Retention Is Better Than Cure

November 13, 2019

The event industry has a problem. Thousands of bright-eyed, enthusiastic and talented new staff join our great companies each year and throw themselves into the fast-paced world of event delivery. Then they leave. 

Sure, a good number move on to greater things in the same company, but research suggests that the U.S. trade show industry is losing over $1 billion per year down a black hole of mid-level vacancies that really should be filled by developing and retaining the employees they already have.

As staff (and Millennials and Gen Z in particular) pack up their bags to join a competitor or head off to another industry altogether, leaving their employer with reduced output, higher costs and a mountain of recruitment work to do – what can be done?

To tackle this, we need to acknowledge that this group are different – it’s not simply a question of them fitting in with your business, but how do you fit into their lives? 

Their sense of community stretches to the workplace. Do they want a boss or somebody that will guide them? They want career development, mentoring (after all, you’re the evidence of success), constant feedback and a two-way communication channel.

Continual feedback may seem needy but it’s a more empathetic way to nurture their talent and creativity, and one that will help them stick. They want appreciation and recognition so they can develop in the now. Not every 12 months in a formal, stilted and cookie-cutter performance review. 

Once they are up to speed, focus less on the ‘What’ and more on the ‘How’ and ‘Why’ of their roles, and celebrate and share achievements that meet or exceed your values throughout the company – intranet articles, round-up emails and monthly update meetings all go much further than you might think to lifting engagement.

To take it further, some of the most progressive clients I work with now mandate weekly intra-team feedback sessions. Their staff are honest with each other, and vitally their line managers, and use phrases like:

‘I really appreciate that you….’ 


‘I urge you to…’

It’s tricky to roll out and can be uncomfortable for some (especially management), but the outcome? Huge improvements in communication, increased focus on what really matters and a requirement for everyone to be accountable for their actions. Win, win, win.

In addition to this dialogue, stretch your high potential staff and ask them to take on different tasks over time, to bring variety and excitement into their daily lives. Who wants predictable routine? Not them.

On top of core duties, why not distribute nano-projects throughout the company? “We’ve hit a sponsorship milestone, so I need to book an evening reception venue for the new launch – who can help with the brief and sourcing options, and maybe a site visit!?”

Or set up a group of talent to review and present back the best of event tech, and some left-field opportunities for growth to the management team each month? Whether they are in sales, operations or whatever, it’ll stretch them, get them thinking, and give the business fantastic intel.

Key Takeaways: 

  • Shorten goal achievement times: Engage quickly, frequently and keep moving at pace. 
  • Open up: Encourage, or even mandate, open and honest feedback.
  • Offer mentoring or career counselling: You can be an old-school role model in an evolving workforce. Evidence your successes and failures
  • Mix it up: Enthuse and stretch your talent by engaging them in nano-projects to prepare them for leadership and complement their existing skills
  • Offer flexibility and be transparent: Make policies clear. Have a personal dialogue about their work/life needs

So, it’s over to you – upping the communication levels, and stretching staff with new responsibilities are both free, and might just help you claw back your part of that $1 billion-plus.


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