Thursday, November 14, 2019

A New Day at the WCI

The Workers' Compensation Institute recently made an announcement of additions to its leadership team. The press release of November 5, 2019 is online There are many that have attended the WCI in Orlando at some point. In something resembling its current form, the WCI has been going on for 32 years. It has featured programming on virtually every workers' compensation topic, provided varied perspectives, and drawn a diverse spectrum of workers' compensation professionals. 

I recall my first trip there in 1992. The program was all presented in the ballrooms and meeting rooms of the Peabody Hotel on International Drive. The concert on Monday night was in the breezeway where cars would normally stop to discharge passengers. And the crowds were significant. So significant, I could never get a hotel room at the conference hotel or a seat in the restaurants at meal time. I recall many walks up International Drive in search of sustenance. 

Ponder on that for a moment, 32 years. Where were you in 1987? The Berlin Wall still stood then. The FDA had just approved AZT to begin the long road of treating a fairly new malady - AIDS. The Simpsons premiered on television. The big political news was Iran/Contra hearings on Capitol Hill. It was, in short, a different world. If you remember these, you are old like me. If you don't, I am glad you are reading this as you are the next generation, or perhaps the one after that. 

Well, as legend has it, in 1987 four attorneys agreed to take on the challenge of providing workers' compensation education: Jim McConnaughhay, Steve Rissman, David Parrish, and Gerry Rosenthal. With a breadth and depth of experience in workers' compensation, with knowledge of how to run a law firm, these four dove head-first into the education business. The success of the WCI program is attributable to their dedication, commitment, and ability to recruit and motivate an assortment of steadfast volunteers. 

And, the results speak for themselves. As the press release notes, 32 years later it is the largest workers' compensation conference in the United States. It offers a breadth of topics that is astounding: 250 sessions, 500 speakers, 7,000+ attendees. At a given moment, one might delve into developing trends, medicine, rehabilitation, regulation, and more. In the interest of full disclosure, I have been privileged to work on various projects with WCI over the years, I have been a speaker on many solo and panel stages, and I have been an enthusiastic cheerleader for this Florida venued expose on all that is workers' comp. I am also honored to serve on the Program Committee for the last decade and more recently the Board of Advisors. It is fair to say I believe in the mission of this annual conference. Education is critical to our success in delivering for America's employees and employers. 

But, the 32 years has not come without cost. The organizers, the "four" have invested countless hours and effort into this program. It is fair to note that the passage of time has seen both program and life changes. Through the changes, Jim and Steve have become iconic in their efforts to both build and diversify this program, its volunteers, and its audience. It seems like every year brings a new breakout, a new constituency, or a new discussion. I have personally learned much from both the preparation for and deployment of this program over the various years of attendance. 

2019 brought changes. Change is the only true constant in the world, to which the constant evolution of the program attests. But one of the changes is that we are all a little bit older. In recognition that the conference will continue to evolve and grow, Jim and Steve recognized that it is time to bring in additional management to augment and supplement their efforts. This will both help to reduce their stress and to put additional effort and energy into the mix of developing the best educational opportunities possible. 

Thus, in stepped a host of industry leaders that bring a diverse and often intriguing perspective to the management of such an operation. The Board of Advisors is indeed an elegant collection of experiences, ideas, and perspectives. I find myself learning from their presence. They come from industry (employers), safety, legal, and risk backgrounds. They are (we are) focused on assisting the management of the WCI to build on the success of the past. 

But additional management is the real news, the appointment of Associate Executive Director Julie Fetherman. Her role is a direct supplement to the efforts of Jim and Steve. She will bring a more generalized business management experience to a successful management team. And, she will bring a largely fresh perspective to the table. That is always beneficial. Organizations need to periodically ask "why do we do this" or perhaps "why this way?" New perspectives are good for that analysis. When we work in the trenches we become acclimated to the way things are, and we may lose the curiosity to ask why. We each hold the potential for both complacency and innovation. 

Ms. Fetherman brings an innovative spirit to the process. Her comments focus us on maintaining what the WCI Conference has become, on continuing "cutting edge education." But, the innovative element is also illustrated in her mention of "facilitating growth" and taking the conference "to the next level." In any endeavor, there is likely room for improvement. My study of business so many years ago included discussions of inspired innovation, building on successes, and effective management. So much of that classroom experience has come back to me through the last year as the Board of Advisors has coalesced and the management augmentation has begun. WCI is lucky to have Ms. Fetherman join the team. 

With it, the future of this important workers' compensation event is encouraged. With evolution and adaptation, there is every probability that the Workers' Compensation Institute will be preparing in some 32 more years for the 2052 Educational Conference. The world will include workers' compensation, safety, and more. We could perhaps predict some subjects and topics that program will include. Some things endure. But, it is likely that program will be as different from 2019 as our last program was from 1987. Change is inevitable. 

Where the future takes our need for education and training may be hard to predict. What is easier is predicting that we will all need the collegiality, sharing, and learning that are facilitated. And, by "we" I speak of those of us striving today but more so of the next generation to come. The leaders of tomorrow are among us today. They yearn for the reigns and struggle with putting their education and experiences to the test of leadership. The WCI is investing in its next generation and looking to its future. The simple question I have for you today is "are you?" 

I have mentioned time and again in this platform that mentoring is critical. For your business to maintain and grow, regardless of your product or service, the secret is in attracting, training, mentoring, and fostering the next generation. We must recognize where we are, attract new talent to us, engage them, and prepare them to take over. I sense WCI's recognition of that path. Does your enterprise reflect that path? Are you passing on all that you are and that you know to the next generation?

The future is promising. I will most assuredly not be in attendance at the 2052 WCEC in Orlando. But, some of our current attendees will be. They will be older, grayer, and likely lamenting how fast it all went by them. 2052 will bring a program of their making, focused on their needs. It will get there through evolution, not revolution; through vision and planning. With the changes in 2019, that planning and evolution has begun and through it we will see dinosaurs like me fade as tomorrow's best and brightest move to the fore. 

I welcome the next leaders and applaud them. I look forward to assisting them if I can as they take the educational conference and our workers' compensation community to new heights and success. Perhaps in 2052 someone will happen across this (then) ancient blog and know that we were both cognizant of our history and focused on the next generation's success. Perhaps this will remind them to be the same as the reigns are passed yet again to that next generation that will take this community to 2084? As we fade to the back of the stage, let us each invest in tomorrow's leaders. It is their world in which we will live. If we have done our jobs, that world will thrive.