Compassion, Compliance, and Continuous Improvement

Better design means better for everyone

Thirty years ago, the Americans with Disabilities act was signed into law, declaring that people with disabilities could no longer be denied access to jobs, school, transportation, or to public places. The need to design our conferences and trade shows to be ADA-compliant may have been met with resistance by some and compassion by others, but today we can see that by transforming events to be more accessible to those with limitations, we made those events better for everyone.

In the United States alone, it’s been estimated that one out of five Americans has some form of disability — 48.9 million people. Add to this the graying of America, the fact that the percent of the population over age 60 is dramatically increasing. When we consider how many total people are grappling with issues related to personal mobility and impairments that affect vision, hearing, and cognitive ability, we realize that being inclusive is just good business.

That’s a fact we cannot ignore. Harder to prove, but even more compelling to me, is the notion that inclusivity expands our intellectual capital. Consider, in the 30 years since ADA has gone into effect, how many people with disabilities have been empowered to contribute. Whenever we increase accessibility, we increase diversity, which is an indispensable aspect of innovation. Continuous improvement as a species demands that we leverage our combined brainpower.

Today, we are called to transform the nature of live events in response to a pandemic. Compliance is in everyone’s best interest, and because we are designing for a space that we control (a big, empty ballroom) it’s not that hard. The members of the Go LIVE Together coalition have voluntarily set, and will comply with, health and safety protocols developed in accordance with guidelines from the CDC, WHO, medical and scientific professionals, and local health officials.

Further, the Events Industry Council, through its global APEX COVID-19 Business Recovery Task Force, has established a platform for curating, cultivating, and communicating the accepted practices across the global events industry. The prime directive is to enhance safety at in-person gatherings and fuel recovery efforts. And we’ve already begun to imagine what future events could look like. It’s all pretty inviting; you can take a virtual tour here.

To be sure, as an industry, we are getting a great start on the post-pandemic reboot. But we can do more. Consider the lessons of the ADA-era. We must raise the bar and design for expanded accessibility. Even as we manage the size and scope of attendees at live events, we can reach broader audiences by streaming live content for people to consume wherever they happen to be.

And we can surround live events with meaningful, engaging, interactive virtual content that unfolds over time, before, during and after the live event, to contextualize the experience in a robust way. Hybrid events give us new avenues through which to personalize the experience for discreet audiences, wherever they are on their journey, whatever their ability, and whatever their level of commitment or interest.

When we cultivate experiences that enable individuals to learn more, achieve more, and contribute more, we gain more as a society. Compliance is where we begin. Designing the platform for constant design, and continuous improvement, must be the goal.

Rocks vs. Boulders: Clearing the Road to Success

Because we live in times of exponential change, many business executives face the task of leading strategic organizational transformations. The best of these leaders are able to articulate a clear vision of what success looks like – spelling out the guiding tenets, strategic imperatives and value creators required to get there. But unfortunately, too many still cling to a tried-and-true, operationally-focused management style; they think in terms of activities and check lists, instead of goals and strategic action. The only question that matters, as my friend Albert Chew says, is “What is required to make it work?”

I refer to this as a “rocks vs. boulders” mentality. The transformation of an organization – its road to the future – cannot be achieved with a business-as-usual approach.  Certainly, success with any goal requires some basic work. If you’re building a road, it helps to clear out all the rocks in your path. But that really isn’t progress – it just feels like it. If I’m the foreman on a road crew that’s designing and building an amazing highway to the future, no one cares how many buckets of rocks I’ve moved today, or my plan to move more rocks the next day. The team needs to know where the road is leading, what we’re going to do about the boulders blocking our way, and the metrics we’ll use to know if we are on track. People want to understand what benefits they can expect when each of those boulders is removed. They want to embrace a shared vision of what beautiful looks like. That’s the work that matters. That’s where your focus needs to be.

Whether you are trying to transform a small workgroup, a corporate division or an entire organization, be strategic about how you measure your success. It can be very satisfying to rip through a long to-do list; it may even look good in your report. But unless your actions are moving the boulders, and advancing the true opportunity, it’s wasted motion. Concentrate on big outcomes that are aligned behind your strategic imperatives. Invest your time and talent in creating true value.

The only road worth building is the one that leads to a successful, sustainable future. That’s taking the high road.