnect? Why do the marketing, legal, compliance, community relations, and HR teams remain so misaligned on what CSR means for their roles, and their impact?

Referring to my recent workshop with the students at the University of Minnesota on CSR and job hunting, I asked Cramer what could help reduce this disconnect. Her answer resonated: We’re not talking enough, we’re not educating ourselves enough, we’re not sitting at the same table, she said.

Never Too Late for a New Year’s Resolution

So why not share some of the wealth and use next year’s budget to send someone else from your company to some of these conferences, especially the ones that have become permanent dots on your annual calendar?

Even if just a handful of new attendees get the message and are able to contextualize it to their daily job, that’s a win in my book—and I’d wager in your company’s long term growth as well.

Picture Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ter-burg/4998348395

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