Can you plan for every contingency in event planning?

Can you plan for every contingency in event planning?

Can you plan for every contingency in event planning?  Yes, and no.  Last week, I gave out most if not all of the information to my groups in HT 351 for their scenarios.  They should now have all the information they need to complete the project for the most part.  The only aspect left is for them to visit with me, which is required, to hash out any finer details.  Details.  That is important in event planning.

It is all about project management.  As I have said before, it is about managing time.

Yet, those fresh, young faces before me, cringe when I discuss ‘curve balls’.  They dread having to deal with potential problems.  But they will have to deal with it.  Deal with potential realities.

What do I say to them?  They are looking for me to guide them on how to tackle this part of the project.

Innate in all of us is the ability to plan.   Don’t forget that.  We just have to get it down on paper what we need to do and execute the steps.

Yes, hard.  Focus, drive and discipline will see those action steps to fruition.  Not every one of us has that focus or drive or discipline.

I can raise my hand to that effect.  I have earned that tee-shirt more than once.  I’m stuck in a rut right now, my focus wavering from professional and personal projects.  It’s hard, but life isn’t about easy.  Life is about challenges.

I’m letting life challenge me at the moment.  Whereas I should be challenging life.

So, what do I say to motivate them to address their curve balls.  Where to begin?  Since there are more than one curve ball, tackling more than one at a time, can be frustrating, stressful and tiring.  Especially, if you have never been in this position before.  Now, there are moments in a professional career where you will have to decide off the ‘cuff’ what will need to be done.  You will be put in a position where a decision will have to be made at that precise point in time.  And I will address this after, I guide you through planning for those curve balls.

Yes, planning is coming back into the picture.

To prepare yourself for any event or scenario, you have to think about your job.  You have to think about all the contact points where potential problems can occur.  Map them out, and get into the habit of walking around your property, your place of employment and look at it from the vantage point of problems.  Don’t wait for the signs, envision them.  Use your imagination and ‘see’.  Ask your self of plethora of questions. As a writer who likes to develop stories, I utilize the “What if” exercise.  What if this happens here?  What could happen here?  What if this happened during an event?  What would I do?  Every time I see or read about an incident on TV, like Las Vegas, my mind goes into scenario mode.  I visualize what is happening at that time.  I ask myself a host of questions, and run through the gambit of potential.  I ask myself, “What if I was the event planner at this event?  What would I have done?  What should be in place already to aid me in this event?”

No, you don’t know how you would react.  No, you don’t know what you would do sometimes during panic situations.  But the preparation for the likely event comes with training and training the mind to think this way.  And then running mock drills on you, your employees, and even now, including guest in that equation.  I can remember when we used guests in our scenarios at one hotel I worked at.  We asked if they would be a part of our preparation training.  We sent out a message to the community that we were having training and asked if any person would like to role play victims.  Is this wrong?  Why?  Why not?  Shouldn’t we all be prepared?  Shouldn’t we all help each other in times of need?  The more you know as a manager, as a guest, the better you are all prepared for scenarios.

NBC-Emergency
NBC-Emergency
Visit to Disney World, 1977
From left to right, Mom, sister, me and brother at Walt Disney World, 1977

I know this to be true because I have lived through it.  I have lived through training situations and real life situations.  Growing up we had some great shows on TV.  I can vaguely remember Adam 12.  The one show I do remember from my early teens was Emergency!.  It was about the organization of the first ever EMTs in LA.  It had me consider at one time being one.  Taking up the profession of firefighter and EMT.  At school, both high school and college, I took and read about advanced first aid procedures.  I took advance first aid and life saving at Penn State for my Health Ed course.  I can recall playing the victim in a faux car accident and the other students extracting me from that car on a cold autumn day.  I loved the water module in the pool.  When I was out industry, I volunteered to be on first aid responder teams at the hotels.  I obtained and renewed my CPR certification.  I guess I obtained that information from my Mom.  She taught the Red Cross classes in high school.  She was always willing to help.  Heck, in my family we are known to be teachers, police officers or doctors.  I guess its in the DNA.  But I digress.

Back on point.

So, where to begin.  This year was different after a failure from last fall.  I had to approach teaching this aspect of management development from a different perspective.  Some how connections were not being made.  I forgot that research has shown that this generation may or may not have the imaginative skills my generation has.  They grew up with computers and technology.   Some if not all, might not have been outside playing as we did as kids.  Being pirates for a day out in the woods, creating our own little worlds.  Yes, that play time set up my generation for problem solving.  We saw something we wanted to do and figure out a way to accomplish it. The students in my class may have been immersed in a computer generated world that didn’t stretch the mind enough.  That didn’t place them in hair-raising situation where you had to think.  (Laughing at the image now in my mind.  Cue back to that pirate scenario on a lazy summer’s day.  I would give you more, but I don’t want to put any ideas into young heads.  Mother just patched me up.  I’m still here.)  Let’s just say there is a host of divergence between my generation and today’s young students in terms of critical thinking skills.

So, given what happened, I realized this year, I needed to not only reinforce the visualization technique I have done since I was a young adult, but also guide them on how to make connections.  I had to explain how to accomplish this goal and get in the habit of visualization.  So this year, I told the students to draw from all of their classes on customer service and operations management.  To utilize their own personal experience to aid them in understanding the curve ball.  Write down the curve ball on a 4 x 6 index card and then as a group, brainstorm.  Ask yourself those exact questions.  What is happening here?  What is going on?  How are people reacting?  Why are they reacting?  Where has it happened?  When did it happen?  What should we do?  What could happen if we don’t do something?  What could happen?  A host of questions and then brainstorm answers.  Research.  Google.  This is always about customer service.  No, it isn’t all about the bottom line, not always.  It is how we get to that bottom line and back up that counts.

Curve ball scenario
Curve ball scenario

This was one of my curve balls from one of my scenarios.  An executive board meeting was taking place in St. Louis, MO.  The members were leaders of a Fortune 500 company.  They were the elite of the elite.  One activity that they were participating in outside of their normal duties was a visit to the local Budweiser Clydesdale farm.  On the return, one of the members has left their wallet on the bus.  Needless to say I wasn’t happy with the results of the group planning in terms of this curve ball.  Two possibilities could have occurred.  One, they had only one group member handle curve balls and that group member was tired by the time they got to this incident.  Or two, they waited till the last-minute to address these scenarios.  It very well could have been something different.  But in the end it was poor project planning.

They forgot to utilize their experience as customer.  How would you react as a customer if this happened to you?  What would be your priority if this personally happened to you?  What are you panicking about?  Who is this person?  They forgot who their target market was and is.  What is in that wallet?  What help are they looking for?  Part of event planning is to know your target audience.  If you know them, then you can best address their needs and wants.  Our industry is all about customer service and we need to don that hat  more than once to understand reaction.  We need to walk a mile in their shoes to know how this impacts their lives and the lives of others that this would affect.

They forgot their roles and responsibility as event planners.  What they need to do to aid the customer?  What they need to do to make this a memorable experience?  How do they help and aid their clients?  They didn’t tease out the situation.  They didn’t map out the cause and effect.  The action-reaction-results loop.  If this one incident happened in real life, consequences of not doing something can be detrimental not only to your customer but to your reputation and your business.  Even our industry.

So, why do I give them curve balls. Because this is reality.  This is what happens out there when they are in real life situations.  Accomplishing this exercise, helps develop a proactive mindset.  That they can almost see things happen before they do, and act.  If this little kernel of information is in their minds, then they could plan a to do list for themselves during each event to cover any contingency.

We don’t live or work in a box…

We don’t live or work in a box…

What...?

We don’t live in a “box”. Life Moves at a pretty fast pace around us. Life is about movement and change. Organizations are organic, living and breathing entities.  Therefore, change is inevitable.

Constant is never guaranteed, even with steadfast core values and behaviors.  Just as nothing in life is guaranteed.  Core values are a foundation, but that doesn’t mean the house can’t change over the years of existence.

One day even that foundation may crumble and erode away.

The box isn’t permanent.  Some days, I don’t think any one item has permanency.  There is an end point.

The other day here in the department, one my colleagues was roaming around testing us if we remember the ‘Tab’ drink and the jingle.  For the life of me, I couldn’t remember the music, but I do remember that ugly old can and awful aftertaste.  Not many could remember the jingle.  Just one of those lighthearted moments to break up a stressful day.  Illustrates a good point.  Somethings in life stay with you, others don’t.

Tab isn’t around any more.  Products have a shelf life.  Most do. A product life cycle.

Everything has a life cycle, even tenure on this planet.

So, what is left behind?  A moment. A memory.  An experience.  An interaction.  An action.
Experiences, interactions, take hold in the consciousness and remain.  Some stronger than others.   Hence, if organizations are living, breathing structures they thus have a complex ‘personality’.  A complex matrix of interwoven personalities.

Life isn’t breathed into a company until you add the human element.  Or is it that founder, that person with the original idea that is exerting their personality over others?  So, maybe then this goes to the development of that mission and vision statements.  That are supposed to articulate the personality, the core values of a company.

Therefore, I question if we assimilate the personality of organizations into our own core values.  Or our own values present and melded together with the companies.  Threads of commonality. (Chicken and egg debate?)

Sort of like leadership.  What is leadership?

Leaders are ahead of us, beside us, with us that we might not even know we have commonality, and are behind.
Behind us–because we as employees and managers are so innovative and creative, so forward thinking, we are head of the company thinking. We have ‘progressive thoughts’.  The child has far exceeded the parent.

Box Cat
From past experience, I can tell you that several work places did not have my same common core values, and I would never take up their value system.  I had more integrity than that.  My integrity was more important.  So, which is more important organizational cultural values or your own?  Hints at acculturation conflict.  Is that the point you know, that this job won’t work out and it is time to find other boxes to inhabit?

So, how do we work with a variety of cultures, even our own work system.  How do we navigate such waters?

How do we keep the workplace from becoming a stagnate pool of water?

As I reread our book, I am caught between reality and the body of knowledge presented in the book.  This is nothing against the writers or their work, but I, as researcher, have been trained to question everything I read.  I critically analyze.  I study the craft of writing from different angles.  I study the world in which I live.  And that life has two different paths, professional and personal.  I study human behavior.  I study.

Just as you should.  You should develop your independent thinking skills and do not take anything at face value without thorough examination. And just make sure you back up your opinions or conclusions with factual information or other peer-reviewed evidence.  The book is a good example of how they have used a body of knowledge to support their hypotheses.

Recognize that you will have an emotional reaction to what we read before we sit down and critically analyze.  And I was having one of those moments.  My emotional inner self was boxing it out with my rational side.

The questions that arose and keeps pinging around in my brain are about organizational culture…p. 19 to be exact.

Typically, employees incorporate organizational values into their own value systems and prioritize them in terms of their relative importance as guiding principles (Rokeach, 1973 as quoted by Kersten and La Venture).

I had flippant remark tingling my lips after reading this.  I took a breath and realized my mistake.  This is 1973 thinking. I was a teenager back then.

I have to remember–1973 mode of thinking about organizations and culture was far different from today.  Just as 1950s culture is different from today.  Just as 1920 is different…conundrum potentially averted.  It is not that we don’t have commonality among generations, that we don’t all celebrate and suffer the same given life’s little nuances.  Okay, example.  1920s saw the evolution of dress for women.  Hemlines went up.  Every older generation was suffering apoplectic moments.  Fast forward to 1940s and the first vestiges of the bikini.  Get the drift.

Let’s return to that resource.  I don’t think I have ever incorporated the complete organization’s cultural values into my own core values.  I had established core values and looked for common ground, commonality.  I’m not a blank slate when I step through the doors of any company.  No one is and we come toting our own baggage, good and bad.

The word conformity doesn’t exist in my nomenclature, but I have to be honest–I do conform.  I loathe the word.  It exists and I will give it its voice, but I hate it like I hate blue cheese.  (I know, not everyone hates blue cheese.)  Everyone approaches life in their own manner.  Different points of reality and so forth.  But if I’m sitting in my favorite pub and everyone is having buffalo wings with blue cheese, and I’m the only one ordering ranch, that should tell me something.  How can I use this example to illustrate my point?

Get back to that point!

Innovative culture
One definition of innovative culture.

Yes, conformity and routine kill innovation and creativity.  So, can the mission and vision of a company that doesn’t evaluate and test their values.  As I said earlier, companies disintegrate, erode away without seeing how all the parts of a company work together, especially the human element.

What I like about Marriott is that they do articulate their values.  But do we just see the bright and shiny?  Why don’t we talk about the plausible cracks and holes in the system?  Those employees that fail and fall through those cracks.  Those that pack their bags and leave?  Who created those cracks in the fist place?

Is that then an organizational cultural failure?

Then who is to blame?

Who sets the standards on which to judge?
The benchmark on which to measure?
No two people learn the same.  No two people work, manage the same.  No two people are alike.
No two people are motivated to work the same.
Can a value system still be weak and work?
Can a value system be too strong, and thus rigid to stifle creativity?

See my problem…I’ve got a host of questions running through my mind.

Therefore, there has to be some form of commitment between parties.  There has to be a mutually beneficial contract that allows for individual identity and commonality.

This can lead into further discussions about innovative culture and positive organizational scholarship.

 

Defining People Process Culture ~ Organizational Culture.

Defining People Process Culture ~ Organizational Culture.
Organizational Culture by dessinauteur at Flickr
https://flic.kr/p/p2KrM7

Perhaps, our discussion on PPC should begin with trying to define the concept of organizational culture. Heck, we could use this for all of my classes as well, because inherent within each course should be an understanding of organizations, culture, leadership and so forth.

After reading and researching about PPC in preparation for my interview for the Chair position, I found common threads of thought in one big giant quilt.  It’s complicated and intricate.  One step at a time.

With every body of knowledge, there is a history.  A host of people contributing to a greater whole.  No one has the cornerstone on that history.  Each company, industry, person has an experience, and what emerges from that history are common practices and theories.  The line of thought, if you research your own companies as I have asked, may have shades of PPC within it already.  If you want to be an effective leader, you need to research other companies within and outwit your own career aspirations.  You need to study people and processes.  Become a avid reader!

Over the course of history, organizations have viewed work in various forms.  I’m not going to rehash that history, but know that owners, leaders, supervisors, companies, etc, have all viewed organizational culture from different vantage points.  Different points of reality.  Good and bad.

A company can be broken down into two aspects.  Tangible and intangible.  Products and people.

Organizational culture is about studying the dynamics of the people within an organization.  How they get things down.  How they deliver on promises.  How they work together to achieve objectives for a broader goal.

How do organizations value their people and those that complete tasks.  What is rewards?  How do people value each other and the job they do.  Value takes on a whole new meaning.

Lui and Cervenka in Kersten and La Venture (2015, p. vii)1 lend credit to the argument that all people, employees, and associates have an ‘intrinsic value’.  Simply put, what Bob Cervenka, as reported in Kersten and Laventure, stipulated that success hinges on the people of any organization.  It’s true.  Walt Disney knew back in 1950s that his vision of an amusement park wouldn’t be a success without the ‘cast’ members doing their part to create the illusion.  He wouldn’t be able to develop cutting edge rides without pushing the imagineers to do their best.  Even when such processes hadn’t been invented (think animatronics).  Yet, Epcot in Disney World, the last project that Walt helped to design, almost didn’t get built because of Disney’s untimely death.  He had a certain vision and shared most of that vision with his employees. It wasn’t enough just to share that information.

Lui and Cervenka stress that information is a key variable that must be shared.  Thus, the root of success is about communication. But is that the complete picture?

Information has two sides.  Tangible and intangible.  Seen and not. Information is one of the drivers of the tourism industry, besides money and promises.  At any time during the process, the dynamic function that is tourism, information can be accessed and used by any and all stakeholders.  It is something that is always being created, and utilized to create or do something.  Communication is a constant action, but not always part of the process.  Yes, information can be assumed.  Misdirection can occur.

Yet, what about innovation and creativity.  It isn’t just about information sharing, well-being,  and communication (p. viii).  Disney had a creative mindset.  He fostered creativity and innovation.  Innovation is dynamic.  Organizations must be adaptable to internal and external stimuli.  Organizations are organic, active entities, constantly churning and thinking.  If they don’t, they will stagnate.  If they do not step out of that stagnation moment, reinvent, rejuvenate in some form, they will die within the product life cycle.

Disney did have one flaw.  The total communication of his ideas.  Much was left unsaid at the end.  His unique energy died with him.  Many have said he was the driving force behind the concepts, the force to get projects down.  He saw beyond the walls, beyond the confines of a theme park and married a host of threads together.  Not many can do what he did.  Steve Jobs couldn’t.  Bill Gates can’t.

Once Disney was gone, uncertainty set in and the value of the Disney brand suffered.  Disney created a competitive advantage above other similar products because of his unique, innovative methods of park management.  The energy fizzled out for a time being, and they realized that they couldn’t really execute Epcot as Walt desired. They had to go back to the drawing board because of the dynamic nature of creation.  Therefore, there has to be some legacy of that vision.  Yet, a mainstay for Disney as well as other companies has been well established core values.  A mission and vision to set a foundation.

So, it is not just an investment in a product but the people behind that product.  It is an investment of time in developing relationships with all stakeholders as well as their creative abilities (yes, even customers).  Everyone can contribute.  Just look at the Ritz Carlton brand.  They empower their employees to make decision that will affect customer service by giving them a monetary stipend to handle guest complaints.  Managers and other senior leaders hope it never gets to that complaint level with the idea of training ‘ladies and gentlemen’ to serve ‘ladies and gentlemen’.  I argue then that I want all of my employees to take an active part in helping my customers and all my stakeholders craft their experience.  So a host of variables must be articulated and identified in order to have well function culture.

Functions of Management
Functions of Management

The aforementioned authors discuss trust.  Any relationship is built on trust.  In tourism, we call these “moments of truth”.  And not just from a customer standpoint.  Moments of truth are built on promises, articulated and not.  We are making a ‘contract’ with our stakeholders.  We promise to give them something for a return on that promise.  More than just information.  More than just money in a paycheck.  We are establish physical, psychological and social dynamic exchange.  Competition to hire and retain talent has been the bane of most industries, especially in tourism.  Bloome, Van Rheede and Tromp (2013) highlight the hardships within the hospitality sector of the tourism industry in the retention of ideal employees.  Psychological contracts are just as important as other forms.  Expectations before, during and after hiring have to be addressed 2.  How do we set a value on our employees?  How do we know how much their worth?  Lui and Cervenka hint at this established with compensation.  Yet, they fail to recognize the factor that value happens well before hiring that employee that Bloome, Van Rheede and Tromp conclude.  Companies need to take an active participation in the education of potential employees.  The people process culture is an extension beyond the confines of a firm, but to the society in which it operates.  Not after the fact, before.  Proactive, not reactive.  Not result focus entirely, but before that point.

Do not limit the power of benefit.  So, this may be an argument for the power of potentiality.  How do we put a value on potential?

Action-Reaction-Result Loop
Action-Reaction-Result Loop

Too long we have looked for a means to an end.  We are waiting for something to happen.  We have to look before that point.  We have to recognize the action-reaction-result loop.  That for every action there is a reaction that leads to a result.  Those actions happen at any time.  A proactive stance in business in all of its processes may or may not aid you in developing a strong, organic structure.

So we must understand all of our stakeholders at any time in the given dynamic world that is our organization.

Culture is yet to be defined and that is for next time.

 

 

 

 

 

Footnotes

1. Kersten, J., La Venture, Kelly, Lui, Katherine E. Welch, & Cervenka, Debbie. (2015). The human factor to profitability : Building a people-centered culture for long-term success / Jeanette Kersten, EdD, SPHR, and Kelly La Venture, EdD ; with a foreword by Kat Lui, PhD, and Debbie Cervenka. (First ed.).
2. Blomme, R., Van Rheede, A., & Tromp, D. (2009). The hospitality industry: an attractive employer? An exploration of students’ and industry workers’ perceptions of hospitality as a career field. Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Education, 21(2), 6-14. doi:10.1080/10963758.2009.10696939

Location, Location, Location…

Location, Location, Location…
Ford's Theatre
Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC

I have lived in a host of different cities, states and one country.  The depth of knowledge about those locations various with experience.  I love to get out and talk to people, and I’ve met some interesting people along the way.  I love to explore and more than likely will get lost.  I always find my way back.  Every experiences brings a whole new set of learning.

Another year is upon us here at Stout, and I’m teaching Development of Tourism Attractions, Convention Meeting Planning and People Process Culture.  The former course expands and expounds on concepts learned in the Principles of Tourism, extending it into the heart of the three environments–socio-cultural, economic and natural/man-made as well motivation, and planning.

It peels back the layers of tourism.  Tourism is an act of doing something and depends on the viewpoint in which you view it or peel back the layers.  There are tangible and intangible elements that are part of this dynamic process, and we need to know why some destinations and their attractions are more successful than others.  As leaders or managers of the future, we will be part of that success and/or failure.  What we do, when we do it, could be a defining moment.  (For those of you in tourism, remember the mantra.)

At the heart of any attraction is a motivation.

Echoes of those reasons why people travel to a destination and its attractions, percolates through my mind, and I’m sure others.

“Something I always wanted to see.”

“It is on my bucket list.”

But that is from a customer point of view.  What about the others?

Why did Disney decide to buy up a large mass of swamp land and orange groves in the middle of Florida to create Disney World?

Why place it there?  Why create something in the middle of no where, and hope that people come?

Begs the question posed in A Field of Dreams:  “If you build it, will them come?”

The process of building attractions is long and arduous.  It takes time to build attractions from concept of the idea to opening.  Disney World was conceived as a supplement to Disneyland in 1955 and opened in 1971.  During that time of development, Walt Disney died unexpectantly in 1966.  Disney World and especially Epcot could have died right there on the table.  But it didn’t, and more on that later.  Yet, that is a long time for an attraction to be built.  Some rise in less time, and close just as fast.  The Internet is peppered with a host of attractions that opened and closed quickly because they couldn’t sustain numbers or creativity.  Walt Disney World has several areas that have been closed and abandoned because they weren’t as popular as they once were.

Visit to Disney World, 1977
From left to right, Mom, sister, me and brother at Walt Disney World, 1977

So, this hints at one aspect of motivation and decision-making.

Even leadership (Waves at my PPC group, bringing them into the conversation).

Your stakeholder’s needs change over time.  All of them.

But who are your stakeholders you ask, besides customers.

  1. Customers
  2. Employees (all levels)
  3. Governments
  4. Financial
  5. Host Community
  6. Others (that arm-chair traveler that hasn’t even made a decision yet, but is bombarded with a mountains of information both by word of mouth, and through other distribution channels and has an interest)

Their needs and wants will change over time as their lives change.  It can be short or long-term.

Disney World’s Epcot Center is now going through a major renovation.  The original vision of Epcot is a far cry than what Walt had in mind.  That vision was transformed because he wasn’t there and those that came after, nixed it in the butt.  Roy Disney, his brother, wasn’t the creative genius that Walt was and deferred to others.  If you read any books about Walt’s life and his company, his creative style and visions were a prime directive for the company.  To lose someone so young in their mid-60s, without a concrete succession plan, will have far reaching effects on the company.  And it did.

An attraction is just a structure.  An idea.

People make it come to life.

Caspar_David_Friedrich_-_Wanderer_above_the_sea_of_fog
Caspar_David_Friedrich_-_Wanderer_above_the_sea_of_fog

People are the resource that propel it into the future.

Even destinations and their success depends on the people who manage it, work within the boundaries, and even visit.

So, this then suggest a management/educational journey down two different paths.

At times these paths, one of tangible origins and one of intangible, coalesce and merge.  At other times, they run parallel.  And during times of stress, anxiety, and erosion, diverge.

So, we are at the precipice.  On top of the mountain and have a vista to explore.  We can see the concrete but the human element is clouded in degrees of mystery.

Let’s begin…