The operations role has always been looked upon as multi-faceted, with professionals requiring sufficient technical and knowledge know-how. More importantly, what do event organisers need from their venues and the operations managers they work with? When micenet ASIA asked an experienced event organiser what he felt are the attributes a venue operations manager should possess, and also asked a venue provider the same question, both parties believed soft skills trumped technical expertise and are essential in retaining business.
Compiled by KRISTIE THONG
Kelvin Yong brings with him 15 years of creative and events management experience in Singapore and Asia Pacific. He has managed a varied portfolio of events, ranging from conferences, product and services showcases, as well as special events for property openings and brand launches. He has also produced and delivered several world premieres and world-class show productions.
Venues have invested significantly on developing ancillary services like hassle-free Internet connections and intelligent technical capabilities to differentiate themselves. However, hardware alone is not the tool to remain at the forefront of a MICE industry that has evolved into a more competitive battlefield. These improvements help enhance a business, but they do not make the business, much less retain business. Clients do not need a super-fast Internet connection (neither a slow one). They need a professional who understands their objectives, and are able to deliver them effectively and in a timely manner, all the time. This cannot be programmed to perform, only programmed to react to requests and changes, real-time and accordingly.
“Software” is critical in driving results and increasing returns. Effective processes and skills are key catalysts that promote longevity in business relationships. The people you hire are directly responsible for your business. They must not only be familiar with the processes, but also have the right skills to better respond to client needs, and be flexible in managing relationships. Business success today is not determined by competitive pricing or cutting-edge technology. Amongst the important factors, the positive attributes that cement the decision are professionals who are knowledgeable and skilled to exercise flexibility to craft a quality response to a client’s predicament with a solution that appears to be “exclusive and an exception”. A thorough understanding of the client’s background, event, objectives and its competition are equally instrumental. The homework will go a long way in helping you secure the business. The face negotiating the deal could also decide the inking of the agreement. Clients value relationships more than they do with some cost saving or state-of-the-art lighting system.
To enhance this, a set of processes must also be already in place. An Occupational Health & Safety procedure must be included, as a sound and tested fire and safety evacuation protocol is of paramount significance. Safety and preparedness has become an industry standard. “How would you evacuate my important guests in the event of a bomb threat or fire outbreak?” – is the question discerning clients would have in their minds, amongst many other operational or administrative issues, and the winning operator offers the exact solution that could set minds at ease. Be proactive in including such processes in your proposal, and clients would appreciate that their partner is reliable, trustworthy and as concerned as they are with issues that matter.
Processes must be effective and streamlined to promote ease of communication and collaboration. Venue operators must offer an efficient “one-stop shop” – one point of contact to have all the event details sorted from start till the end when it is delivered. Dealing with multiple staff could jeopardise the business – loss in communicating the right messages during handovers; a working relationship that has not been built over time to harness the influencing power of a trusted partner. These are symptoms of a slowly dying working condition.
Implementing these processes is simple. Upgrading your staff is progressive and valuable. However, to be better poised to attract, retain and repeat business, venues would need to experiment with the right formula of hardware and “software”.
Antony Ettler has been an operations manager for a large group in Sydney for the last ten years or so. This entailed overseeing nine venues, with capacities ranging from 10 to 2000 people. Other responsibilities include employing, training managers and supervisors, rostering for all floor staff and, of course, liaising with VIP clients.
Having spent many years interviewing potential operations managers, I’ve learnt that what makes a successful one is not easily answered. This is because there are so many facets that go into running a successful event. The operations manager plays a pivotal role not only with all internal departments, but also with an unlimited number of outside contacts, suppliers and companies, only limited by time, space and imagination.
Knowledge and technical skill would be a good start in defining those qualities that make a good operations manager, as they can certainly come in handy when defining the parameters of a particular event, as well as help to cut out those events doomed to fail before they start. However, these are by no means all that it takes.
As with many things in life it’s all about the X factor. What matters are those personality traits known as soft skills: being able to communicate with many people from vastly-different socio-cultural backgrounds, being able to endear those people to you, and then being able to encourage and coerce people around you to go beyond the realms of their usual job descriptions. The bottom-line is, unless you can use common sense to prioritise in highly-stressful environments, forget it.
For example, you’re just about to run mains for a huge event and your contact informs you that you have to hold off for 10 minutes while the CEO makes a quick speech. Up until this point the event has run to plan. You have organised, trained and briefed your staff who have smiled and gone about the business of serving F&B with great expertise and professionalism. You are comfortable that the kitchen will produce great food that will meet and exceed client expectation. Everyone knows that you’re in charge and any changes to the plan must be run by you. So far there have been no great problems to solve but until you have faced real problems under pressure, your true value as operations manager cannot be known. As your mind reels with the CEO issue, three more problems are brought to your attention: a late arrival wants a salmon entrée while the chef insists there’s none left; the beer machine has broken down (most guests are drinking beer), and there’s an RSA issue on the balcony. Having been awake for 16 hours due to early bump-in, the fact is that all your hard work could be in vain if you serve dry fish. So what do you do?
Deeming the main course as the most important problem, you delegate the other minor problems to your supervisors and then you use your special gift of communication to convince the contact that the mains have to run on time and that the CEO can do the speech during the main course. Saying ‘no’ to a contact is generally taught as being wrong in hospitality, but when common sense dictates, and you have the communication skills, then it must be done.
Without soft skills—common sense, the ability to delegate, prioritise and function while sleep-deprived and good communication skills—you will not be a consistently-successful operations manager.