Blog: Event management
Running events during a hiring freeze
4 April 2023 minute read
Times are tough. And if you’ve recently asked your event team to do more with less, you are not alone.
As layoffs, downsizing and budget cuts sweep across the economy, event managers are having to learn to get the same amount of work done with fewer people in the team to do it.
Recent research by a leading HR consultancy indicates that 59% of employees in the events sector have experienced either a reduction or a restructure that changed the dynamic and size of their team. These changes have left people feeling overwhelmed and disengaged.
According to the study of 1,292 event professionals, 82% feel that when their teams are restructured or reduced, the workload isn’t reduced; rather, people are just asked to do more with less.
The top 5 consequences people have experienced following team changes include:
- Taking on more work in addition to their current responsibilities (20%)
- Working longer hours (17%)
- Losing energy and engagement in their work (16%)
- Moving so quickly that they’ve lost sight of what their priorities are (14%)
- Feeling like their ‘real work’ has been subsumed in a sea of other people’s urgent tasks (13%)
A lack of productivity skills is compounding the problem
Researchers say the biggest concern is that too many event professionals appear to lack the key productivity skills that will help them successfully navigate their workload when they’re asked to do more with less. Specifically, people struggle the most to:
- Say ‘no’ when they’ve hit their project threshold (52%)
- Negotiate their workload as needed (34%)
- Manage urgent requests so they don’t take over their to-do list (29%)
- Confidently renegotiate commitments and expectations with their manager (29%)
- Take time out of the week to review work projects and tasks and make plans (27%)
And it’s this combination of being asked to do more with less, together with a lack of productivity skills that could help manage an increased workload that’s creating a challenging situation for many.
So we’ve put together some tips and strategies that can help you execute your event programme with fewer resources by sharpening up your team management and workflows, re-thinking your event product and using automation and technology more strategically.
When you have fewer resources in the team, your first priority is efficiency. That means being specific and realistic.
Start by collecting everything that owns your attention. Capture all the commitments, tasks, ideas, and projects you’re working on in an external place rather than keeping them in your head. Use a few ‘capture tools’ you keep with you all the time. These could be a productivity app like Slack or just a list in your notebook. Whatever works for you.
Now do a commitment audit. Set everything out on one page, go down the list and decide which to-dos you will do, which you’ll decline, and which you’ll renegotiate. There’s no way you can do them all in the time given; be realistic about what you can and will do.
Identify specific next actions. We get overwhelmed by our lists because they are filled with vague things like ‘Budget’ or ‘Spring Event.’ Large projects terrify us rather than motivating us to act and delegate. So clarify your to-dos down to the very next action – the smallest behaviour you’ll take to start moving toward completion.
Review every week. Keep a sacred, non-negotiable meeting with yourself to re-sync, check progress and align your daily work and projects with your higher-level priorities.
Before you panic, we’re not talking about the machine at the gym. Cross-training is the practice of training your people to work in several different roles and handle critical tasks that lie outside their normal responsibilities.
For instance, you might teach someone who handles your speaker liaison to work on on-site logistics, and vice versa. Events are cyclical. Cross-training enables you to move people from one function to another depending on which stage you’re at in the planning cycle (or if something’s not going as expected).
It’s important to know that cross-training is an investment. Sometimes it means you include people that don’t have to do anything for a particular event or meeting, so it might seem like a waste of time. But it pays off in multiple ways.
Not only does it help with delivery in a small team, it can also strengthen team relationships – when team members can see and understand what others do, they're far more willing to lend a hand when someone falls behind.
Also, most of us like being challenged and enjoy learning new skills. People working in new roles often discover talents, strengths and skills they didn't know they had. This can lead to renewed excitement and self-discovery, resulting in reduced employee turnover.
Plus, you can unlock great ideas for event and process improvement from cross-trained people because they're looking at a role or task with a fresh perspective.
Document your processes
Process documentation is vital to any event operation, but when you’re working flat-out with a small team it’s absolutely essential!
If you don’t have proper documentation in place, you won’t understand the processes that make your event work. This in turn can make it even harder for you to execute an event with a reduced team.
When there’s no clearly defined business process in place, you lose a chunk of time every week to people asking each other ‘how do we usually do this?’
And when someone leaves, gets sick or when you’re in your busiest season, you need to fall back on clear, proven processes that can make everyone’s job more manageable.
Event teams that don’t document processes tend to become too reliant on suppliers because the supplier knows how to execute the event. Then, when they need to change things, scale the event (or the supplier is messing up) they’re in a weak position because they didn’t capture the knowledge and processes to execute independently.
Like cross-training, you have to be willing to put the work in to do it right. But it’s time well spent. Documentation gives you greater day-to-day productivity and ensures you understand how to run your event long after people leave, suppliers change or team headcounts reduce.
Foster an ‘ownership’ mindset
Team members who feel allowed to take ownership are more likely to be highly motivated and enthusiastic, and to go the extra mile. This is always a good thing, but in resource-constrained teams, you need it from everyone.
When people are trusted to manage their own work and take responsibility for it, they are more likely to use their initiative and think through any decisions carefully without feeling the need to speak to their manager or colleagues about every little thing. This frees everyone up to get more core work done.
So try to be supportive, but not smothering. Let your team know you are there to support them and answer questions if they need you but encourage them to solve their own issues and let them know that you trust them to do that.
Let them know where you want the team and your events to go and how you want to get there. Give them a timeline as far as you can, so they know what to expect and what they are working towards.
Be transparent about how you make decisions in your team and explain why things are happening.
Make accountability non-negotiable
Of course, with ownership comes accountability.
Some people are more comfortable being held to account for their performance than others, and well-resourced often let this slide. But when you have fewer staff available, holding team members accountable becomes an absolute must.
Everyone must own their responsibilities. Team members must be accountable for their work and for being able to drive assignments and initiatives.
They should be accessible – as in there should be a clear understanding of how to reach a team member, with open communications leading to timely answers / support.
A culture of flexibility is vital, as things change quickly in the event planning and delivery phases and each member of a team must be nimble enough to handle those changes.
Automate as much as possible
The less manual work your event team needs to do during the planning, delivery and evaluation processes, the easier you’ll find it to manage your events with a reduced headcount. By automating anything you can, you’ll save time and money by streamlining both the planning and delivery phases of your events, helping you stay on an even keel even with a smaller team.
You need the right technology, but it should fit around you (not the other way around). So start by mapping out the areas which are the most time-consuming in your current workflows and find ways to automate this using integrated platforms.
How are you managing things like invitations and marketing outreach? Are you able to segment and personalise your messages at speed, or is it being done manually? Can you easily clone and adjust things like RSVP lists, emails or indeed a whole website, or must you re-make everything from scratch? Do you waste time generating data and reports for venues, suppliers, or management? Do you waste time importing and exporting data from a CRM to your registration tool to your badging tool / onsite app?
Every week we speak with event teams who waste precious time on avoidable, unproductive admin tasks and it’s almost always because their event management and marketing tools are unsuited to the work they’re doing, and (or) they’re poorly configured and deployed.
To capture meaningful time savings from automation, you must have your registration, attendee management, email marketing, CRM, mobile app and analytics integrated seamlessly with each other and driven by one unified data set (single source of truth).
For most teams, this means investing in a full-service platform that can handle all these processes in one joined-up app, as well as offering open-ended integrations with the enterprise tools your organisation already runs on (whether CRM, accounting, marketing automation etc).
Lean on technology
Technology can be invaluable when it comes to running events with fewer staff. It can help you streamline processes internally, leverage your event impact and help you communicate more effectively with your delegates.
But make sure it’s the right technology.
Using multiple, disparate software tools (so-called ‘point solutions’) can actually slow your team down and harm productivity. Psychologists have found that switching gears and logging into disparate tools can take up as much as 40% of an event manager’s productive time. And with the average marketer using upwards of 10 tools, that can add up quickly.
And beware of big, disconnected legacy platforms that were built through acquisition of point solutions. While this approach can seem like a better idea, often it doesn’t end up being much easier or more efficient to use.
Why? Because each app or integration within the legacy platform is built on disparate codebases – making it more complex, time consuming and costly to implement. Disparate UIs lead to lower adoption, significant context-switching, and disconnected data – all of which end up discouraging your team and wasting their precious time and energy.
Instead, make sure you insist on a unified and consistent user experience where data, reporting, and individual tools are all similar and work in concert with each other. The easier your event software is to learn and use, the more your team will embrace it and the more you’ll be able to achieve with less.
Simplify your events
Having a reduced team can be an opportunity to look at how you’re running your events and whether you could accomplish the same thing with fewer resources.
Often we keep doing the same thing, year-in, year-out, because ‘that’s just what we do!’
But you should always be designing your events with intention, and if you take a fresh look, you might discover you can achieve your topline objectives when you build events with fewer moving parts.
For example, maybe you can niche down your target group and narrow down your event topic. Say you run an event for marketers. Is that actually too generic? Rather than trying to reach every kind of marketer with a diluted programme, might you do better to concentrate on a more specific audience — maybe smaller or larger marketing teams, or SaaS or e-commerce marketing professionals?
Do you really need to offer parallel sessions? You may think you’re making your attendees happy by giving them lots of options, but in reality you might just be increasing their FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Too many options make people anxious. Maybe they’d be just as happy with fewer, but stronger sessions that address their highest priorities in terms of content?
Similarly, could you invite fewer, but better speakers? Does your crowd really care about the brand your attendee is representing, or are they more motivated by the knowledge each speaker is sharing?
As in all things, when you get right down to it, quality always beats quantity.
Don’t forget to communicate the value of events to management
The most obvious method for avoiding a reduced team is to avoid losing team members in the first place.
You can help to stave off resource constraints by being pro-active and communicating your value to the C-suite people who make the decisions in your organisation.
Senior management has to make decisions to protect the profitability of the business. When they make cuts it’s often because they don’t see how something will generate the ROI they need. If you want to make your role valuable, secure more budget and keep your staff from getting cut, you’re going to have to be involved in conversations at a higher level than the AV setup or what you’re giving people for lunch.
Often, senior management will assume that the events function is a luxury. Something that’s nice to have, but not essential. It’s your job to demonstrate that you are, in fact, a necessity – however challenging it is to put that on a spreadsheet.
Generally, the easiest people to protect are those who can be directly tied to revenue generation. So it’s up to you to put what you do into the context of the broader organisational goals, not just your goals and your checklists.
At the end of the day, if you can show a straight line between your work and the business outcomes they’re focused on, you’re much more protected from team reduction.