By Phelps R. Hope, CMP
Attracting and retaining talented people is an ongoing challenge for all businesses, and the meeting industry is not immune. As business leaders know, an exodus of employees can wreak havoc on the organization’s overall health, generating significant economic and productivity losses.
That’s why new statistics predicting the future of the nation’s workforce are so unsettling. According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers over the age of 55 will make up nearly 20 percent of the labor force by 2012. At the same time, a recent Harris Interactive/CareerBuilder.com report shows 25 percent of surveyed workers – regardless of age – plan to leave their job within two years, citing a lack of money, career advancement or appropriate job-related training and skill expansion. Either way, the combination of an impending Baby Boom retirement and general employment dissatisfaction could leave U.S. businesses facing a shortage of millions of workers within the next decade.
In an effort to address and prevent this looming brain drain, association staff, association management companies, meeting planning firms and event management companies must implement a long-term succession planning program that fairly judges internal and external candidates. Finding talent, regardless of the position, pulls energy and resources away from daily business operations. The key is to develop a succession system that involves every individual, from the most senior planner down to the most junior associate.
A succession plan will also benefit individual employees. An efficient system monitors performance and development initiatives and demonstrates potential for promotion. Employees are more likely to stick around if they can identify any in-house career growth opportunities – as well as understand that each vacancy is filled based on merit, rather than personal preference.
Overall, a fair succession planning program will help guarantee there are highly qualified people filling each staff position for years to come.
Here are a few tips to ensure effective succession planning within your meetings department.
- Take a “top to bottom” approach. While association chief executives may focus on succession planning at the top, other positions are equally important. Succession planning should run from the top to the bottom and back up again. Look at the process as a chance to identify “stars” within your department.
- Develop qualifications for each position. In order to not play favorites, you need to define criteria for various positions. It’s only natural to want to promote those you like most, but this is not necessarily the best decision. Study how each employee interacts with other colleagues. Do they help mentor or educate others? Can they be empathetic? Do they possess leadership capabilities that build collaboration? Do they hinder or contribute to office solutions? The best salesperson might not make the best manager. Determine what qualifications are needed for each position and analyze what each candidate brings to the table. Finally, communicate those job descriptions and performance expectations.
- Folding in fresh faces. Tap into local universities to find energetic students eager to work in an office environment. Internships are a win-win situation. The meetings department gets an extra pair of hands, while students get first-hand sales or hospitality experience outside school hallways. For this program to be effective in priming the hiring pump, keep the work meaningful and avoid assigning interns only the most mundane tasks. Mentor them to provide quality industry exposure. This helps to infuse fresh talent into the organization, as well as create a potential crop of future leaders.
- Teach staff new skills. Personal development is often tied to professional development and vice versa. Invest in your staff – and the future of the organization – through professional development, coaching and mentoring programs. Make it a priority for them to network with other meeting planners, hotel representatives and industry leaders, as well as to learn new skills that will contribute to their continued career growth. Professional development will create a deeper in-house talent pool which, in turn, helps generate a smoother recruiting process following any staff departures.
- Track employee performance. To prevent potential transition problems, track employee performance including career history and skills. Create individualized development plans that tie the organization’s goals to the employee’s growth potential.
In the next few years, the retirement of the massive “Baby Boomer” generation will undoubtedly impact organizations and businesses across industry and geographical lines. It’s important to formalize a long-term plan to address the impending loss of staff talent. When doing so, be sure to adopt fair succession planning methods to maintain productivity and boost staff morale.
Phelps R. Hope, CMP is Vice President of Meetings and Expositions for Kellen Company, a global Association Management Company (AMC) with offices and representation in the United States, Europe, China, The Middle East, India and Southeast Asia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 404-252-3663.
Mr. Hope authored this article for republishing in Association Conventions and Facilities April/May 2008.