Do you think it is appropriate for an organisation to make socialising at industry events compulsory? What advantages are there to the individual and to the company? How does this conflict with the trend towards work-life balance?
Industry events are a bit like marmite. Some people absolutely love them and see them as a great opportunity to rub shoulders while creating opportunities for their companies and themselves (with a free meal and a couple of drinks thrown in) while others see them as a bit of a drag. Whether it’s a trade exhibition in Dublin (including a night or two away) or a gala dinner in London, it’s all ‘work’.
We all know the saying, ‘you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink’. Well, not only can you not make the horse drink, you can’t make him or her enjoy themselves either – and it shows. If your staff don’t engage with the event and the people around them, it defeats the object of sending them in the first place.
There’s a pay off to be had from socialising at industry events if you take the right approach and go in prepared. For those who are reluctant to step up to the plate, it may well be worth talking them through the expectation; help them to identify what they want to accomplish and to set themselves a goal. The goal could be who they want to talk to or how many introductions they’d like to make.
“Ultimately, it’s all about making connections. You have to socialise to create opportunity and to be a success. They may not come away with something that is tangible but, by talking to people and, more importantly, listening, they have been given an opportunity to learn and can build on that initial contact.
Fronting engaging and knowledgeable employees at these events is a marketing opportunity in itself. People buy into other people – which is another reason why it’s best to send the staff who are keen and enthusiastic into the melee.
We all know the events that are a big ask and we know the individuals who are most adept at fronting them. To get the best out of the team, and be even-handed, those names should be circulated and used in turn and then recognised and rewarded with some time out for making the commitment.
I do not believe it is appropriate to make socialising at industry events compulsory especially where such events take place outside contracted working hours. Encourage, yes. Compulsory, no.
Although there can be advantages to both the individual and their company in attending industry events, ultimately, it is the decision of an employee to attend such a function, and a good employer will trust their employee to be able to judge the best course of action for all concerned.
Where benefits exist, the advantages can range from improvements in profile-raising – of the individual and of the organisation – to providing genuine commercial developments, innovation and sharing of ideas. For business leaders in particular, attending the relevant events can provide a stake in the ground to demonstrate belief and to lead by example.
Making the most of the opportunities however, is only truly effective if the individual actively takes part in the networking. If someone goes under duress, there’s a greater chance that they won’t be fully ‘present’ and will be conducting a ‘showing face’ exercise which is disadvantageous to all involved:
- The event organiser ‘wastes’ a space on someone who doesn’t want to be there and doesn’t contribute.
- The industry potentially loses the input from someone who was keen attend but couldn’t due to the event being fully subscribed.
- The engaged attendees are faced with a ‘null attendee’ who doesn’t make the effort to contribute.
- For the individual with a fear or phobia of being in crowds, there are potential HR issues in forcing them to attend.
Knowledge is exchanged at networking events, but is only truly beneficial if the individual is genuinely interested AND shares this knowledge their organisation and peers.
Commercial opportunities can be initiated and developed at these events. Networking provides a mutually beneficial opportunity for individuals to meet and where there is a common interest in interacting and potentially working together. This may result in business between those individuals or companies as there is a natural inclination to work with like-minded people who share the same values
Innovation can take seed at networking events as new ideas are sparked through sharing concepts – sometimes captured from non-similar organisations. When this type of Best Practice is exchanged and subsequently disseminated, new and exciting synergies and ideas can grow. Remember how Facebook developed? What started as a college project is now the ubiquitous means of networking with friends, family, business, community and more.
We would encourage individuals to join in where we feel any of the above is appropriate; and strongly encourage attendance where the timing falls within working hours. We do not insist on anyone attending such events outside of their working hours unless they wish to do so. We must maintain the desire for a meaningful work:life balance for those for whom work is not the be all and end all.
We do recognise that there are certain individuals who would ordinarily want to attend such events and this is encouraged, especially when followed-up with a session to share/download/exchange any pertinent knowledge and ideas gained from attending industry events. This is where social/digital media can support and enhance further development and extension of face-to-face networking.
As we’ve seen in the last 10-15 years, social and digital media is helping to blur boundaries. Internal and external knowledge-sharing groups, Webinars, Facetime, LinkedIn WhatsApp and Blab can redefine what it means to ‘attend’ an event. And as we’re seeing with Facebook and LinkedIn, the two are also shifting their focus. As Facebook develops its ‘Facebook for Work’ function and LinkedIn contains much more personal content, the difference between social and business becomes less distinct.