Don’t Waste the Pandemic!

It’s often said that a good disaster shouldn’t be squandered. If you were to follow this maxim for 2021, how could you make the most of last year’s twin evils: a recession and a worldwide pandemic?

Most executive teams are happy to have survived to the end of 2020 in one piece. Thankfully, their companies are still running and few employees have succumbed to the COVID-19 illness. They feel a sense of achievement at overcoming an unprecedented attack.

However, this is a low standard. In the years to come, some will ask: “What big things did your leaders do with the pandemic?” In other words, how did you take advantage of the dramatic changes underway to ensure the company’s future?

Although most won’t have an answer, here are a few questions you can pose now. Use them to make the most of the havoc wrought by last year’s tumult.

1) Do you have the right talent?

Under normal circumstances, most CEO’s and board chairpersons don’t like to rock the boat. While they may secretly want a company filled with top talent, they decide that it’s just not worth the fight. Instead, they settle for so-so standards, believing that you can’t have an organization of star performers.

Here’s another approach: the best football teams keep a list of potential replacements for every position. Looking forward, they plan for a time when each incumbent cannot improve his/her level of play. As such, no-one is granted an indefinite guarantee. Instead, these organizations continually scan the horizon for potential replacements.

Few local companies challenge their employees in this way: in fact, only a handful conduct proper performance reviews. This failure leaves them short – lacking the systems required to put top talent in seats. Consequently, when the time comes to make dramatic changes due to outside circumstances, they falter.

For example, in 2021 few companies escape the need for an urgent digital transformation. However, only a handful have the capacity needed to convert this strategic imperative into a reality. If your company has no active plan to upgrade its human resource strength, change your approach now, before the next interruption occurs.

2) Are you innovating enough?

Some time ago, an executive complained to me about the lack of a critical input to their company’s business. While it could be acquired locally, it was only available sporadically. We talked informally about taking strides to secure a steady supply.

Today, a decade later, the firm remains in the same spot. They failed to craft the strategy required, a weakness that COVID has “attacked”. If they had only taken the right steps at the right time, this would not be a concern. In fact, it would be an enormous source of competitive advantage leading to happier customers.

In my company, we were too slow in our pivot to offer an online version of our 2-day strategic planning retreat. Believing that COVID would pass in the near future, we waited…but now we expect companies to ask for lower cost, virtual retreats as a matter of course. We learned that innovation is easier to teach than to apply.

The truth is, when only a trickle of evidence is available, you need tremendous creativity to imagine what your customers and suppliers will need. Yet, there are standard, proven approaches to produce reliable, game-changing innovations. For example, use the Jobs to Be Done technique I mentioned in a Gleaner column from Nov 18 2016.

Here is a test – if you don’t have a list of practical innovations lined up for possible execution in 2021, you probably aren’t taking advantage of the pandemic. Teach your staff how to use the latest techniques and apply them even when it’s hard.

3) A Culture of Proactive Resilience

Jamaican companies know how to react to disasters: they are tough survivors. But few can make repeated operational changes which create room for transformational shifts. Unfortunately, CEO’s often behave as if their job is only about capably adjusting to outside fluctuations.

However, there is another approach: to always look to do more with less, thereby preparing your company to tackle the next disaster before it even appears.

The fact is that today’s pandemic is tomorrow’s hurricane, fire, or new digital competitor. These are just a few disruptions which can do serious damage to your enterprise. Consequently, you should be prepared by driving an enduring culture of continuous improvement.

Ultimately, this self-renewing corporate culture is more likely to succeed against rude surprises. It prepares your staff to tackle challenges effectively. This is the only way to ensure your firm’s success: the kind of place which sees the next disruption as an opportunity to transform itself for the better. Far from being wasted, it’s welcomed.

Signs of an Unhealthy Probation

Years ago, I mistakenly worked for someone I shouldn’t have. Since then, I have wondered: could I have foreseen what transpired? Were there early warning signs I overlooked?

Abundant research shows that employees don’t leave companies; they leave bad managers. We need look no further than the outgoing White House, with its record high turnover, to find an outstanding example. Many high-profile staffers depart (and have left) amidst a storm of tweeted insults.

I had a manager who did the same: publicly bad-mouthing me to others long after we had parted ways. Since then, I have scoured my memory to determine what the predictors of an unhealthy relationship with a boss might be. After all, if I could see them happening in real-time, I could confront them, knowing that they never go away by themselves.

Anyone who is considering a new position can do the same. For most jobs, companies offer a probationary period to test an employee’s suitability. In their eagerness to please, few new hires consciously realize it’s also a unique opportunity to ask: “Are there early warning signs of an incompetent manager who will eventually make my life miserable?” While these aren’t easy to pick up, here are three red flags you should look out for on your next assignment.

1. Being Liked

Arguably, it’s a natural desire to want to be liked, but becoming a competent manager involves outgrowing this everyday tendency. Over time, good managers learn to place the welfare of others and the mission of the company above their own need to be accepted.

In this context, a probationary period is a chance to see what your manager does under stressful situations. Will they stick to principles, or give in to the weakness to say and do things which are popular, or avoid getting themselves into trouble…all in order to be liked?

If you witness your manager “throwing people under the bus” i.e. blaming others in order to be liked or accepted, watch out. It’s safe to assume that the worst treatment meted out to others will one day be directed at you.

But this doesn’t mean that your manager is a “bad” person. They may be very well-intentioned…and completely clueless. Your task in this phase is to uncover the raw truth about their competence and act accordingly, setting aside any wishful thinking so you can take decisive action.

2. Looking Good

Another faulty behaviour to watch out for are those intended to make a manager look good…at all costs. There are many variants of the theme: some focus on physical objects such as their clothing, cars and houses. Others try to show off using their kids or spouse. A few lord their intellectual or artistic achievements.

It all amounts to a relentless campaign to compete with, defeat, and dominate those around them. As a new employee, if your manager uses you as a tool to further his/her ego-based objective, it’s corrosive.

Why? The moment will eventually come when you make a mistake. If your manager’s reaction under pressure seems bombastic (i.e. out of proportion), he/she may be putting the welfare of others in the back seat. Instead, their efforts to avoid looking bad include a tendency to become abusive.

3. Not Stepping Up as the Owner

As a new employee, perhaps the most difficult (but important) trait to detect in your manager surrounds taking responsibility. It’s a skill many managers struggle with, finding it to be unnatural. After all, it flies in the face of self-protective human behaviour which is so essential to our basic survival.

In fact, holding oneself publicly accountable equates to putting oneself in harm’s way…at risk. The act of doing so on a continuous basis is the very definition of a capable manager.

Yet, it remains a tricky behavior for employees to flag, especially early in their careers. Here’s a useful shortcut: observe if your manager apologizes sufficiently when he/she makes a mistake. You’ll be able to know by measuring the degree to which the apology restores the trust and goodwill that existed before the error was made.

In fact, if you work for a manager who publicly apologizes for a mistake you (not him/her) made, pay attention. Their resistance to the temptation to hang you out to dry, may indicate that you have a true winner.

This positive “warning” sign may mean that you shouldn’t leave. However, if all you can sense are the other incompetencies listed above, consider your probation a success: you have detected a manager you should probably quit.

Are you falling behind on LinkedIn?

To many, LinkedIn is just another social network like Facebook and Twitter, with a bit more business emphasis. This view understates its importance. COVID-19 has helped make the very opposite true today: as a professional you cannot afford to either be outdated on, or missing from, the platform.

To whit: around this time last year, I viewed LinkedIn as an annoying requirement of modern professional life. I didn’t like using it, but reasoned that I needed to do so in order to keep up. Now, by contrast, I engage in regular weekly practices I simply couldn’t imagine doing a few months ago.

But these aren’t routine tasks I could do elsewhere. In fact, they can only be done on LinkedIn at scale…nowhere else. This exclusivity means that you must consider the app to be part of your professional arsenal. Here are a few examples why.

1. Online Advertising as a Novice

In 2020, I discovered that, contrary to my US experience, advertising to Caribbean audiences on LinkedIn was quite inexpensive and effective. For example, if you want a way to promote your services to “female technology VP’s in St Kitts”, paid outreach on LinkedIn is by far the best way to reach this narrow segment.

I also learned that the platform’s ads do more than “sell” – they build relationships, an all-important ingredient in the

Caribbean. In other words, these promotions allow you to create bridges to people who don’t know you personally, and construct the “weak ties” research shows are critical in business.

During COVID-19, this method has become a requirement.

However, there’s catch. Online advertising on social networks is no easy task. While I had done some testing in the past, this year I finally invested the time needed to move beyond the novice stage.

I experienced a painful learning curve. For example, I had to figure out how to focus on the handful of features which are required vs. those which are nice to have. This is a big challenge given the barrage of options you face as a beginner.

2. Events and the Changing Limits

In 2019, I couldn’t say if LinkedIn offered event management. Fast forward…and by the new year, I will have sent 10,000+ individual invitations to webinars and conferences.

What happened?

By a stroke of luck, I stumbled across the platform’s revamped event feature, which at one point allowed me to invite as many connections as I wanted. Now, the company has caught on and imposed a limit of 1,000 people per occasion. While this has cost me dearly, they have added a new element – bulk invitations – which makes the task easier.

This free function is perfect for these pandemic times in which all of us need to up-level our skills, via online methods of learning. Today, we just don’t have a choice if we hope to remain relevant.

As such, through its events feature, LinkedIn offers a unique, scalable business service.

3. Networking

Old-style networking involved meeting people in person and handing out business cards in the hope of being remembered. COVID-19 halted this approach.

Today, there’s no easier way than LinkedIn to build a trusted network. Furthermore, exchanging useful information for mutual benefit becomes a fruitful game to be played over decades, leveraging the platform’s ability to create relationships at scale.

Unfortunately, if your account is out of date or you don’t even have one, you risk sending a silent message: “I don’t care about building relationships.”

While you may think that the way you use LinkedIn is a matter of style, the effect of your actions has now moved out of your hands. Whereas a preference not to employ that platform could have been a personal quirk a few years ago, today it’s fast becoming the digital equivalent of “never carrying my business cards” or “not believing in resumes.”

In other words, it’s weird.

The fact is, all the practices I have mentioned above are new norms over which you have little influence. Everything you do online (or fail to do) sends a message. Consequently, I have personally declined to refer colleagues for opportunities with serious people due to a missing or mismanaged profile. I just pick someone else and keep moving.

My fear is that if you have decided LinkedIn isn’t important, you may not be paying attention to the latest developments. If so, stop falling behind and get into the game, setting aside any tired pre-conceptions. Instead, adapt to an emerging reality you can’t afford to ignore and take the necessary actions to bring yourself up to date.

Becoming a thought leader with impact

On becoming a thought leader with impact

Do you ever read my column and disagree with what I have to say? This could be a good sign: you may be ready to take your place as a business thought leader.

If, even once, you have thrown down the newspaper or closed the browser in disgust, all the better. It means that you care enough to become a thought leader. An emotional reaction is a signal that you strongly believe in a different point of view. Maybe your contrary insight might be worth sharing with a wider audience.

If so, you need not be rich and famous to be the next Marcus Garvey, perhaps Jamaica’s foremost thought leader. Like he did, you can start with little more than a knowledge of how to use the latest technology. In his day, he established newspapers in several countries to share his content. By contrast, you could set up a free Facebook page in a few minutes.

However, that’s not likely to be enough. Garvey didn’t have a goal of being “an influencer” or being famous. His publications were the means to fulfill a much bigger vision. Take yourself to his level by following these steps.

1. Start Provoking

While you may not be prepared to write a book or give speeches to thousands, your smartphone affords you tremendous power to craft messages. What about finding an audience? Maybe they are just sitting in your social network waiting to hear what you have to say.

But what if you aren’t ready to formulate your initial thoughts into the written word, audio recordings or videos? One way to begin is to find and spread articles you agree or disagree with. Share, add your opinion and invite others to comment.

As you do so, consider this to be the start of your research and learning. Continue looking for quality evidence and the underlying academic publications that supports it.

Sometimes, you’ll discover nothing but opinions. Occasionally, you may bump into facts that contradict your pet ideas. Overturn them to fulfill your mission of finding the truths that help you make progress.

These are small steps, but the world won’t change until you start to engage it. Sharing and reacting to existing points of view brings your commitment out into the open, starting immediately.

2. Build Your Structure

Most people mistakenly believe that all you require to be a content creator is the right keyboard, audio recording device or video camera. While those are necessary elements, in today’s world they are simply insufficient to be effective.

Especially in these locked-down times, would-be thought leaders need a way to share their content, promote themselves to new audiences and manage their followers. The details of these three approaches are as follows.

– To deliver consistent messages you must specialize in a particular mode: text, audio or video. Why? It takes time to master a single one well enough to rise above the din and distractions your would-be followers face, even if you have world-class ideas. Fortunately, YouTube has all the education you need to move past the beginner stage of using these three modes.

– Some believe that they shouldn’t have to do very much promotion – “if you build it, they will come.” In other words, if the content is good enough, it should naturally attract people. This hope-for-the-best approach is unlikely to win attention. Instead, you must carefully define a strategy to promote your messages in a multi-channel world, each with its strengths and weaknesses. Experiment with each of the social networks, plus setting up your own website.

– Consider obtaining a Customer Relationship Management software system (like Mailchimp) to efficiently scale and automate your communication with your audience.

Recall a time when a typewriter was an essential piece of equipment. Think of these three elements in the same way: the hallmark of someone who is serious.

3. Focus on Results

As a budding thought leader you are likely to have multiple objectives. Pick an easy one to start with, such as the number of people who respond to your next article on Facebook. As you continue, you’ll define more sophisticated metrics that measure your impact.

As you may agree, being an effective thought leader in these pandemic times involves more than having new, fresh ideas. That’s just the beginning. While quality thoughts are essential, they are lost by themselves.

Today, the sad fact is that the smartest voice will not necessarily be heard above the distractions. Think of your “message delivery” skills as a critical partner to your creativity and you’ll start to confront the gaps in becoming a business thought leader with impact.

Webinar: 3 Hidden Obstacles to Impactful HR Content

Are you having an impact with your HR content?

As an HR Professional, you may agree that building a person brand can make all difference in achieving your goals. Creating content is one strategy to do so that costs little, but can yield a tremendous return.

However, many find it challenging to either get started, find the time or consistently create articles, audios and videos. If you can relate to this gap between what you know you should be doing and are actually doing in creating content, read on. The most consistent content creators have found ways to get past the obstacles that thwart others, and you can learn from them in the upcoming webinar.

3 Hidden Obstacles to Impactful HR Content – Register Here
Thur Nov 26, 2020 at 6pm Ja / 7pm TT
Presenter: Francis Wade

Come to this unique learning event to discover pathways to become an effective creator of HR content in the Caribbean. With podcasts, virtual conferences, vlogs and pop-up events becoming the norm, opportunities are expanding for you to make a difference. This is a special opportunity to hear some ideas and share with others, plus learn from my experience creating HR related content for a wide audience for the past 15 years.

Space is limited on the Remo interactive platform, but you can watch the presentation via our live feed if you arrive late or the space is filled.

Francis

P.S. Reminder:  you can’t use a tablet/iPad or the Firefox browser to access the  webinar. Pro-Tip – Chrome works best on a smartphone or laptop! Remember  to close down other apps and tabs so you get to use full bandwidth and  memory.  Never used Remo before? It’s a step above Zoom – so here’s a quick tutorial and an equipment checklist.

How to Persuade an Audience Productively

Do you have the challenge of persuading an audience in either a speech or the written word? Here’s a useful outline I have adapted for use in the background of my talks and articles, including this one.

Psychologists tell us that when people are being influenced by ideas, it’s just not a random activity. Instead, they follow a rather predictable process, especially in live gatherings. The core notion is that a group being influenced journeys from one psychological space to another, almost like running around the bases in softball, hitting each of them in sequence. Following this theory, here are four major phases to use, inspired by speaker-trainer Pete Vargas.

Hearts

The first phase of persuasive communication is designed to address an emotional need. Usually, at the very beginning, an attendee is preoccupied with a “Why should I listen?” question. While it can be logically explained, the best speakers/writers evoke an emotional response, starting with their very first words.

Some begin with a question designed to spur curiosity. Notice that I used this approach in this article; it happens to be the one I use most often. Others give a startling statistic or quote. A few are brave enough to tell stories.

Unfortunately, too many stammer out irrelevant pleasantries to “break the ice”: thanking various people, introducing themselves, dropping anecdotes. They mistakenly believe that it’s impolite to start with a bang.

Yet, this is the best moment to make a heart-to-heart connection, before phones take away people’s attention. If you can follow your opening by evoking their experience of the problem, and how you have struggled with it, all the better.

Finally, Jamaican listeners and readers yearn to connect with each other. Find a way to bridge the gap between members of your audience, taking away the anxiety of feeling as if they are alone.

This first phase ends when the emotional connection has been made. It could occupy 25% of the time available.

Heads

The next question people ask is related to your Big Idea – the “how”. This is the logic behind your thinking – the new approach you are advocating that they have never heard.

Here, you are building a fresh case. Use research data, historical facts, and stories to share ideas that can pierce their logical minds. Assume that they are usually a bit cynical: quick to dismiss your message to the “same-old-stuff” category.

Try to spend about 40-60% of your speech in this phase – it’s the one people will share with others and use to justify their future course of action. They may not mention how you made them feel, but they will remember data such as the percentages I have quoted in this article.

This phase ends when their heads are nodding with understanding, showing they are ready to move on.

Hands

Arguably, your call to action (which takes place in this phase) is the most practical part of your communication. Here, you appeal to your audience to act to fulfill the promise of your Big Idea.

As such, this is not the time to be subtle or obtuse. Instead, create a picture of their future selves and ask them to make a concrete, visible commitment. It could be an altar call, a book purchase, a website download or something that doesn’t involve you at all, such as a sequence of steps.

Once they have been asked to act, you have set the stage for a powerful ending.

Hearts

The final 10% is a return to emotions. This is where you can continue a personal story or ask them to envision the person they’ll be once they take action. If you are able to create a connection to the feelings evolved at the start, even better.

The point here is to summon the emotional commitment needed to be successful going forward. After all, you are setting them loose to try your Big Idea in the real world full of resistance, resignation and cynicism – even if it’s their own. They’ll need to be strong to avoid the friction and distractions involved with the introduction of anything new.

Consider this to be a serious challenge. At the heart of your need to persuade should be an authentic commitment to make a life-changing difference. As someone who has stepped up, hold yourself accountable and be a contribution.

In other words, don’t commit the error of “just” giving a “small speech” or a “few remarks”. Every time you stand in front of a microphone, or put pen to paper, you have a sacred duty. You are not just a noisemaker.

Instead, honour your wildest dreams in which your words help people transform their lives, even if you’re only delivering a wedding toast. After all, you only need a single person to respond postively to know that it was worth the effort.

Will Your Church or NGO Survive the Pandemic?

Are you concerned that your church or Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) may not survive the combined punches of a pandemic and a recession? You should be. But there’s much you can do to intervene and turn things around.

Most of us can appreciate the devastating impact of COVID-19 on industries such as education, entertainment, hotels and restaurants. But there are other effects being felt in two sectors which have traditionally drawn strength from live gatherings of volunteers. Now that large assemblies have been banned, churches and NGO’s are threatened as never before by recent, unstoppable trends.

The Threat to Churches

While your church is primarily seen as a place of worship, let’s assume it’s also an organization subject to the same requirements as others: it needs manpower and funding to maintain its operations.

In particular, the Saturday or Sunday morning service plays not only a spiritual role, but it also serves a commercial activity: fund-raising. Traditionally, this has been driven by donations from live attendees.

In any recession, its elders would expect a dip but this one is different. Their primary channel of creating value has been severely and indefinitely curtailed.

This has led to a dramatic change in behaviour on behalf of would-be congregants, particularly those who are lukewarm – the majority. Now, instead of putting on their Sunday best and sitting on a pew for the better part of the day, they are engaging in alternatives.

Some are watching their home church’s services online. Via Google Search, others have switched to more fulfilling broadcasts in other parts of the world. More than a few are simply distracted by social media, the news, exercise, giving the children extra lessons and other activities.

The fact is, they are all picking up new habits which will become quite hard to disrupt once the ban on assembling is lifted. Consequently, your church’s recent drop in donated income may not be temporary. Neither is the reduction in attendance. And, even when the bans lift, your elders will still have a recession to contend with.

The Threat to NGO’s

The challenge many NGO’s face is a bit different: it includes their leaders. They don’t have the benefit of a permanent pastor and probably elects new executives every year or two.

Traditionally, each incoming leader body learns its function from the one prior, primarily via face-to-face meetings. Its regular activities and fundraising events have also always been in-person. So has its AGM where dues are collected and elections are conducted.

COVID-19 has taken all of these away. Now, the leadership must engage using unfamiliar online tools like Zoom. In many NGO’s, retirees play an important role but they are least likely to use such tools.

Unfortunately, the sum of these shifts threaten the existence of many churches and NGO’s. Some have not responded well, going into hibernation; a wait-and-see approach. Their hope is that things will return to “normal” someday soon.

Hopefully, your organization realizes this urgent, existential threat and plans to devise a new strategy. Here are some steps to take.

1. Craft New Commercial Strategies, Abandon the Old

While your church or NGO may have built its existence on long, stable traditions, consider this a call to re-think everything. A mission of “Continuing our Tradition” might need to be replaced.

Now, you must define a fresh destination, one that will appeal to a highly distractible audience wary of in-person gatherings. This should mean looking 5-10-30 years to the future to craft the details of a vision in which you are unique in meeting your followers’ needs.

Once your end-point has been defined, fill in the steps to be followed over the time period. On the commercial side, use metrics such as members, donations and special event income to show where your growth will come from. Include milestones along the way which describe the path to follow.

2. Draft New Skills

If your board lacks the skills necessary, co-opt younger persons who have them. For example, if none of your leaders have regularly attended a range of virtual services, include someone who has. Ask them for help in defining new ways to add value which appeal to Millennials and successive generations.

Time is of the essence. Don’t delay because of pride. Instead, assume the worse: that Jamaica won’t have a vaccine or achieve herd immunity until after 2021.

To save your organization from extinction in the meantime, forsake any wishful thinking and embrace the fact that there are irreversible trends at play which are moving against you. Rally your members and show them that this isn’t about a temporary convenience but an entirely new way to fulfill your mission.

Thought Leadership in the Age of Technology

Are you someone who leads by sharing your best ideas with a defined audience? As a “thought leader” you may have noticed that technology has made certain tasks easier, but the overall challenge has become formidable.

As mentioned in my column dated October 4th, I have been hosting multi-day virtual conferences. For each one, I have invited thought leaders to be presenters, but recently, a separation has developed between experienced experts (Elders) and tech-savvy communicators (Youngsters).

The former have been thinking about issues in their field for some time: publishing books, articles, or conference presentations. Spending a decade or more in reflection and study, their deep content is provocative. Furthermore, they have probably assisted many other experts over their careers.

In general, they are in no hurry, as they are accustomed to cycles lasting months or even years between major outputs. From their point of view, it takes time to develop sound ideas; the wait between the first draft of a book and its appearance in a bookstore.

At the other extreme lies their young, digital counterparts: Youngsters who also intend to influence others with their thinking and creative products. However, they use the newest technologies to dramatically shorten the cycle between inspiration and public consumption.

Employing the latest virtual channels, they disseminate a high volume of content. As such, they are conscious of their online image, measuring success by the number of likes, followers and subscribers they garner.

Recently, these groups have been drifting further apart, leading to complaints. If you belong to or interact with either group, here is some advice.

Why Elders Must Pivot Their Delivery

I recall a conversation with a colleague who had some fine ideas about marketing products in Jamaica. When I suggested he share them publicly, he refused. “Someone will steal them!” he complained. When he migrated a few years later, all his plans went with him. But his limited thinking lives on in the heads of too many Elders. They grew up in an environment of scarcity, where an original theory or solution was rare and the opportunities to reach an audience were few.

Case in Point: As a young management consultant in the 1980s, I struggled to produce papers and give speeches due to the cost and time involved.

Today, such barriers have been removed, but most Elders have not caught up. They may know how to find and download ideas from other thinkers, but don’t know how to use a blog, vlog, podcast or social media to build an audience.

If you are an Elder, one place to start is to develop an “owned” asset – one that you control completely, rather than “renting” temporary space on a social network. Establish a website which allows you to share your creative outputs via text, audio, video or graphics.

Then, create a catalog of your best products. When you have at least ten or twenty decent units, publish them in sequence and start to build an audience. Use your friends on social media as a foundation and send out links to other thought leaders.

Why Youngsters Must Use Precedents

Thought-leaders who are tech-savvy are often enamored with their increasing ability to create followers. It’s never been easier to do so, and some self-proclaimed youthful “experts” have been able to attract millions. As such, they spend a great deal of time seeking better social media tricks, slicker graphics, more effective hashtags, and nicer filters. They look up to established influencers who are using these tweaks to extend their reach.

However, if you dig a bit deeper, you may find that some Youngsters are “all hat and no cattle.” In other words, while their followership is growing, their content comprises no more than shallow ideas and worn cliches.

As such, their followers tend to be young and impressionable, honestly believing that they are hearing brilliant, breakthrough insights. Before the inevitable loss of interest comes, there is something Youngsters could learn from their Elders: how to solve novel problems using existing research and fresh imagination. Following this approach would allow them to develop a better-quality audience that sticks around for truly original thinking.

By the same token, many Elders are waiting for their wisdom to be tapped. Consequently, they just aren’t learning the aggressive techniques Youngsters have acquired to reach their audience: they need to become active, skillful users of LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

For now, the momentum lies with those who use the latest technology, but it should swing back. Unfortunately, we can’t wait. In these tumultuous times, we require both Elders and Youngsters to develop the skills needed to make their contribution.

If it means embracing an uncomfortable challenge, so be it. The world needs people who combine high-quality thinking and channels of easy access to help solve the pressing problems of the day.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20201018/francis-wade-thought-leadership-age-technology

Converting Your In-Person Conference to a Virtual Summit

Is your organization accustomed to holding real-life gatherings for scores or hundreds of its followers, shareholders, customers or members? If so, what should it do in these pandemic times? Are large-scale, virtual events as simple as they seem?

In October last year, I got lucky. A colleague included me in the execution of his two-day online summit. Thousands participated from around the world, and based on what I learned, I subsequently launched two such events of my own. My most recent effort, CaribHRForum Virtual Conference featured over 1350 participants, with 75 speakers spread over three days.

While my learning curve has been quite steep, here are some shortcuts I recommend to scale this challenge, even in a world of continuous, disruptive change.

1. Get the Business Model Right

Like many activities of this nature, there is a commercial reality that must be addressed in order to produce a material benefit. While it might appear easy to copy other online events, that’s a mistake if the organizers’ goals aren’t exactly the same as yours.

To illustrate, some hosts are happy to increase the size of their mailing lists. Others just want to sell a specific product to a narrow audience. The point is, your organization must define the outcomes and target dates it wants to attain from the venture.

For example, at the start you must choose which crowd to attract, what topics to cover, which technologies to use, what skills are needed and more. These are strategic decisions which should be driven by your organization’s vision. That’s not to say the past should be ignored: but you should assume that you are looking to attract a younger, more tech-savvy version of your traditional audience.

By now you may realize: this is not simply about making a virtual carbon copy. Instead, this activity should complement your new post-COVID strategy and the best way to accomplish this is from a blank canvas.

2. Hunt for Skills

Unfortunately, the team of folks you relied on to pull off your in-person events may find itself lacking. The skills needed for a project of this nature are vast, deep and changing from one month to the next. As such, it’s unlikely that you will find them all at once. In other words, expect team members to be in a relentless learning mode as they grapple with evolving technologies.

For example, you’ll need folks who are skilled in internet marketing, website design, customer service, online community management, copywriting, image and video editing, event handling, speaker selection/training and more. While some of these may appear to be traditional capabilities, the virtual expression of them is unique.

Case in point: A skilled graphics designer accustomed to a traditional role may not understand the difference between Instagram Story promotions versus those in the Feed. Facebook’s advertising platform may be incomprehensible.

The bottom-line is that managing the skills needed for a virtual conference is a game of constant vigilance. Few organizations can afford to hire an external specialized team so you must use volunteers or employees. They will only possess a subset of the skills you need so get everyone in learning mode from the onset.

3. An Early Start

Most organizations under-estimate the need for a business model that works and the skills which are needed. Consequently, they start working on their online conference far too late.

This has a compound effect: an overdue start means a lesser choice of speakers. This, in turn, makes the event unattractive to your audience. They may conclude that you’re only offering a glorified webinar: heavy on splashy graphics and light on content. Unfortunately, fewer attendees means less revenue.

A late start may also push you into offering live presentations, versus those which are pre-recorded. While this may seem to be an easy substitute, it actually translates into a frantic last-minute struggle to bring together interviewers, interviewees and the audience in real time. Throw in different time zones, imperfect technology and a tricky supply of electricity or Internet access and you have a recipe for stress.

In these pandemic times, these are challenges you may not be able to avoid. Accept the fact that you are creating an experience that is distinctly different from ones you have undertaken in the past, and that direct comparisons to pre-COVID times add little value.

The truth is, in-person gatherings in large numbers are unlikely to resume in 2021. In the meantime, many of your audience members will become accustomed to the benefits of virtual conferences and summits, and start to prefer this option.

Embrace this aspect of the new normal as a unique capability to be used long beyond the time when herd immunity sets in. Instead, it will probably be a requirement your audience demands, a feature your organization will offer over and over again in the future.

Originally published in the Jamaica Gleaner.