Conferences are great. In fact, the SunView Software and The ITSM Lens teams just finished a great week at the HDI Conference in beautiful Orlando, Florida. Simultaneously, and just across the pond, the Service Desk IT and Support Show saw great attendance as well, even if the weather wasn't quite as perfect. Needless to say, the world is now has quite a few more positive IT professionals ready to change their organizations for the better. In short, it's a great time to be part of a business that is ready to embrace change, and make a difference.
Unfortunately, what tends to happen much more often is the "high" from attending a conference quickly fades. In fact, sometimes as quickly as it came, the belief that you can make a difference wanes. Often against the most stubborn of bureaucracies, passion can escape a motivated workforce so incredibly fast that it sets a struggling team back further than they were before attending. That's not really hard to believe though, and actually makes quite a bit of sense from a psychological standpoint.
Prior to attending a conference many individuals, or whole teams, are set in their ways. To some degree they have accepted their fate. While this is deadly to moral and the success of any improvement project, it does provide a mechanism for maintaining status quo. Those teams will simply get done what they have to in order to survive and keep managers from screaming. However, after attending a conference, and sitting through learning sessions that barely give you time to eat lunch, there tend to be two outlooks from attendees; one that is overly optimistic, and the other that is incredibly pessimistic.
Naturally, optimism and pessimism pervade the human condition. A conference dedicated to improving IT is not immune either. So, what really makes a difference is how you treat the individuals that did attend once they return. If you choose to ignore them, pessimism will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Conversely, optimism will be much harder to capture in the future. In other words, promise too much, and pessimists will be overwhelmed, while optimists will bite off more than they can chew. As difficult as it may sound, you really need to find that point right in the middle that leads with the vigor of an optimist, and paces with the caution of a pessimist. If you can do this, you will build a foundation for future projects right on through to the next conference - whether that is Fusion12, or HDI2013 (or SDITS13).
Now, doing the above can be easier said than done. That is, trying to figure out how to strategically extract knowledge from attendees, while keeping pessimists and optimists in line, is a reasonable undertaking. We would like to help, and have included five of our own tips for building on conference momentum. After checking out our steps below, why not start small project that includes an evaluation of all or part of your current ITSM tool. Our ITSM solution guide includes fifty key requirements for a modern ITSM solution, and is the perfect place to start. Just click the banner below to download the guide.
Debrief Your Attendees
You sent your ace pilots out on an all expense paid sortie with a focus of learning as much as they could in just a few days. At best you have just a few days before they forget most of what they heard. You will want to make sure they are debriefed, and as much information is extracted as possible. As with a real military mission the goal should be to "assess the individual and return him or her to regular duties as soon as possible." Though it might also be necessary to "instruct the individual as to what information can be released to the public and what information is restricted." This is especially true if your pilots are recovering from evenings that ended in lavish suite parties and dancing to the headlining entertainment.
Share the Spoils of War, and the Research
Ah, booth goodies and giveaways can be awesome. This year we gave away Amazon Gift Cards and two Kindles. To build camaraderie, be sure to share some of the goodies amongst the whole team. At the same time, make sure duties for post-conference vendor research is shared as well. Attending a conference should really feel like a shared experience. Plus, don't forget to send a new group the next time around.
Evaluate Your Tools, and Your Processes
Process improvement and new tools are almost always the focus of any conference. Using the attendee debrief, as well as the research the team will do, look at areas you could begin improvement right away. Be sure to take an objective look at how technology is changing, and what new standards may be just around the corner. In a sense, think of the ITIL principle of continuous / ongoing improvement.
Start a Small Project, Any Project
The team needs to gather around a common goal, and understand that the organization places value on sending employees to events that build optimism and encourage education. Even if the project, is a best case scenario, there is an incredible opportunity to capture the spark of innovation that attendees typically have when the return from a week of learning sessions. You don't have to isolate the project to IT. Perhaps the team saw a great reporting tool that would make life much easier for the Finance team. Whatever the case, a small event focused on collaboration will go a long way towards realizing ROI associated with sending employees to the conference.
Present Your Findings to the Team, the Department, and the Business
Essentially, take everything gathered from the previous four tips, and present that from a micro to macro level. At the top, if the business sees demonstrable value in employees attending a conference it will happen much more often. An overview of what happened, what lessons were learned, and a plan of attack for the future will be essential for success.