by Leo Jakobson | May 01, 2018
Recognition Professionals International (RPI) kicked off its Annual Conference on April 30 by honoring its own and offering expansive education for attendees. The conference, held at the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel in Nashville, TN, brings together recognition providers and practitioners for three days of learning, networking, and celebration.

The day started with a keynote by David Sturt, executive vice president of recognition firm O.C. Tanner, who spoke about six "talent magnets" necessary to build an engaging culture in the modern workplace.

"Culture is incredibly powerful," Sturt said, noting that Forbes finds that 92 percent of C-suite leaders say improving their culture will improve company value. "Every CEO everywhere I travel is so focused on it."

Culture, Sturt added, is something companies felt they had to work with, whereas now they are trying to impact it. Still, he said, executives should not think about driving engagement as much as getting employees to understand where the company is going. "If it is powerful, people will choose to commit," he said, noting that this is especially true of Millennials. 

Sturt pointed to the former CEO of Domino's Pizza in India, who turned a struggling firm into a dominant firm with 70 percent of the market, by focusing employees on what the company does, which he said was to bring happiness into customers' houses. "He focused on communicating that over and over, and it brought out people's creative energy," Sturt added.

He pointed to a wall of hundreds of video screens just inside the front entrance of Qualcomm's headquarters that scroll through its 18,000 patents and the people who created them, likening it to the Washington Monument in honor of our first president. He also recounted how the company's CEO gave all his executives desktop "Yes" buttons modeled on the Staples "Easy" button when he felt the company leadership was saying "no" to new ideas more as it grew.

At a lunchtime awards ceremony, Caitlin Hamm of Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center was given the RPI Pam Sabin Recognition Champion Award, and retiring board member Rita Maehling was honored with a special award.

The 2018 Best Practice Award for a company or organization's recognition program was a tie for the first time ever, with BAE Systems and the University of Calgary both honored. Program managers from both winners were among those hosting afternoon breakout education sessions.