Andrew Sykes: Think of Your Event as a Person

Author: Michelle Russell       

Andrew Sykes

Andrew Sykes will speak at Convening Leaders 2019 about the habits of magnetic human beings.

Convene spoke with Andrew Sykes, founder of the Behavioral Research Applied Technology Laboratory (BRATLAB), for a preview of his Convening Leaders 2019 session, “High Performance Habits of Magnetic Human Beings,” at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 9. Here’s how Sykes — whose decades of business-consulting experience include work with such clients as Shell Oil, McDonald’s, and British Aerospace — teed it up:

The first objective I have is for people to think about their event as if it’s a person and to ask the question, “If my event or conference was a person, what personality would it have and what personality would I like it to have? Do I want it to be fun-loving, or professional, or entertaining, or boring?” I’m sure you don’t want your event to be boring, but many people do go to events and come back and they say, “Same old stuff as before.” They make a judgment about the event in the same way that they judge people — unfairly, but the judgment happens nevertheless.

And I’ll make the case that, just like we judge someone’s personality based on the way that they treat us, the way they behave towards us, and the consistency of that behavior, we judge an event by the way that it treats us, and specifically by the way the organizers, the speakers, and the facilitators of the event treat us.

And here’s the connection with habits: It’s our habits that determine who we are and what our personality is for other people, and it’s the habits of speakers and event planners and event facilitators that determine the experience of the participants.

I would say that the events team, including the speakers as part of that events team, have a set of habits, and it’s those habits that determine the personality of the event for participants. Those habits are not often very deliberately designed, so that you may have one experience working with someone who greets you and checks you in, and then a different experience from the speaker, and there’s not often this consistent planning that says, “As Event X for the American Medical Association, we are all going to practice the habit of smiling when we greet someone. We are all going to practice the habit of listening empathically, which means listening for not just what people say, but how they say it and what their emotion is behind it.”

And then my second objective is to share a couple of high-performance habits that you might consider activating with your events team, and I’m going to use a few examples. One is the habit of giving and receiving feedback, the habit of empathic listening, and the habit of asking powerful questions.

I have a story to illustrate each one. For example, on asking powerful questions, I’ll tell the story of the Kimpton Hotel Group and how they’ve scaled uniqueness in their experience. The way they do it is with a very simple question that no one knows about. It’s the question of, each employee at each interaction with a customer, asking, “What’s the one thing I can do right now to improve or make this guest experience awesome?” And, of course, the answer differs every day in every hotel for every guest and, as a result, they scale a unique experience.

It’s a very different approach from many other hotels that have a formula like, “This is the way we treat guests, the same in every hotel across the world.” And both are interesting models, but Kimpton’s commitment is to uniqueness. They invented the boutique hotel and they want to have a unique experience for each person.

And then my last objective is to say, if your event team’s habits determine the personality of your event — and here are a couple of those high-performance habits that you may choose — my challenge will be: How will you deliberately invent the personality of your event going forward?

10 Common Habits Make for Great Employees

Andrew SykesWho we are, and who we become, Andrew Sykes says, is determined by the habits we practice every day. He believes that there are 10 common habits that make employees great at their jobs. Here’s an excerpt from The 11th Habit: Design Your Company Culture to Foster the Habits of High Performance, a recently published book Sykes co-wrote with Hanlie Van Wyk, which spells out the 10 Habits of High Performance.

Curious about the 11th habit? Check out our interview with Sykes in the February issue of Convene.

  1. Practice deliberately + deliver feedback to master skills + create expertise. Deliberate practice is the foundation of learning, growth, and development.
  2. Listen empathetically to build relationships. There are three levels of listening that leave the person speaking feeling completely “gotten.” We can listen to what he or she says, we can listen to how he or she feels about that, and we can listen for what he or she really cares about, what underlies those emotions.
  3. Ask powerful questions to learn deeply. The best questions allow us to learn while the person of whom we asked the question is learning too.
  4. Keep your word to build trust. Keeping your word is also about overcommunicating during the time that you’re working on delivering a promise to someone.
  5. Tell stories to change minds. Facts only harden existing opinions; stories change minds.
  6. Run effective meetings to accelerate cooperation. Planning, structure, and discipline transform meetings into accelerators.
  7. Communicate through conversation to influence outcomes. Influential communication is verbal, visual, and vocal. As new generations are raised almost exclusively on a diet of digital media and communication tools, the art of human conversation will become more important, not less.
  8. Plan + prioritize to manage complexity. Planning requires us to look into the future, to put tasks powerfully into the future where they belong (and can’t cause stress in the present).
  9. Solve problems to innovate + delight. It’s a bout solving the problem in your head and then solving the problem in reality. It’s the follow-through where many of us fall short.
  10. Negotiate to ensure everyone wins. The most powerful way to get what you want is to make sure that everyone else gets what he or she thinks he or she needs.

Excerpted from The 11th Habit: Design Your Company Culture to Foster the Habits of High Performance, © 2019, published by Habits At Work.