Great expectations? Nurturing the next generation of eventprofs

Stephanie Okafor, head of project management at DRPG explains why setting realistic expectations for ourselves and others in the workplace, especially when it comes to new starters, is crucial to building a strong team…  

Stephanie Okafor. Image: DRPG.

When we come into work we don’t think twice about how to do our job, we just get going and push on, probably at 100 miles per hour. Is there an expectation that newbies should be running at the same pace?

Expectations can be the most frustrating element we have within ourselves but are we considering the expectations we place on others and are they fair and realistic?

This can really impact the experience for those just starting out as they could be coming straight from university or even from school. So, a key thing we ought to be keeping at the forefront of our minds is the need to nurture. By doing this we could not only build a really strong base of budding event professionals, but also promote a better experience, and isn’t this what events are all about?

Is the current space of hybrid and virtual really the dream that aspiring event professionals foresaw? No, probably not. It is an entirely new skill set to be considering digital project management as well as the live elements, and it really shouldn’t be passed off as a small thing. University courses would not have been ready for the change the pandemic brought, so, the people coming out of university or straight from school thinking that they are ready for a career in events, are now having to deal with a booming type of event model that would have been a specialism two years ago. It’s a whole new world and it shouldn’t be taken lightly when you have a new starter joining you that this could be totally overwhelming, and an area that may need to have a lot more attention, focus and training.

Regardless of the process and procedures you have within a business, it’s important to take time to consider the individual you’re working with. The ability for you to be flexible in your mentoring, rather than rigid or overly structured, will play into the individual’s strengths and weaknesses, helping them to develop faster and enabling you to provide the best support for them, all of which saves time and, therefore, money.

Ask for input from everyone

I always try to encourage our new starters to feel empowered enough to share their thoughts and their knowledge from the beginning. Processes are good as a guide but should never sit still – see if you can get a new starter to come up with better methods. Not only will it help you to constantly review your ways of working but it will help future event professionals to think more widely about the industry.

Next, and high on the agenda for newbies to a professional career, are the benefits. Who is offering what? Why should they come to work for us? What’s in it for them? It’s certainly different to how I considered benefits when starting my career, but benefits are there for a reason and it’s important that we recognise that these sorts of things are areas that can make a company stand out from its competitors. We all want to entice clients and show them how we’re different from competitors, but what if you flip that on its head and focus a little more on enticing the talent? There’s a good argument that says, if you have the best talent, the work will speak for itself and that in turn will bring in the clients.

Learning, development and training are all essential parts of this too. In so many interviews I am asked about our learning and development (L&D) programme, and I’m lucky to say that we have a truly excellent L&D programme, that is constantly being tailored to the current needs of our teams and divisions. We have buddies and mentors, regular reviews, group and personal training sessions, all of which seem to sit very highly on the agenda for fresh talent coming into the industry. They are hungry for knowledge and want to be able to develop and see their career grow. Progression is almost always available, but are you prepared and kitted up to give them the tools they will need to progress?

Doing things the post-pandemic way

Flexible working is also key for Gen-Z. I’m hearing (and seeing) working patterns that previously would have been considered not compatible with the events industry. For example, ‘core project hours’ where teams are expected to be online between the hours of 10:00 – 15:00 but can then finish up their work however they see fit outside of that time, as long as the work gets done. This is extremely flexible working, but it poses many challenges if not everyone is following that structure, (especially clients).

What I think is a good way to manage flexible working is to instil a sense of trust on both sides – they will trust that we will provide them with the support and flexibility to do their jobs, while we, as managers, trust that they work as hard as they can to do the very best work they can do. This allows them to go to the ever-elusive doctor’s appointments, or throw something in the slow cooker, or even visit an elderly relative during working hours so that their work-life balance feels positive. If they feel looked after, valued and cared for, they are more likely to buy into the company but also the industry.

Nurture the talent

As event professionals, we always want to display the perfect image of calm and in control while being able to spin 100 plates, juggle and hopscotch at the same time. We need to be careful that we’re not setting unrealistic expectations of our new starters during a stressful time of their career when they are striving to make ‘perfect’ impressions. Clear objectives, open and honest feedback (in both directions), and the opportunity to make themselves heard will help to set the parameters and ensure that they feel comfortable in the workplace, which will, in turn, help to nurture positive mental health environment.

There are many places that new talent can look at or throw themselves into in order to get a better understanding of the industry, and in some senses, we all could do with taking the time to reflect as well since it is ever-evolving. Event First Steps provides great insight into the industry and provide a platform to showcase the industry and appeal to students; and don’t forget, there are always opportunities for you to reach out to local authorities’ schools and colleges.

Remember, it can take time to nurture and support those starting in their new or even first role, but if you get it right from the offset, this helps everyone in the long term. It’s important to remember that not one model fits all and not everyone gets it right the first time. Be agile and be prepared to learn from them as much as they are expected to learn from you.

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