This year’s Professional Services Management Association (PSMA) National Convention was held in St. Paul last week. (I keep wanting to say “Minneapolis,” but St. Paulians are sensitive about that).Ed Vick, president of PSMA (Charlotte, NC), and chairman of Kimley-Horn & Associates, Inc. (Raleigh, NC) opened the meeting by promising it would be the organization’s “best ever” national convention, and I think it probably was. Like most meetings of this sort, some of the programs were great, some were okay, and some bombed. But the program is only part of the reason I go to these things. The real reason I go is the people I get to see there year after year. It’s a great to be with old friends (and competitors) that you might not otherwise get together with— it’s almost like an extended family. Because of its size (around 100 paid attendees), the PSMA conference is a much more intimate group than you might see at other professional associations’ annual meetings. We sent three of our principals, had a good time, and hopefully came back a little wiser.Here’s a partial rundown of the programs from the convention:“The Power of Paradigms,” was a session by Wayne Burkan, a speaker and consultant to predominantly Fortune 500 companies. Burkan woke us all up with a slick presentation on a topic that I had absolutely no interest in. The term “paradigm” and others like it always make me a little suspect. And Burkan did say that consultants from inside the industry would probably be ineffective as change agents because they are operating with the same paradigms as their clients, a statement that I think is preposterous. That’s like saying a cardiologist is going to be ineffective at solving heart problems because of too many preconceived notions— I’ll bet on the expert over the person who is still learning any time. But Burkan pulled together some humorous anecdotes, and delivered his message in an entertaining way without being condescending. He at least got everybody thinking. “Helping People Accept Change,” was an afternoon session also conducted by Burkan. It, too, was entertaining, but to some extent lacked relevance for our industry (architecture, consulting engineering, and environmental consulting). The best part was Burkan’s 10 points for “Reducing Resistance to Innovation,” though these were more applicable to introduction of new products than to introducing organizational change.“Problems of Urban America,” was presented by Tony Bouza, a former Minneapolis Police Chief and Minnesota gubernatorial candidate. Bouza was wild. He had all kinds of radical things to say about how to solve this country’s problems, which surprisingly, didn’t seem to offend any of his listeners. No matter what you did the night before, there was no way you’d fall asleep in your dessert with this guy at the lectern.“Using Equity Creatively,” was put on by a group of five speakers— four consultants and a real-life CFO (Mark Wilson from Kimley-Horn). Wilson was best because he knew what he was talking about and had something specific to say regarding how ownership transition was handled at his firm. The one consultant who probably had the most to offer started coughing during her presentation and had to sit down. I wasn’t impressed with the knowledge of the other three. One even passed along inaccurate information on the subject of who was eligible for deferred compensation. By and large, the audience seemed happy, though.The “Case Study Roundtable Breakfast,” offered two cases for each of 11 roundtables to discuss— Law Companies Group, Inc., (Atlanta, GA) and Braun Intertec Corporation (Minneapolis, MN). Each of these large companies faced a wide assortment of problems and challenges. Though some of the participants thought the session was turning into an “info-mercial” for a particular MIS company’s software (the firm that co-authored the cases), everything turned out okay, and most people seemed to enjoy the process.An “Economic Report,” was presented by John McDevitt, corporate economist for 3M. He was a good speaker who knew his stuff, but his overheads stunk. As is typical of economists, much of his presentation was irrelevant to me, since he dealt with big-picture economic issues. We are an industry comprised of 69,000 firms, most of which are small. (I learned that number at the convention— I used to say 50,000 firms!) It was still an interesting topic that a well-informed person would probably want to learn more about.“Megatrends and Corporate Strategies,” was put on by Curry Kirkpatrick and Mike Brandt, consultants either employed by or affiliated with FMI Corporation, a training and consulting firm geared to serving the construction industry. Neither impressed me much with their insight. Brandt got into another discussion of the economy that would have been more relevant to construction companies. Kirkpatrick had an appropriate outline and stayed on course, but had nothing new to say.The “PSMA Management Achievement Awards,” went to some companies that appeared to have tackled some tough problems. Three of these awards were no doubt well-deserved. Nolte & Associates (Sacramento, CA), tackled the thorny issue of company-wide CADD standards; AI/Boggs (Washington, DC) developed a company-wide marketing database; and one of my favorite companies, CTA Architects Engineers (Billings, Montana), won an award for their human resources management program. I know that one was well-deserved.“How to Climb the Ladder of Success and Take Your Family With You,” was an interesting presentation by Dr. Charles Petty, a psychologist who specializes in family issues. His speaking style was somewhere between a fire-and-brimstone Baptist preacher and a stand-up comic. His message seemed appropriate for an audience largely made up of entrepreneurial workaholics. He claimed we wouldn’t be worth a darn at work if we weren’t taking care of our personal lives, too— something I have always believed. His message got through— I skipped the golf outing and stood by for the next available flight out of St. Paul, which got me home a half-day early!Next year’s convention will be in Scottsdale, Arizona, at the beautiful La Posada Resort, on September 21-23. You ought to check it out. One last point. Readers should be sure not to confuse PSMA with PSMJ, a monthly management journal for this industry. This issue has become such a problem that the PSMA Board is actually considering changing the name of the 19-year-old organization. We’ll keep you posted.Originally published 10/03/1994
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