I want to write this column about why you should attend the HARDI conference. I’ve written a variant of this column with that slant over the years, even when I was not the editor of HARDI’s official publication. I really believe it’s the single best action you can take to become smarter about the HVACR industry and to improve your business operations. I was a strong proponent of attending even when I wasn’t a “member” of the HARDI family.

The problem for this issue was simple: You’re already here at the conference.  And if you’re not, you should have been (more on this later).

This leads to a dinner conversation with my wife, Cheryl. She told me that this week (early November), teachers throughout New Jersey have an annual conference. She has attended and will attend in the future. I asked her why they go.  She ran through a proverbial laundry list, including credit toward courses, activism and learning what’s new, especially for new teachers. And then she dropped the big one: The exposure at the conference and the plethora of learning tracks help prevent experienced teachers from becoming STALE.

I love that word because she was right and, more importantly, it’s true of ALL professions, not just teaching. You can’t demand radical change of yourself every day because you would never finish anything. But each of us, from the CEO down to the most recent “new hire,” gets stale. We’ve heard the reasons over the years, from inertia to human nature to reducing stress (you don’t have to “think” about it). The reasons are almost irrelevant. What matters is how we combat the staleness that inevitably begins to settle into our daily tasks.

Here’s a suggestion. If you’re already at the conference, when you go back, implement something that you learned. I would suggest that you attend a session where you think your company has the most significant weakness (and surely every company does), and that’s the one you really tackle upon your return. If you give yourselves A’s across the board, surely there’s a B- or just a B somewhere in your operation that could use some improvement.

My other suggestion is that when you return, make the commitment to send a team member in 2017 whom you wouldn’t normally send. It is sensible to send someone who is in or near the leadership structure so they can have some impact on company operations when they return. You might decide arbitrarily. Place all the names in a hat and pull one out during an important meeting or go to random.org (as I do sometimes) and let the computer decide.  You can even sponsor a contest among your staff, and the employee who demonstrates the strongest desire and delivers the best effort gets the nod.

I understand there’s a cost involved with my suggestion. Easy for an editor to pontificate because, after all, I’m not paying the tab. But during every conference, someone always brings up the idea that you ought to "invest" in your employees. Maybe if you think of that additional employee attending as an investment, thus extending the suggestion that ultimately there is some payback, you won’t think of it as just another expense.

There is one more reason to send someone who might not be on your A-list. This would especially apply to someone who is “good” but doesn’t quite have that little extra you look for on that next rung of managerial or leadership level. Going to an annual conference can actually provide the Wow factor in an industry that is, let’s be honest, not exactly filled with holiday moments. I’ve met a few first timers (I was one myself), and they seem to find it all rather overpowering. Awe might be a bit strong to describe it, but the zeitgeist of every conference emits a feeling that all of this activity is a “big deal” and important. What you’re looking for is to use the conference as an igniter to spark that employee onward to a stronger and more knowledgeable worker.

Will it work? I couldn’t possibly know. But I know this. If it works and you find that new employee transformed, even a little, I get some of the credit, and you get the benefit. If I’m wrong, and that employee reverts to that stale and predicable person of the past, you can mark him or her off that mental list that you carry in your head about who’s going to move upward.

And just knowing that is worth something, too.