When I attend a conference as a participant, one constructive practice I have acquired is to, immediately after completing the post-conference evaluation form, create my own personal “take away” worksheet. Nothing complicated, just two columns which can be labeled left/right, debit/credit, sooner/later, or plain/peanut. Don’t attempt to create this worksheet until after you’ve seen all the presentations and participated in all the discussions, workshops and roundtables - there is too much of a tendency to get overly excited about what you are immersed in at the moment; wait until you have gained some perspective.
The left hand column consists of those things that you’ve learned you are doing wrong and need to stop doing, or need to replace with an easy to implement change/alternative, and those things you feel you need to change or improve that can be accomplished without a project plan.
The right hand column consists of those areas where you want to improve, enhance or make major process or cultural changes that might, and probably will, require a project plan. Three to five items in each column, and once completed, circle ONE, and only one, from each column, for immediate action. This circled item is the one to which you will commit yourself to accomplishing no matter what; even if most or many of the others turn out to be impractical or inapplicable, you WILL commit to one short term and one medium term result. Lastly, write the words “WATCH IT!” underneath the list (to be explained).
In my participant ‘role’ as head of finance at the CFO Corporate Performance Management Conference held earlier this week in New York, this is what my final list looked like:
As I explain what each item means, I'll credit the presenter who inspired each idea in brackets.
My short term priority upon returning to the office is going to be to understand the top 5 decisions routinely made by the executive team, map out how those decisions are made, and evaluate how finance can provide better decision support in those cases [Thornton May]. Next in line short term is going to be mandatory and enforceable criteria for the abandonment of projects/initiatives that are not going to meet their objectives, starting with all new projects going forward, and evaluating existing projects as time permits [David Axson]. There is an immediate need, with near immediate payoff, in bringing HR more into the business value discussions, so that they understand how the business makes money, leaving in their capable hands how they can translate that knowledge into better strategic support of the organization [Jon Younger]. Lastly, will be to create, share and discuss the money pits encountered in our line of business, beginning with processes that rely on Excel spreadsheets and Access databases [Archetype].
In the longer term, we’re going to revamp our travel-cost management reporting, from one that provides breakdowns by air, hotel, meals and taxis, useful only to procurement, into an activity based format that tracks travel by “New business, Recurring business, Service issues, Admin, etc… [Axson]. Also on the list for longer term implementation will be an attempt to use drivers to forecast as many non-salary line items as appears reasonable and get away from the “last year + 3%” phenomenon [Archetype]. Most intriguing will be the effort to capitalize on the data visualization we already have to enable “Decision Visualization” so that we can SEE the all the connections (costs, revenues, people, technology, customers, suppliers, objectives, etc…) that should expectantly lead to better decisions faster [May].
And as for that “Watch It!” comment, that’s a reminder to myself to take it easy on my staff for at least the first 48 hours upon returning. Everyone has experienced the situation where the boss has gone off to a conference and the office staff waits in dread anticipation: “What’s he going to do next?” Over the long term this sort of behavior diminishes the trust your staff has in you, and YOU never really accomplish anything except through your staff – you need their trust. When you return with all your excitement and new ideas, take the time to call them together, share your learnings and excitement, make them virtual participants in the conference, gather their opinions and ideas, and as you set out to implement these ideas, see if you can’t make them partners in ownership, as if these were their ideas too.