I’ve been to a decent number of conferences and professional events now for someone my age, but it’s been a while. This last weekend’s experience at FEECon shook me up, gave me pages of notes and a crowded page of items, and inspired me to be a better creator.
I’m typically a little skeptical of most conferences. Many conferences can be expensive wastes of time. But this last experience jogged my thinking. Even if you’re not attending purely for professional reasons, if you pay attention you can walk away with a lot of professional value. I wasn’t even attending on behalf of my company, and yet I’m getting back to work this week with valuable tactics for thinking and doing.
That makes me think that everyone could benefit from getting out of the workplace and into meatspace with other professionals – even the lower-level employees we normally keep cooped up in cubicles.
Here are five reasons to for send those (usually more junior or lower-paid or non-sales/marketing) employees to a conference every now and then:
You’ll build their networks
Employee’s networks will come back to help you. Want to get good employees without paying a recruiting agency? Let your employees be your recruiters. Want to reach a journalist or a potential business partner or a potential investor? Your junior employees may have made some new connections at their last professional event which they can leverage to help you. You never can tell.
You’ll take off their blinders
It’s easy to miss the forest for the trees in the kind of execution happening at lower levels in your organization. But you need your employees at all levels to have the critical thinking and vision to look beyond what they’re currently doing to new ways of working well.
When employees spend time around other people in their industry, it’s pretty hard to stay blind to the experiences, learnings, and insights that will help them self-criticize and improve. Being around people with different levels of experience also helps your junior employees to mature. They get to find role models and mentors outside of your own organization, which may lack the experienced players necessary to provide training and role modeling.
You’ll make them more competitive
Being around other people in a similar space or industry or role will also make your employees more competitive. They’re no longer competing against people within your organization – they’re competing against competitors within your industry category, or even fellow professionals of a similar job level or experience level.
It’s easy to become complacent in a small organization or a big one. Competition and context helps your employees to see how much work there is to be done relative to a much larger pool of awesome professionals. This has a great effect for binding your team together and for enhancing drive and creativity.
You’ll turn them into brand ambassadors
Whether they’re working or not, an employee of your organization is going to represent you to the outside world. You might as well embrace the fact that your employees are brand ambassadors.
Even if they’re going in an unofficial role just for personal and professional development, your “brand ambassadors” can have a positive effect when they go to conferences. Oddly enough, one of the best ways to train these people to be good representatives of our brand is to throw them into the deep end. Assuming they’re good, hardworking employees, they’ll work hard to not bring shame to their company. They may impress. They will win colleagues and connections and friends, who will now have a positive association with your company. And they will feel more ownership of the company’s brand and more directly responsible for keeping it spotless and dynamic.
You’ll change their self-conception
When you keep your lower-level employees confined within the walls of your office, it’s all too easy for them to fall into the mentality of a school classroom: obeying a pecking order and repeating tasks day after day.
When you send your employees out into the wider world of business, they transform from just servants in a pecking order into players within an ecosystem, an economy, a marketplace. They connect to the larger economic life outside the narrow, often ignorant limits of your organization. They see their work with you as part of their own larger expression of creativity. And they’ll join a far-flung fraternity or sorority of other professionals who share their peculiar work, age, or experience level.
In short, your employees become bigger to the extent their horizons grow. You can grow your employee’s horizons by giving them some opportunity to represent the company in the wider world. They’ll start see their roles in the organization not as dreary duties, but as the welcome responsibilities they get to have as entrepreneurial workers and as part-owners in your venture.