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Earlier this year C&IT reported on key topics causing concern around the boardroom tables of many an agency – one of which concerns talent attraction and retention, particularly at a senior level and for substantive roles.

This problem isn’t unique to the MICE industry and like counterparts in other industries many agencies have been trying to tackle this in several ways including the introduction of flexible working and job variety; improved cultures and work environments as well as investing in training and development – with many agencies citing a ‘home grown’ strategy and promoting from within as a longer term solution.

These initiatives are all laudable and I know from experience that the initial impact of such changes is immense – with real long-term benefits where culture and working conditions are addressed. I do worry however that without changing the model that so many organisations in the industry are now operating from in relation to development, job variation, progression and retention – a whole set of different problems are rushing to face us.

1. Arguably the worst of these problems is caused where organisations are desperate to keep their shining stars and the only quick and clear way to do so is through promotion – whether the gap was legitimately there or not.

Here often follows the birth of the ‘Peter Principle’, a term coined by Laurence J Peter and used to describe the damage caused when organisations promote people into managerial roles without providing support and training before and after the promotion. Bad managers tend to be the result and suddenly the promotion spectacularly backfires. Not only does the organisation run the risk of no longer benefiting from the skills the person was great at in the first place (after all their job has moved on) but also of losing other talented staff, for as the saying goes – people don’t leave jobs they leave bad managers.

  1. Following close behind and almost mirroring the ‘Peter Principle’ is where people are given extra responsibilities or moved sideways (maybe to accommodate changing circumstances or to incorporate new working practices or for the aforementioned job variation); into roles where they have no direct experience. HR is a prime example with many an office manager or event manager being put in charge of their colleague’s well-being and development with perhaps just a handbook to follow but with no official qualifications or knowledge on how to tailor appropriate strategies towards the organisation and its people and certainly without the ability to shape or input into the long term strategy in this ever changing world of work. 

Finally, and almost as damaging is the issue of training and development and whether using external courses which can (although not always) be impersonal and not tailored to the organisation or individual’s specific challenges or falling back on ‘on the job’ and in-house training as a method for developing their teams, the following issues need to be considered:-

1. Firstly, such training tends to focus on training people to ‘do things right’ rather than encouraging people to learn to improve and push out the frontiers of knowledge

 

2. Secondly this method takes away responsibility for employees to improve themselves, which affects both the notion of accountability and puts in question the employee’s motivation to learn and their preferred style of learning

 

3. Thirdly, where such training is conducted by internal staff, unless the people doing the training continually develop themselves, they are limited in what knowledge they can impart. All they can show is how it has always been done – which essentially means that your company will just keep doing what its always done and you will keep getting what you’ve always got. It all becomes very one dimensional.

There tends to be an assumption that those in senior positions have all the experience necessary to develop their teams and the systems surrounding them. Sadly, this is not always the case with some, when they reach senior positions, reverting to the stage of unconscious incompetence where they assume that their existing knowledge and experience is the panacea for all challenges and this is where it becomes dangerous for organisations.

Let me share with you a case in point. A couple of years ago, I was enlisted to support an agency with their HR strategy and was involved in the interviewing process for a vacant Head of Operations position. Most of the candidates hailed from organisations that are or have been within the agency Top 50, all were considered senior and with vast experience in managing projects and teams (by this, read a good number of years and relatively large numbers reporting into them). Every candidate failed to answer two simple questions ‘how do you know / ensure that the way you manage and operate is the most effective method for your organisation?’ and ‘what do you do to develop yourself?’. It isn’t that the wrong answers were given (actually there were no wrong answers) – the problem was the stunned silence that followed – in all cases. Finally, most fell back on providing evidence of what can best be termed as ‘Maintenance Learning’ – keeping up to speed with new venues, hot destinations and key technology. Not one could offer examples (even non-industry related) of true self-development and none could offer any indication of different approaches to managing the operation. 

Why is the above dangerous for organisations and indeed the industry? Quite simply because by relying on what has worked/not worked before, by treating training and knowledge as something you ‘do or give to’ people and by solely

using maintenance learning to develop products and services the chance of growth for both the organisation and the team goes out of the window and most likely the best staff out of the front door – hence exacerbating the talent problem.

 

So, what is the alternative?

Ideally a balance of structured development opportunities that focus on the key principles of the organisations purpose and USP and which sit alongside continual self-directed learning and development – all of which is recorded and measured by the individuals.

Officially called Continuing Professional Development, CPD refers to the process of tracking and documenting the skills, knowledge and experience that individuals gain both formally and informally as they work, beyond any initial training. It’s a record of what they experience, learn and then apply. CPD generally involves the creation of a portfolio documenting all development and helps the individual manage their own development on an ongoing basis. Some employers feel that they already record training initiatives undertaken by their staff – but CPD is not a tick-box document solely designed to record training completed, its far broader than that. Not only does it encourage self-reflection, a useful exercise in itself, but it allows for non-work specific experiences to be included – where these may add value to a work-related skill or competency.

Of course, none of this is new. All ‘professional’ industries (for example teaching; healthcare; accounting; law) require that their members and practitioners take responsibility for their own lifelong learning and they are expected to be able

to provide evidence of such to continue within the profession. Whilst the MICE industry doesn’t currently have a set of minimum standards for practice – that doesn’t mean that we cannot adopt these practices both as individuals and organisations.

This would potentially mean that your team will already be preparing themselves with the skills needed for the next step up; any sideways move would be greeted with similar action to proactively seek out information in these new areas and your leaders will be in a good place to develop others – having explored their own learning paths.

 

What does this mean in practice for the individual?

Every industry is constantly growing; tactics are always changing, the amount of data to analyse is expanding, and competition is getting fiercer. This means that for individuals, their knowledge must also continually increase to keep up. The reason that many people underachieve in their careers is that they become complacent with what they’ve learned to get where they’re at.

Basically, anything that increases your knowledge and skills in a way that makes you a more effective is considered valid CPD. It isn’t just about attending formal training courses. Informal learning gained through experience in the workplace, industry events, trade shows or conferences can also be extremely important, as can self-directed learning and experiences. The best way to be successful is to mix it up and cover as many aspects of your role as possible – not just Event/Industry specific knowledge. If you manage people – then read autobiographies from inspiring leaders; can the principles of Six Sigma help improve your systems?; what can you learn from the resources available by becoming a member or CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development), CMI (Chartered Management

Institute), CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants) or CIM (Chartered Institute of Marketing) for example. And CPD doesn’t just apply to those in client facing / service providing roles – facilities managers / finance managers and bookkeepers / office managers – all have scope to learn and develop in their specific areas.

But CPD isn’t just for the career ambitious. Personal and professional development are an essential part of human nature and the desire to be the very best we can be is inherent in all of us. Statistics show that those who are not willing to learn from others or look at things differently and expand their horizons will stop growing and the opposite of growth is stagnation and boredom. I will wager that if you were to ask anyone what their goals are in life, stagnation and boredom will not feature on the list. It is therefore in everyone’s interest to seek personal and professional development in some shape or form and maybe those that can vouch for the benefits need to act like a beacon and show the way.

So how do you go about it?

Most professional associations recommend that individuals follow a recognised 4 step approach (Plan, Act, Evaluate, Reflect) when planning their development activities. I prefer the additional steps that encourage ‘sharing of this new knowledge’ and ‘wider impact assessment’, as advocated by The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development.

Valid CPD activities can include the following:

ATTENDING EVENTS: Conferences; Seminars/webinars; Exhibitions; Networking events

STRUCTURED LEARNING: Completing a qualification; Training courses, including in-company programmes; Tests

INFORMAL OR SELF-DIRECTED LEARNING: Reading journals, books, research papers etc; Viewing multimedia resources e.g. videos, e-learning etc.; Coaching, teaching and mentoring; Experiential or “on-the-job” learning

VOLUNTARY AND OTHER ACTIVITIES; This could include working with charities; visiting museums or art installations; supporting at a major event such as the Commonwealth Games or Olympics.

Whilst it would be preferable to have the support of the organisation, it isn’t a requirement. There is evidence that those who undertake CPD vastly enhance their career opportunities. career enjoyment and earning potential, so don’t wait for permission, you can create your own portfolio and set your own goals.

 

What does this mean in practice for the organisation?

Although CPD is an individual initiative, it is highly recommended that organisations look to champion CPD amongst their workforce(s), perhaps integrating this with existing training and development initiatives.

To counter concerns that managing a CPD programme can be expensive and time consuming, the CPD Standards Office cites evidence that the benefits far outweigh any cost. Research has shown greater employee engagement and higher morale; innovation through sharing of best practice; a greater likelihood of maximising staff potential and useful bench-marking information for use as discussion in performance reviews.

Indeed, many organisations find that training costs are managed better and even reduce when employees embrace the philosophy of CPD and mix and match their development needs using journals; on-line articles and Webinars; read books and attend a wide variety of exhibitions and trade shows. A relatively small fixed budget allocated at the beginning of the year for each employee (including a mix of monetary allowance and time available for learning) can go a very long way. Furthermore, by ensuring you build in knowledge sharing opportunities you can pretty much guarantee ROI.

For example, CIPD is running a full day event in October which costs just £50 for members and which features talks and seminars delivered by a range of Business Leaders and experts discussing new ways of working, alongside managing and engaging with the future workforce. How valuable could these insights be for your company as you grow and where else could you get such a great return on your investment? What’s more – your attending staff member will feel empowered, valued, trusted and is likely to have greater self-esteem – being the curator of this

specialised knowledge within your organisation. Add to this a philosophy and platform where your individuals can share and experiment with the new information they are learning and from the inspiration they are gaining, and you will begin to uncover a true culture of innovation.

If anyone is not convinced and is still looking for inspiration, then I recommend you read the insightful interview conducted by C&IT with Laura Brown from Ashfield Meetings and Events. What is clear from this interview is that both the company and the individual have greatly benefited from such self-directed learning. 

 

What does this mean for the Industry?

The more individuals and organisations that adopt CPD as a way of life, the greater the benefit for the industry. The 80/20 principle in terms talent will always apply – BUT – how amazing if today’s 80% could reach the level of today’s 20% and for today’s 20% to be even more skilled and productive moving forwards. 

How helpful for employers to be able to readily identify this talent and for employees to be able to clearly differentiate their skills and abilities by presenting their portfolio along with the practical evidence of experience shown on their CV.

We constantly talk about wanting to increase professionalism within the MICE Industry. The more people and organisations that adopt this approach – the closer we will be to achieving this and maybe, just maybe, the talent dilemma will be a thing of the past.

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