Wednesday, April 08, 2015

The Hallmark for Tomorrow's Leaders

Whenever I guest lecture to students in hospitality, many of whom are training to follow my now concluded career path in visitor centric economic and cultural development I jokingly caution them about two things.

But I am not really joking when I tell them that while they will probably graduate from college in the top 1% of knowledge in that field, they will quickly face two challenges.

The odds that their supervisor is engaged and still learning are slim because workplace surveys show that even among managers, only 35% are what experts call “engaged,” while 51% are just putting in time.

An even more worrisome 14% are actively trying to undermine others.

The second challenge they will face is that within a few months the relevance of their knowledge begins to degrade becoming obsolete within the same amount of time it took them to graduate.

Knowledge today is fleeting or “disposable” in the words of leadership researcher and fellow alumnus Liz Wiseman, although 15 years apart in our tenure at BYU.  A key to being workplace engaged is to be a continuous and never-ending learner.

A book Wiseman published six months ago had given me pause of introspection about my career and what people may have seen in me that caused them to put me in the “pilot’s” seat of my first DMO within 36 months of graduating from college.

The book is entitled Rookie Smarts – Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work.

Wiseman doesn’t discount the value of experience but promotes the evidence that “real vibrancy comes from thinking young…with the acuity and agility of a newcomer...” and generating new learning every day.

With experience comes the ability to see patterns and if given the propensity, to think strategically but Wiseman supports the science that one of the key differences “between masters and novices is their strategic horizon.”

The book isn’t written to inspire rookies, though it will, but to inspire veterans to channel their inner rookie smarts.

I came into my first CEO position for a DMO in my mid-20s and about 80 years after the first DMO in the nation was established.  But it was clear to this rookie then that most DMOs had failed to evolve.

The next thirty years were a golden age of community destination marketing for early adopters with advances in research, polling and analytics as well as the rediscovery of the importance of sense of place and placed based assets.

This was the span of time when travel for conventions went into a long, slow decline, now just 10% of travel overall.  It was also when traditional advertising tipped into decline as a marketing tool, sliding to a negative return on investment.

It was a period when federal government innovations such as the Input-Output model for measuring economic impact, GPS, mobile telephony and the Internet were made available for consumer use and coupled with personal computers including Smart Devices to fuel the sharing economy.

Who wouldn’t think like a rookie with changes such as these making so much knowledge disposable?

However, judging by a metric for those willing to undergo third party diagnosis, I fear that 80% of DMO execs may have either retired in place or have been mothballed in place by their governing boards or community leaders.

But even if the reason these DMOs seem decades behind is due to the latter, organizational researchers at Bocconi University and Singapore Management University find that for subordinates, being candid to power holders pays off.

Graduates seeking a career in community destination marketing won’t have to worry about DMOs becoming obsolete as one or two outside consultants always seem to warn although there are plenty of communities on track to become unmarketable.

Places where DMOs will always be relevant regardless of technological changes are those that focus on:

  • Telling a community’s story
  • Protecting and fostering sense of place and authenticity
  • Providing valuable content rather than advertising
  • Safeguarding and defending a community’s image and brand

Those roles are at the very core of community destination marketing.  But communities hell-bent on the following will not need a DMO only an ATM because they:

  • Subvert sense of place for mainstream facilities
  • Subsidize events to locate or relocate there
  • Mistake advertising and catchy taglines for branding
  • Worship at the altar of “build it and they will come”

In her book, Wiseman uses the terms rookie and veteran for mindsets that “illustrate patterns of behavior.”   DMOs have always functioned in a VACU world, an acronym for and environment of “Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity” and none more so than today.

But those trapped in the strategies I noted above are as Wiseman puts it “on a slippery slope from trophy to atrophy.”

While DMOs will always be in demand wherever sense of place thrives, it is true that many communities are quickly becoming obsolete as destinations.

For any community wishing to change course before it is too late, read the part of the book when Wiseman worked at Oracle and its founder, Larry Ellison suggested she cut her staff by 77% and rebuild.

Communities need DMOs where “professionals…operate less like Caretakers and more like Backpackers, unencumbered by their current reality and able to explore and agilely investigate beyond immediate boundaries.”

Many books on leadership and workplace success should have been a white paper or even a blog post.

Rookie Smarts, however, is jam packed with relevant and useful information on every page and one that I would add to the bookshelf if I were just a rookie starting out after college.

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