I returned about three weeks ago from a conference. It was in many ways a typical conference in the way it was organized. There were breakout seminars, keynote speakers, and the ubiquitous trade show/ expo. In other ways it was remarkably mind blowing, life changing inspiring, and had a “wow factor” unlike any conference I have ever attended. It was the conference of the National Speakers Association (of which I am a member) and everyone I talked with said the same thing, “This conference was the best I have ever been to, I felt so welcome.”
I have been thinking about this now for almost a month and asking myself, what makes this conference so remarkable? Yes generally speaking people who speak for a living are pretty outgoing; that is a given. They are also a pretty nice bunch overall. There aren’t too many curmudgeons walking around. (surprised?) That really isn’t it though—it is something deeper and something that any leader could learn from when building any culture. Here are the four key elements I have identified that we can all learn from. Here is my guarantee—if you have these elements built into the fabric of your culture, you will have an organization that has energy, passion and a place where people feel welcome.
#1 – The Spirit of the Founder
The National Speakers Association was founded by professional speaker Cavett Roberts who was the founding father and mentor for many professional speakers. He built values into the organization. He talked about values such as professionalism, ethics, generosity, and willingness to give back to the profession and the world. He constantly talked about these values and eventually they were adopted by the members and the message spread. He articulated and shared the message with passion and consistency. Eventually every one at NSA embraced and lived those values. These values were passed to each new member. Today years later at every NSA meeting you will hear people say “this is the spirit of Cavett”. People actually live the values.
Lesson: If your organization has a Mission Vision and Values- that is great; but the big central question is do they know it and do they live it? The only reason for a Mission Vision and Values to exist is to guide people in how “your” culture operates on a daily basis. It’s a we- not a “we” and “they.” How do we live our values?
#2 – The Sense of Community
When new people attend a conference for the first time they are given a VIP ribbon. The rest of the conference they are overwhelmed with people saying hello, asking them if they need help and how the conference is going for them. People ask them to sit with them at lunch and at breakfast. In any seminar or social event at the conference they are greeted with enthusiasm. Why? Because of the sense of community at NSA. There are local NSA chapters in cities across America, and online groups on social media, winter conferences and special interest groups (like motivational speakers, trainers, facilitators, and consultants.) Everything is engineered to make people feel welcome, build sense of community, and to make people feel comfortable. There is even a seminar for new people on how to get the most out of the conference. It sounds impossible and idealistic but trust me it is real.
Lesson: It’s important in your organization to create an environment where newcomers feel welcome. Do you? I see so many organizations where new people start their first day with no desk, no phone, and no one even knowing they were coming to the job. They feel completely disconnected and then the orientation is what I call the “follow around technique.” It sounds like this “well hmmm… just follow Val around for a few days she will show you the ropes.” Huh? They leave the first day not even sure they made the right choice. Make sure you do every thing you can to make new and veteran people feel welcome and appreciated.
#3 – Colleagues not Competitors
You will never hear someone at the NSA conference say, “ Over there is one of your competitors.” We view other speakers as colleagues—there is enough business for everyone. To quote Cavett Roberts, “Our goal is not to fight over one piece of pie, our goal is to build a big enough pie where there is enough for everyone.” Frankly, some of my speaking engagements come from other speakers who are booked on a certain day and recommend me (I do the same for them). It helps my credibility that I know other competent speakers.
Lesson: In too many organizations there is in-fighting amongst departments (sales vs. accounting) and against each other (Account Executives competing with each other) is it not the goal of every company to build one that is successful enough that everyone wins? Do you have that now? If not you are creating a form of corporate cannibalism. It’s not healthy to eat our young.
#4 – Commitment to Development
There were 1200 professional speakers trainers and consultants who flew to Orlando, stayed in a pricy hotel and paid for many meals for four days to attend a conference. By the way, the costs of attendance came out of each person’s very own pocket and it was also over a weekend. The conference had sixty separate breakout sessions, ten keynotes and an expo. The commitment to learning and development was amazing—breakout sessions were in many cases standing room only. These people came ready to learn and network and grow their businesses to the next level.
Lesson: How committed to development are your team members? Would they attend a conference on their own dime on a weekend? People who commit to development understand the enormous value. Ask yourself if your folks are committed to developing every day and every week. Are you providing those opportunities or is it just the status quo?
So I learned a great deal at that conference and I will spend the money next year to attend again. Not just for the information I learned but also to again soak in the amazing and rich culture of NSA.
You on the other hand don’t have to attend, you can just print out this article, figure out what you are going to do, and start applying lessons you learned today. Wow. You didn’t even have to have sit in a center seat for three hours.