In a recent issue of Collaborate, one of the 40 Under 40 honorees, Kolleen Whitley, wrote about job burnout, describing the industry’s “hyper-organized, self-sacrificing overachievers” whose intense dedication to their jobs makes it difficult to manage their professional and personal lives properly. Whitley is only 25 but has already seen enough in her career to know that burnout can quickly happen in the meetings industry. Meeting planners sometimes think they need to do it all.
I started in this industry when I was 21 as an intern. At 22, I was a full-time event planner. Now that I’m over 40, I look back and realize I experienced overworked fatigue and stress-heightened motivation from trying to be a “super planner” and manage all the details alone. Seven years into my career, I started getting help when I began managing a team of eight planners in three U.S. offices. We organized international meetings, and I worked many hours and weekends. I quickly realized that managing people is far different than managing events. I had to become educated in the fine art of delegation.
Having always managed a myriad of meeting details on my own, learning to delegate was difficult. I had to determine which tasks could be trusted, who was capable of taking on each job, and how to oversee the work at a macro level. The latter was the most difficult. Until this point, I had focused on the micro-level—each logistical element rather than the overall strategic vision, each line item of the budget rather, than the bottom line. When you’ve reached a level within your organization that requires you to manage others, you need to know how and when to delegate.
Delegation Begins with Hiring
Before bringing anyone on your team, you need to determine their job responsibilities and, more importantly, which of your tasks you’re willing to give them. Even interns need a vision of what tasks they will merely support and those they will eventually manage. (Yes, interns should be allowed to manage aspects of a project. This is how I was trained and finally landed a job.) Hiring someone without knowing their responsibilities is like booking a hotel without performing a site visit. Know the objective first and make sure the candidate fits that vision.
Interns Aren’t Always the Answer
At one time, I was responsible for managing a series of CIO executive roundtables for a Fortune 100 computer company, both domestically and abroad. These meetings were high-level programs due to the seniority of the executives and partnerships with their valued customer reference accounts. Many keynote speakers were internationally known in the technology sector and required “special handling.” When these programs grew in number and global reach to the point where I needed assistance, I had to know the new hire would be able to manage all the details of a high-level roundtable and report to me with updates. I also knew I’d like someone to work on the project solo eventually. If you need someone to step into your shoes and run a program immediately with little training, an entry-level candidate is not an option. The entry-level candidate must be trained to take over tasks if your HR budget does not allow for more mid-level to senior experience. An intern taking on administrative tasks isn’t always the help you need.
Embrace Trial-by-Fire Training
Many senior planners were likely hired to perform specific roles in an entry-level position, then grew into more demanding parts as their responsibilities grew. Often this happens with thrown-into-the-fire training. It did for me. Once you see that a new hire can take on more tasks, give the person more responsibilities. Once, when working with a new hire, I decided to give her a challenge with little training or explanation to see how well she could analyze the situation and determine a solution. If she stepped out of the fire with a viable idea—or better yet, multiple resolutions to the challenge—I felt more comfortable delegating essential responsibilities.
Managing and delegating is a marriage and a partnership of learning. As you train and develop the person you are supervising, you can at the same time determine which responsibilities he can handle and which are best to continue managing yourself until he has had more experience, more time to process, and more instances of stepping out of the flaming fire and on to the cool, concrete ballroom floor.