What You Are Doing Today Probably Will Not Drive Your Long Term Conference Growth

Driving The Volvo

Most conference strategy is stuck!

It’s stuck in strategic thinking based on ideas and frameworks designed for a different era. Our current conference growth strategy is out of context with today’s dramatic accelerated pace of change.

We have taken for granted a set of growth strategy assumptions that served us in the past. But they have been overthrown by a new set of customer and market principles.

The Purpose Of Old-School Strategy

Most strategic plans and goals are based on one single dominant idea: to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage, says author and Columbus Business School Professor Rita Gunther McGrath.

Strategy that leads to a competitive advantage is most organization’s holy grail, she says. And it’s no longer relevant for most organizations.

Applying McGrath’s thoughts to a conference model, the traditional approach of building a conference around a competitive advantage, your membership for example, and then defending that position as well as milking it for profits, no longer makes sense. You have to be more intentional about target audiences that can grow your conference. You have to curate the experience for the right audience at the right time with the right learning opportunities.

Embrace Transient Competitive Advantage As Strategy

McGrath says that organizations need to shift their traditional thinking about strategy. They should adopt transient competitive advantage as their 21st Century strategy.

“…that to win in volatile and uncertain environments, executives need to learn how to exploit short-lived opportunities with speed and decisiveness.”

“…that the deeply ingrained structures and systems that executives rely on to extract maximum value from a competitive advantage are liabilities—outdated and even dangerous—in a fast-moving competitive environment.” ~ Rita Gunther McGrath

Instead, to paraphrase McGrath, conference leadership has to find ways to pursue strategies with a long-term perspective on where they want to go, and also with the recognition that whatever they are doing today isn’t going to drive their future growth.

In short, conference organizers have to find ways to exploit temporary competitive advantages, not just sustainable ones.

New Conference Leadership Mindsets

Too much of our annual conference strategy is stuck in organizational silos and volunteer committee roles. We need to tear down those silos so that our organizations are appropriately structured to capture and act on opportunities. We need to move volunteers to advisory roles where they can add their brainpower to big ideas and not the conference details.

We need to find a new set of courageous conference leaders that will be quicker and more decisive with their decision-making. We need conference leadership that will take two or three big ideas and change the conference experience, without going through outdated volunteer approval processes.

We need new conference leadership that regards the fast pace of competitive exchange as exciting and not put their heads in the sand and defer to the program committee to pick speakers and topics. We need new conference leadership that can translate some of the 21st century business ideas into meeting experiences.

What are some short-term opportunities that conference organizers could leverage for their events? What’s holding you back from adopting a new conference leadership mindset aligned with the pace of change in today’s society?

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