I forgot. What do you do after a conference?
I assume most attendees of organizations are required to that write some form of “trip report” that reflects on the take-aways of a conference or a convention. This activity allows us to write what we saw, who we met, and how we believe we can use this vulnerable knowledge. I stress the word “vulnerable” because if we don’t act on it quickly, it will be lost.
I will also assume in this world of endless emails and limited budgets, those that receive these trip reports may not devote the time and energy to read them. Additionally, most organizations probably don’t share this trip report horizontally or down in an organization. How can we improve sharing what we take away from a conference to maximize our return for attending?
Remind me what a conference is
We are in some form of a post-COVID pseudo-world now, and conferences are starting to pop up. Reflect on a conference you have recently attended or want to intend. Image the wonderful assortment of exhibits, papers, and speeches presented to a group of attendees who, for the most part, have been hunkered down for years. Each attendee got a chance to stretch, engage in new ideas, see people they haven’t seen in years, and build new connections. Now with all of these great new ideas, and the giddiness of a high schooler, how do we share and prioritize what we learned throughout and organization? How do we collect our thoughts and not try to implement everything? How do we make sure that multiple team members of our organization are not duplicating actions?
Rather than letting all that information sit with only you, take the opportunity to spread the wealth to the rest of your team. It doesn’t have to be boring slide decks with bullet points or sleep-inducing written reports either. Samantha Whitehorn - NOW
Start with preparing for the conference
Going into a conference, best practices would have us prepared on seeking out value. However, I fully understand that most are just eager to get out and that we were just excited to see someone’s face again. This overwhelming excitement right now is most likely an indication we haven’t done a lot of prepping for a recent one or one in the near future. However, prepping best practices should be implemented. Consider framing gaps within your process in an endless world of data. Challenge yourself to prepare for seeking things to provide value. Identification of ideas and perspectives that can help improve your people, your quality, your velocity, and your cost of doing business.
This one may seem obvious, but it’s surprising how many people show up at an industry event expecting to figure things out when they get there. This is not a recipe for a productive event or a good allocation of your time or the company’s marketing budget. Tom Wozniak - Forbes magazine
Consider a classic manufacturing organization producing aluminum and improving the value of the company’s people, quality, velocities, and cost of doing business. From a people perspective, they might seek out data on safety trends to approach solutions that could address themes and conditions based upon performance. Things like 50% of our incidents in the last 12 months have been on overhead cranes, so let’s focus on overhead crane safety. From a quality perspective, attendees could utilize data points to seek out solutions to improve their yield or customer claims. Trends of quality defects may lead to seeking out new inspection system capabilities. From a velocity perspective, seeking out methods to conduct inspections, processes, or repairs faster and more efficiently could be obtained from the likes of OEE or process flow maps. From a cost perspective, challenge yourself not to just look at cost from a dollars perspective. Consider expanding your vantage points by understanding the cost of your waste, your efficiencies of energy, or your effectiveness of utilizing your manhours.
This conditioning focused on value is setting yourselves up to seek information. Now that you have returned from the conference, what in the heck do you do with all of this knowledge?
Have you considered conducting a SWOT (stengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis by the attendees of a conference? It might just get all of your ideas down and show how to use what was just experienced.
A SWOT analysis to expand upon what was taken away. A SWOT analysis is focused on revealing an organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. You just met 100s of new people, rekindled old partnerships, and discussed war stories with a variety of individuals over a few cold beverages. You went to the conference with areas to seek out ways to improve value. Now, let’s connect the dots.
For the strengths, list out the things that you noted that maintain an advantage for your organization. You are most likely engaged or heard from competitors, so you most likely have connected strengths that you have as an organization within the four buckets of value (people, quality, velocity, cost). You should document the themes, vendors, and presentations that justify this position compared to your peers.
From a weaknesses perspective, you went in highlight gaps in value. Here you list out the lessons you learned that make your organization weak. Focus on things that highlight how you are not performing optimally and have the supporting information to underwrite these vantage points.
Regarding the opportunities, this is one of the areas in that we must remain cautiously optimistic. You most likely don’t have endless resources and capital to implement or purchase every great idea you just saw. Instead, lay them out strategically, clearly describing the implementation cost and the probability of success. Consider laying them out in a matrix to align on what’s in what quadrant.
And finally, you should have denoted the threats to the organization. You should have learned things that unfavorably separate you from your competition. These should be concerns that you have learned or realized based on the insight you have obtained. This might of been known for years, or just recently uncovered during the conference. Regardless, these should be threats that impact the future success of the organization.
Going to conferences is critical for organizations to succeed. They allow you to network expanding whom to call when you have an issue while expanding your insight on your organization's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Most important is to be able to share what was learned amongst your peers to do something with the experience.