Commit Forum: Selecting Conferences to Attend
September 23rd, 2011 · 1 Comment
Are conferences worth attending? And if so, which ones? I get asked this a lot because I speak at so many. But lately I’m surprised to realize that because I’m a speaker, people relate to me and my world while I often have little knowledge of them, their work, and their reasons for attending conferences.
As a result I decided to interview a few conference planners and also those who are key players on panels from the business community to see what I could do to improve my answer to the question. I talked with Ryan Whisnant, Director of Sustainability for SunGard; Suzanne Fallender, Director, CSR Strategy and Communications, for Intel; and Peter DeBruin and Rachel Riccardella, of State Street Corporation’s corporate responsibility functions—all of whom are presenting next week at Commit Forum.
I posed two questions to each of them based on my intention to find out how people are thinking beyond programmatic aspects of CSR and Sustainability and focusing on how their companies are doing.
- How are you working to improve your whole industry’s perspective?
- How are you involving your whole workforce and full co-creator stream in stepping up the level of intention to really make a difference?
SunGard is known for its risk management services around data. They “have your back,” so to speak, when the grid goes down. They also provide software and technology services for financial institutions, local governments, and educational institutions.
Ryan says, he thinks it’s been important to “first get our own house in order before leading by example.” He feels they are making good progress and still finding innovative ways to improve. They also have strong support from their private equity investors, who increasingly consider sustainability an important factor for creating value in their portfolios and report sustainability performance alongside the financial as part of their disclosure.
Peter and Rachel at State Street echoed the idea of leading by example. They also publish extensive quantitative and qualitative information, beyond transparency on sustainability, with the intention to inspire their readers.
At Intel there is on-going, active participation as both contributor and learner in forums inside and outside the industry. For example, they are working with advisory panels for two initiates to improve CSR rankings efforts. One project, “Rate the Raters,” seeks to provide an in-depth analysis for rating sustainability efforts by educating agencies who rate and rank business about what they might be looking for in terms of transparency and methodology.
Intel is also actively working on the conflict minerals question because their industry is under the spotlight. They are taking the issue very seriously and are using a white paper to keep alive the creation of questions and solutions.
All three companies are actively stepping up workforce and co-creator involvement. Intel is working on the idea that you can only embed CSR into the business when the workforce makes it happen. Each functional business group creates their own plan on for engaging their functional business in advancing sustainability. For example, the events marketing team found ways to “green” their Intel Developer Forum conferences, including one in Beijing, China, which resulted in the creation of a Handbook for Smaller Footprint Conferences, which is now available online for use by all Intel groups.
Intel is one of the few companies Suzanne knows of that are seeking to link compensation to their return on CSR objectives (more on this at Commit Forum next week). Intel has also posted a video about the many other approaches they are taking to increase employee involvement.
SunGard seeks to create a culture that integrates sustainability into its business processes. They are involving leadership to make sustainability part of regular conversations, and they are looking to innovate. Oftentimes industry waits to try an idea until it is certified as “best practice,” which can leave everyone waiting indefinitely and slow down the pace of change. Sustainability efforts can’t afford to wait—and business can’t afford to shut down innovation.
Another important factor that is helping change CSR culture is leadership from Generations X and Y and Millennials, who are speeding up the conversation and making it a more mainstream part of business. “Industry is seeing that those who manage sustainability well tend to manage overall business well,” says Ryan.
At State Street, there is increased enthusiasm for CSR and sustainability arising from wider volunteer involvement in local community projects. Concern for sustainability arises from people in the community and spills back into the business, where the workforce generates more and more innovative ideas.
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I really enjoyed these short interviews. Many thanks to Ryan, Suzanne, Peter and Rachel for taking the time to talk with me and making me aware that conferences are just larger conversations. Are the people at the conference you’re considering the ones you want to include in the conversation? Are they talking about the questions you think matter? These are now the guiding questions for me when I choose conferences I want to attend.
Commit Forum is next week in New York. It looks like a great conference for learning what some big players are doing and how they are working on questions that matter. But—as always— you’ll need to ask them questions like those in my survey if you really want to hear what’s up at their companies. You may not agree with their answers, but they will stimulate your thinking and get you outside your day-to-day thinking. That’s got to be a good reason to attend any conference.
If you are considering attending Commit Forum and would like to know more about the people you’ll hear from there, you had better who up. Here is the place to learn more and register.