Planner's Perspective: Unintended Consequences

The following is a guest post from Dean Jones. Dean is a certified meeting planner and serves as the conference manager for Rejuvenate Marketplace.

James Whitlock is not someone you probably know or have ever met. I don’t know him either, but his story intrigued me and I knew he would be the subject of my next article. The connection starts with my wife (she doesn’t know James either), who is a Nashville kindergarten teacher. The Metro Nashville Public School (MNPS) system built five snow days into the 2009-10 calendar. I realize that many of you from climates cooler than Nashville are already shaking your heads and rolling your eyes — and it’s well deserved. Nashville is a semi-Southern city with 5,600 miles of paved roads and 30 snowplows (actually 28 now — two crashed their first day out this season). Needless to say, Nashville doesn’t deal with snow well. So back to the five snow days: MNPS called off school seven days this winter to avoid potential disasters with buses, parents and kids on the roads.

Seven minus five equals two. Two school days must be made up. The dilemma is how: shorten spring break, lengthen the school year or add additional time each day? The MNPS board chose option three. It made sense. The teachers are already at school, the heat is on, buses are running their routes, and 30 additional minutes a day for 26 days seemed like a logical solution. However, as with many “logical” solutions, there are unintended consequences — enter James Whitlock, time systems lead worker. Mr. Whitlock is the sole employee of MNPS tasked with programming and upkeep of school bells. The logical decision became a nightmare for one employee, with 139 school-bell systems to reprogram.

I have made similar decisions related to my events. They seemed logical on the surface but more thought and feedback from staff or outsiders could have revealed flaws in my logic or perhaps an alternate plan with fewer unintended consequences.

So how do you avoid putting yourself and your events into this position? Whenever you need to make a change to some existing system, program, schedule or event, it’s wise to have a pool of people that can help you evaluate potential decisions and repercussions. This team could be other planners, friends, staff or outsiders, but a combination of all would be a great mixture. Sometimes when we bounce ideas off other planners they only offer us one perspective, but an outsider may offer a totally new perspective that we hadn’t considered.

Begin thinking now of your “consequence team” that can help you evaluate potential scenarios, evaluate trouble spots and provide alternative solutions to your decisions. One word of advice — be sure that James Whitlock is on your team!

Be careful out there!

6 Mistakes To Avoid When Planning A Leadership Retreat

Leadership retreats are supposed to be something to look forward to: spending time in a relaxed setting, developing plans without the constant distraction of the office and the strengthening of team relationships and dynamics.

If that’s the case, then why do so many people dread a leadership retreat like the plague? They don’t want to go and when they get there, they can’t wait for it to be over. Pretty much like many of us guys feel about our annual physical!

The answer lies in the structure of the retreat itself. Avoid the following, commonly made mistakes, and you’ll be well on your way to having a successful, productive leadership retreat.

  • Don’t get lost – The old saying, “if you don’t know where you’re going, how will know when you get there?” is definitely applicable to planning a leadership retreat. You need to have predetermined objectives. Otherwise  attendees will come with their own objectives/agenda, or none at all. In the months leading up to the retreat, maintain a list of what you want to accomplish. Then prioritize your objectives and announce them to your team prior to the retreat.
  • Don’t bite off more than you can chew – Too often we try to cram more into the agenda than we can possible accomplish. As a result, discussions get rushed, or cut short, and people get frustrated. Instead, only select the number of objectives that can be thuroughly discussed in the time set aside for the retreat. Be sure to give yourself enough time to determine next steps and create a timeline.
  • Don’t keep people in the dark – When people don’t know why they’re attending a retreat or meeting, they can tend to become close minded. Definitely not what you want! Be sure to share the topics, objectives and goals of the retreat far enough in advance so that people have ample time to get prepared.
  • Don’t self-facilitate – You, as the boss, should not facilitate your own leadership retreat. I’ve personally made this mistake… more than once. If you facilitate, the tendency is for your people to simply follow your lead and offer the answers they think you want to hear. Guess what? Those may not be the best answers! Instead, bring in an experienced facilitator. Someone objective who can ask the hard questions and hopefully lead the group to come up with fresh answers.
  • Don’t shy away from fireworks – Bringing together people who are passionate about their ideas can often times create ‘fireworks’. Don’t be afraid of this. I know this is something I struggle with. When the sparks start to fly among my staff, I tend to want to become the ‘peacemaker’ and try to keep everyone happy. The result can be a watered down meeting that frustrates everyone. Next retreat try going into it hoping for fireworks. They’re a great sign of passion and creative energy.
  • Don’t drop the ball – How many times have you attended a retreat that generated a lot of great ideas, but then nothing happened? Did that frustrate you? I know it does me. Don’t make the same mistake. The end of the retreat should be just the beginning. Before ending the retreat be sure to clearly communicate next steps, project assignments and a follow-up timetable.

What about you? Any mistakes you’ve seen made (or made yourself) that you could share?