Four Commitments That Block Conference Reinvention

Obstructed Views

Some conferences keep pace with changing times.

Others seem stuck in a time warp. Tradition led them to success in the past and they expect it will in the future.

Most organizations respond to changing times in some way. Many respond by increasing the flurry of activity that has resulted in past success. Usually, that’s the wrong response.

Active Inertia: The Early Failure Warning Sign

Active inertia is the primary reason organizations fail to adapt to changing business environments says professor and author Donald Sull. Active inertia is the use of the same patterns, processes and ideas that have worked in the past.

Often what resulted in past success won’t lead organizations to their future success. The context and times have changed, but their business actions haven’t. They keep doing what they’ve always done only at a faster pace.

Four Commitments That Lead To Conference Failure

Consider Sull’s findings about active inertia and commitments as applied to conferences and meetings.

Conference organizers commit to success. Over time their commitments harden. The environment shifts. And when the environment shifts, conference organizers find themselves trapped in the very commitments that led them to their historical success.

Here are four commitments that can lead to traps.

1. Frames Become Blinders

Strategic frames form the basic conference business assumptions. They can be beneficial in identifying key challenges and solutions. When conference planners use the same frames repeatedly, they begin to assume that those frames are always the solutions.

The challenge is that when the business environment changes, the frames also need to change. If not, their frames can become their blinders.

Strategic conference frames like target audiences, attendee loyalty, education, topics, and competitors can actually become blinders. They blind our peripheral vision and keep us from seeing what is really happening.

2. Processes Become Hardened Habits

Usually a process is chosen because it’s the best way to do something at that time. The more we use them, the more routine they become.

These routines often become firm habits. Not because they are the best process but because that’s how we’ve always done it. Or It’s the only way we know to do it. Entrenched procedures become comfortable and safe.

Conference planning teams find it very difficult to change processes that worked for them in the past. Using the same planning processes when the business context has changed is like getting stuck in quicksand. The more you move, the more you sink.

Rarely do routines lead to innovation. Typically they hinder new ideas and progress.

3. Relationships Become Shackles

Conference planning teams often develop great relationships with suppliers, vendors, exhibitors, sponsors and even their customers. In the beginning these relationships serve the conference team well.

Frequently, these relationships become so deep and engrained that they create inflexibility and opposition to new ideas. Simultaneously, the conference’s resources don’t adapt to changing business environments. Then they become millstones the mire the conference from reinvention.

The handshakes with business partners that helped conferences achieve success can actually become shackles that keep them from reinvention.

4. Values Solidify Into Dogma

Values inspire your conference. They let customers know what is important. And they can unify conference planning teams. They serve organizations well.

However over time, as a conference matures, these values can transition into rigid rules that bind the conference. These shared beliefs can start from a pure place and end up becoming traditional doctrines that hurt conference growth.

How do you know when one of your commitments needs to evolve? What are some of the conference planning traits of active inertia?

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