Saturday, 23 October 2010

Reflections on the Chartered Management Institute's Annual Conference #li #cmiconf

Last week I attended the annual CMI conference at the Royal Garden Hotel in London.

In a format like last year we were treated to an impressive range of speakers across various leadership topics.  The seemingly mandatory photographer was there to intrude on events by taking repeated flash photographs of the speakers while they were presenting.  It seems that this is a requirement for any significant CMI event and I have to say I've never understood why.  I was hugely amused though when we were showed a video created for the CMI reflecting on events of the past 12 months and it included a warning that there was some flashing images in it - but no mention of the photographer who had been snapping away for some while in the room !!

I was a bit puzzled by the title of the conference "From Mediocrity to Excellence" which, though I'm sure it wasn't intended as such, did seem like a bit of a downer on the leadership capabilities of the attendees and at the same time a "slight" overselling of what results might be achieved by attending.

As had been the case last year we had a late change to the programme due to a planned speaker not being available and so missed out on hearing Karen Brady talk which was a pity - especially as I had stayed up the night before to make sure I had watched a recording of that week's Apprentice to see what she said in case she referred to it in her talk :-(

So here are some thoughts that I jotted down from the day - most of the presentations are up on slideshare  ....

First up was Ruth Spellman Chief Executive of the CMI.  She talked about the progress the CMI is making both in terms of membership (now over 90,000) and in terms of brand recognition (now appears in the Superbrand survey top 500 - some 35 places above the CIPD).  Talked about the importance of management qualifications and showed a video about work Serco has done at Doncaster prison using CMI training to increase the capabilities of their leadership team with great results.  Right at the end of her talk was an interesting idea - keeping a weekly "Learning Log" to capture what you've learned each week and from whom.  I thought this sounded like an interesting way of triggering reflections on the week gone by and capturing thoughts from it - may give it a go.

Next we had Mike Southon, a political and business columnist for the Financial Times.  He talked about a range of topics, two things in particular caught my attention.  He introduced the idea of 7 stages in life.

  • 21-28 - try as many things as possible
  • 28-35 - serious attempt at something
  • 35-42 - maybe decide to try something different
  • 42-49 - at the peak of your powers
  • 49-56 - maturing self awareness
  • 56-63 - start to worry about your legacy
  • 63-70 - elder statesperson
Interesting to note from the political sphere that Clegg, Cameron, Milliband and Obama all fit in the 42-49 bracket.

He also spoke about "Talent dynamics" and the importance of creating teams that balance the skills of the members.  Again from the political sphere he spoke about the Labour team of Blair (star), Mandelson (deal maker), Brown (accumulator - eye on the money) and Campbell (mechanic - making things happen).

On the topic of money vs wealth he suggested that money is what you have in the bank and wealth is what you have left if the money all goes - ie reputation, trust, respect etc

After a break for coffee (and some rather lovely cake) we reconvened to hear Rob Law (he of Trunki fame - sit on suitcase famously broken by Theo on Dragons' Den).  He talked about the history of his company, challenges faced and how they overcame them.  Importance of picking the right people and and making sure they were engaged with the company was highlighted and he spoke about some of the things they do.  Their new office space was deliberately fitted out in a vibrant and wacky way consistent with the company values.  Interested to hear how they had an education fund of £1000 per employee which enabled them to grow new skills - intriguingly they can now see a reduction in consultancy costs as the staff they have gain broader capabilities.  Also touched on how important it is to make events memorable - highlighted a Christmas dinner that they had one year which was run at a cookery school so the staff actually had to cook their own meal.  Years later it is still remembered fondly.

The last slot before lunch was taken by Jo Salter who was the UK's first fast jet pilot in the RAF.  Lots of interesting background on how she progressed through the RAF to take that role and the challenges associated with being the first women to do so.  Four keys to success that she offered....

  • Be open to opportunities that present themselves 
  • Surround yourself with people who make you feel good and fill you with energy and maintain a "glass half full" mentality
  • Take responsibility for our actions - how we choose to behave drives what we do
  • Enjoy the journey - have goals but rather than just focus on meeting it then setting another make sure you enjoy the ride along the way as well.

After a break for a very nice lunch we reconvened for the afternoon session which was kicked off by Stephen Howard - CEO of Business in the Community.  In an echo of comments made by Mike Southon in the morning he noted that we tend to spend the first half of our life chasing success and then decide to focus less on success and more on making  significance - making a difference.   Talked about his role and Business in the Community and came across as someone really thrilled by what he gets to do each day - lots of reference to things being "fun".  He recounted a story of meeting Mother Theresa on a plane in India.  She asked him what he did and then as he started to talk about his role (at that time a company CEO) she interrupted him to ask "no, what do you do that matters".  Seemingly the conversation had a profound effect and his encouragement to us was to think about how we can use our position and where we are to make a difference in the world.  "What can I do today that will make the most difference?"

Professor Lord Eatwell (CMI Chief Economic Adviser) spoke about the latest Economic Outlook published by the CMI based on survey of its members.  The news wasn't great with significant drops in business optimism since the last survey 6 months ago.  Whilst this was driven by a big decline in the optimism of those in the public sector (perhaps not surprisingly) there were also declines in the responses from both the not for profit and private sector as well.

As noted above Karen Brady was unable to attend the conference so we had a substitute speaker in the shape of James Cann.  In a wide ranging talk he touched on some of his own business successes and how he had got to where he is today as well as some thoughts relating to his role as a Dragon.  

To finish the day we had the rather amazing Chris Moon.  His website has a short video that talks about his background so I won't repeat it here.  Instead here are some thoughts I jotted down while he spoke...

  • Stick to your values - respect other people
  • When facing death you are haunted mostly by the things you haven't done and the people you could have helped.
  • Courage isn't the absence of fear, it's overcoming that and doing what we know we need to do
  • Do not assume the role of victim whatever happens
  • Be focussed on where you are now - make use of time you have
  • Never take things personally, listen to what people say and don't rush to judge
  • Never underestimate the power of belief - he talked about a pig he had seen that was tied with a piece of string to a wooden stake.  Clearly the pig had the strength to get the stake out of the ground by pulling on the string and hence get free but it didn't - why not.  As a piglet it was tied to the stake in the same way and tried to get free but eventually realised it couldn't.  Later when it was tied up in the same way it "knew" it couldn't get free so doesn't try.... ie it becomes constrained by it's belief that it can't get free.
Finally he left us with his philosophy - be realistic about the situation you face, choose a positive perspective and choose a positive attitude.   It is this philosophy that has enabled him to survive and achieve what he has.

All in all it was a good day.  Whilst I like hearing from the high profile speakers I do miss the smaller breakout sessions that used to be a feature of the CMI conferences.  These smaller scale presentations added a lot of value by covering a wider range of topics and providing a chance to make connections with the speakers.  Some years later I am still linked with a number of the people whose talks I attended -  either through subscription to their newsletters/blogs or in person.