OrangeDoor’s Elizabeth Heron on… the importance of training

Elizabeth Heron
Elizabeth Heron

Train, train, don’t go away? Maybe come back another day? This week’s guest blogger, founder and managing director at OrangeDoor, Elizabeth Heron, tackles the talent and training challenges faced by event agencies – a topic that came up at the recent inVOYAGE C-Suite summit attended by Elizabeth and a number of event agency leaders…

Each month, I invest a lot of time in attending industry events, conferences and panel discussions. They are all a great chance to help measure the pulse of this industry, network, learn about new trends and understand the challenges of this great industry of ours. I am constantly fascinated by how quickly we as an industry embrace new creative and innovative initiatives and technologies, as we strive to give our clients and their customers the most unique, immersive and memorable experiences at each event we organise.

But this commitment to always delivering the best, most dynamic and most professional events, doesn’t ‘just happen’, it requires a highly significant and relentless commitment to training individuals and teams to ensure they are always armed with all the commercial and creative knowledge they need to consult with confidence, plan with professionalism and deliver with total determination.

This leads me to one of the perennial topics of discussion that has changed little in over 20 years I have been in the industry: the ongoing frustration expressed by many of my peers who run agencies of a similar size to OrangeDoor (let’s call us ‘mid-sized’) about being a ‘just being training ground for employees, who after being well trained and invested in, then depart for the bright lights of the big London agencies’.

I do understand the frustration. Every pound spent at a ‘smaller’ agency needs to be carefully considered and it can be hard to watch the great talent you have invested in then take all these skills to larger competitors. However, having thought about this point a great deal recently, I wonder if some of the frustration is the result of a fundamental misunderstanding and misalignment of our expectations. I’m reminded of the rather tired, but nevertheless true, quote that pops up on all our social channels from time to time. To paraphrase: “What if we train them and they leave? What if we don’t and they stay?”

Employees will always move on at some point in their careers – driven by a whole multitude of factors well beyond the control of any agency. In addition, even if it is naked self-interest and the desire to take those aforementioned skills and shine them further in London or wherever – is that actually wrong? Surely that is the very ambition we ask of our employees when they are in our care, so how can we then become annoyed when they act on it?

So, our own ambition at OrangeDoor today, when it comes to training, mentoring and retaining employees is simple: strive to provide the best, most supportive environment we can. Train, train, mentor and train – in the field and in the boardroom, giving our employees the most rounded experience we can, acknowledging that we (in fact no agency) can be all things to all people; but that we will be the best we can while they are with us, investing in and upskilling them.

In return, we ask our employees deliver ‘amazing’ results for our clients while they’re here. It’s a fair and balanced relationship with clear expectations from the outset.  We believe if you do this, the result is a network of ambassadors across the industry, talking to others about your agency positively as a place to learn and grow. And, maybe, someday some also return, as many have at OrangeDoor, as once again their circumstances change.

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