Corporate-sponsored industry events are fast becoming career fairs for the employees who are paid to attend them. At a rate faster than employers would like to admit, these company-sponsored events, whether it is a conference, an annual meeting, or a trade show, are quickly being referred to as “career fairs”. These meetings of the minds are events that span all industries and attract tens of thousands of attendees. They are a gathering of professionals who have come together to gain knowledge, skills, and/or abilities to further enhance the value they bring to organizations and should not be clouded with job seekers.
Employers pay for employees to attend industry events for a variety of reasons; to gain individual and corporate enrichment, to check out the competition, to network with other company’s, or to expand their corporate visibility. What is starting to happen, however, is employees are beginning to attend these events as if they were attending a career fair. Instead of marketing the company they represent, workers are scoping out the competition’s benefits package, networking for their own personal gain, and inquiring about available positions with other employers.
Given the current state of many companies, employees are experiencing down-sizing and re-organizing due to a variety of reasons including the routine mergers and acquisitions associated with various industries. These circumstances leave employees with uncertainty and the desire to do whatever it takes to feel a greater sense of security. The overwhelming fear of losing one’s job can lead even some of the best employees to behave unethically. If your organization is planning a reduction-in-force reconsider your list of attendees for upcoming industry events to ensure you receive the value you had planned from the event.
Regardless of the event, retaining your top performers is the key to retaining your company’s competitive advantage. Loyalty comes down to those employees who feel the company’s culture or environment remains a good match for them. Those who are most loyal feel valued and experience a sense of importance, are provided with the tools needed to succeed, and are given opportunities via training & development. Retention is made up of many elements, however it is important to reward your top performers on a regular basis and these annual “meetings of the minds” is one way to do so if managed properly.
It’s important to remember the goal behind the event. Companies can no longer afford to send employees to these events “just for the experience”, there needs to be a measurable return. First, determine the value the company is adding by participating in the event, and then determine who should be selected to participate. Making the determination of who should be awarded the opportunity to attend these industry events should come down to those who have earned it. The employees most worthy of attending are those who have demonstrated that they deserve to be there, those folks who are loyal to your organization, and those who will be accountable to what is assigned to them while attending the event.
If you do not have a system of differentiation in your company, it’s time to put one in place. Differentiation, as Jack Welch defines, comes down to sorting out the A, B, and C players. In his book, “Jack” he describes the Vitality Curve measurement tool used at General Electric where the company was able to differentiate between performers as the Top 20% - A’s, the Vital 70% - B’s, and the Bottom 10% - C’s. Touching on Welch’s vitality curve, the A players have very high energy levels, the ability to energize others around common goals, the edge to make tough yes-and-no decisions, and the ability to consistently execute and deliver on their promises. It is in the company’s best interest to send the employees who fall in the A or B category and rarely the C’s. The C’s are the bottom 10% and those who will be cut first should a reduction-in-force be necessary. These C players are most likely the folks who are using the industry event as a career fair.
Once you have determined who should attend the industry events, you should plan on what return on your investment you expect. Communication regarding expectations and direction are the key to reaching the goals regardless of the level of employee attending. Every role within an organization needs leadership and direction. It’s a known fact that individuals and teams who set and achieve goals accomplish more, feel better about themselves, and are more confident in their abilities.
If the industry event happens to be a trade show where a company booth is required, be sure to assign specific roles to each of the attendees. The employees should be knowledgeable and ready to answer company specific questions, be approachable and ready to meet potential customers, be someone who is serious about the event and remembers that the reason they are there is to make a positive lasting company impression. If it’s an annual event such as the upcoming American Society of Clinical Oncology’s (ASCO) Annual Meeting or Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) Annual Conference & Exposition held in June, plan to send those employees you wish to reward, those who will not only personally benefit from the experience by gaining valuable knowledge, skills, and abilities but those who will be a resource for other employees thus increasing the return on the company investment.
In summary, if you are not already doing so, establish a system of differentiation that will allow your top performers to stand out. You should then select industry event attendees from your list of top performers. Provide direction, assign specific roles and responsibilities, take the time to discuss expectations and put in places measurable objectives for the event – set goals. Guarantee the attendees accountability by establishing well defined tasks, projects, responsibilities with measurable returns. It’s time to take a look at your company’s environment to ensure it allows employees to feel the sense of security they are desiring and you should receive the return on investment that you expect from industry events.