Industry events should take backseat

A few of my industry colleagues chided me a couple of months ago for recommending that we seriously consider paring back attendance and budget at some of our premiere professional development events, conferences, and related activities.

A few of my industry colleagues chided me a couple of months ago for recommending that we seriously consider paring back attendance and budget at some of our premiere professional development events, conferences, and related activities. Their message was simple and compelling: Professional development is and should always remain among our highest priorities. I couldn't agree more, but there might be alternate ways to accomplish this goal.

Over the last few months, many companies have taken unprecedented measures to reduce costs, and for good reason. Our globally integrated economy is proving it can spread our economic downturn as well as it did the economic boom that preceded it.

Our profession has been preaching for years on the need to have that proverbial seat at the table, and in many cases our functions are there. How then, in good conscience, can we ask for a “pass” when the discussion at that table turns to serious talk about the need to contain costs and change our behaviors to accommodate a new paradigm in managing assets going forward? As business objectives are severely prioritized, supply chains economized, people let go, and, yes, external development budgets pared, how can we declare that our programs and conferences are sacrosanct in their current form? To me, good business judgment dictates that we be a good team player; good optics might even suggest that we be a good team leader.

Just for the record, I think few of us enjoy and benefit from our conferences, seminars, and get-togethers more than I. Many of these events have led to enhanced business acumen, friendships, and mentoring moments that have been unequalled elsewhere in my life. But in these times, should we be meeting in-person as often in high-cost environments as we do? Probably not.

And it is not just traveling to and attending meetings that need to be scrutinized. Many of our companies are also reducing the number of professional memberships in the plethora of organizations that serve us, so we should be looking at structural efficiencies, as well. That could include mergers and other forms of consolidation of the organizations and governance boards many of us participate in and serve on, which require time, expense, and contributions that might not be as readily available to us in the future.

I do want to emphasize that we should preserve the best of these organizations and programs that help us flourish in our careers; perhaps we just need to execute differently. At MasterCard, we've instituted Meet the Leaders meetings, best-practice sharing sessions, and other increased interaction with our corporate neighbors. We've also beefed up our internal course offerings and will rely more on the experts many of our agency partners have on staff or can bring to us to ensure we are exposed to external points of view. We also need to make better use of technology and the social-media platforms it has spawned to further collaborative learning.

We can't wholly substitute technology for personal relationships in all cases – but we do need to make the case that these programs are compelling, contribute to leadership dynamics in our profession, and are as cost efficient as possible.

Harvey W. Greisman is SVP, group executive of worldwide communications at MasterCard Worldwide.

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