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HRPA Conference

The Importance of Year-over-year Results

Yesterday, I gave a talk at the HRPA Conference, Canada’s largest annual human resources event.

After my session ended, I visited the conference bookstore to sign copies of Change with Confidence. As I was chatting with a bookstore employee, I realized I had done the same thing one year ago almost to the day. 

I am a fan of measuring year-over-year results, both professionally and personally. Finances, running statistics and adherence to guidelines get year end reviews.

What I hadn’t reviewed this year was the progress of my book. I reread a blog post I had written after the last conference for clues about what I was measuring. This was little help since my focus was on how I got to the conference in a three-day snow storm in New Jersey.

I do remember that the number of sales was very important to me. As a first time author, it was a tangible measure of acceptance, or the importance of my book. I checked often.

Also important were the number of reviews, interviews and the number of articles I got published. More concrete measures of approval.

As the year progressed my focus changed. The biggest accolade was a reader who emailed me to say how much my book had helped him. “Just what he was looking for,” was what he wrote. Also, a few professors had added it to their reading lists and a company believed in it enough to create an online course on the content, which meant a lot to me. 

My focus had changed from acceptance to influence. 

I hadn’t realized that my change in focus has affected my promotional efforts. It had become part of my decision making criteria for speaking engagements and the businesses and institutions I approach. 

I feel good about my progress and the types of results I will make this year.


The Easier it Looks, the More Preparation it Takes

I heard Commander Chris Hadfield speak at the HRPA conference last Friday. He commanded the International Space Station last year and developed a worldwide following by posting Youtube videos about life in space. He also recorded a version of David Bowie’s Space Oddity that was watched by ten million people in three days – 21 million to date.

Chris talked about his career and his experiences. He also spoke about the importance of teams having a shared vision, developing deep relationships and investing in exhaustive preparation. He told stories of working with his crew for five years in preparation for their mission. 

At the end of Chris’ talk it was announced that he would be staying to sign copies of his book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. Hundreds of us bought a copy and stood in line for the opportunity to share a few words with this inspiring man.

After thirty minutes of waiting, a coordinator apologetically said that given the unanticipated high interest to the book signing, Chris would have to leave before everyone could get their books signed. A pre-signed card was offered as a consolation prize. 

To my surprise, forty of the sixty people on the wrong side of the line left. They had just heard a hero talk about perseverance and giving it your best then quickly they took “no” for an answer. 

The twenty, including me, who stayed were a motivated bunch. We reasoned that there was no way a commander of a space station would leave without signing our books, not this commander. The next twenty minutes were spent strategizing and reviewing scenarios – how many security guards were guarding him, which way would he exit, should we get his attention by singing Rocket Man or Oh Canada? Failure was not an option.

We were not disappointed. Once Chris saw the band of twenty he welcomed everyone to join the line. After shaking his hand I asked him if it was a bit overwhelming. I was referring to his popularity but he assumed I was talking about the long book signing. He said, “Absolutely not, I get to meet all these great people.” He made it sound easy.

That night, I watched the Space Oddity video a few times. It was well edited and Chris looked like he spent all of his time in orbit calmly singing, play guitar and floating around a space station. It looked easy.

I searched the Internet for details on making the video. The process started with Chris’ son, Evan, convincing his dad to record the song. Evan rewrote the lyrics so that the astronaut returns to earth safely, a good omen for his dad. 

Chris recorded an initial vocal track on his ipad using Garage Band software. He asked his friend Emm Gryner, a musician who had toured with Bowie, for her opinion. She liked it and added a piano track and asked her friend, Joe Corkoran, to add instrumentation. The song was sent to Bowie, which he really liked. Once his permission was secured and legal requirements were completed, Chris rerecorded the final audio track. 

In his spare time, Chris filmed himself singing and playing guitar in different parts of the space station. After mixing and editing, the video was uploaded to Youtube by his son on May 12, 2012, the day before the commander returned to earth.

What a story, what preparation. Definitely not easy. Phil

Trains, Planes and Automobiles

I thought of the Steve Martin and John Candy’s movie Trains, Planes and Automobiles when I was stranded in New Jersey on Tuesday.

It was a busy week that started with an early Monday morning flight to Newark followed by a day and a half of client meetings.  

I rarely take afternoon flights but I needed to be home the next day for an HRPA Conference speaking engagement and book signing. I remember Morten Hansen, the co-author Great By Choice, saying that he never travels on a speaking day because of unforeseen delays. I didn’t want to test his rule.

At 10:49 am, I received a text from Air Canada informing me that my flight had been cancelled due to weather. I had been rebooked on a flight at 6 am the next day (the day of my session). It was inconvenient but my flight would still arrive seven hours before my 3:10 pm start time. I toyed with the idea of driving home but the 10 hour trip and loss of sleep didn’t make sense.

Throughout the morning people talked about the big storm that was about to hit the northeast coast. The first snow flakes fell at 8 am and by 12 pm the storm was in full swing and most people had gone home. 

By 3:30 pm, visibility was low and there were six inches of snow on the ground. I left the office with my fellow traveler, Tim, to buy a change of clothes at the local Marshall’s. The roads were slippery, especially since our rental car did not have snow tires.

Back at our hotel I received another text from Air Canada: My 6:00 am flight had been cancelled (due to weather) and I was rebooked on a flight the next morning at 8:40 am (the day after my presentation!).

“Dread” is the best word to describe how I felt. It was possible that I would miss a speaking engagement at the one of the largest conferences in Canada where over 100 people had signed up for my sessoin. The car option was back on the table.

Tim and I analyzed the problem. How important was the commitment? Extremely important – cost was not an issue. What were my options? Planes, trains and automobiles.

The train option didn’t work due to schedules. The car option didn’t work either: New York City’s mayor declared a state of emergency and hotel staff shared stories of four-hour commutes. I wouldn’t make it through the storm.

Plane was my only viable option. Although Air Canada had cancelled all of its flights, Tim located a Porter Airlines flight leaving Newark at 11:10 am. I would arrive in time for my session as long as the flight was less than 90 minutes late. 

I had kept the conference coordinator apprised of my situation since the first cancelled flight. Also, my wife, Barb, was on stand by, ready to meet me at the airport with a suit. The only thing left to do was follow the plan.

I got to the airport two hours ahead of my flight. The calm of the deserted airport seemed at odds with the magnitude of my challenge. Even the border guards and coffee baristas were chatty, which I would have enjoyed under other circumstances. I kept thinking, “take off on time, take off on time”.  We did. 

I arrived at the conference centre with 55 minutes to spare. I tested my slides with the tech team and was settled in my room before the first attendee arrived. I opened my session by saying, “The hardest part about working in change management is following your own advice when you are managing personal change.” My planes, trains and automobiles story was an effective metaphor for organizational change.

In managing change, you do the best with what you’ve got. Sometimes it works and other times it doesn’t. The only thing for certain is that you will have a good story to tell when it is over.


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