Planning for Every Eventuality …

riskassessmentIn this business we ask ‘what if….?’ quite a lot – in every risk assessment, every emergency action plan – and we can apply the same thinking to our organisations. The process of strategic risk assessment is a vital health check for a company and can highlight areas where the organisation is dependent on certain factors.

We start by asking ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ and by exploring some potential future scenarios, we start to identify the key risks that could jeopardise the existence and success of the organisation. It can be a challenging process and can uncover issues and challenges that haven’t been considered previously.

One of the major challenges is considering the key people that the organisation is dependent upon for its success.  This group may include clients, suppliers and staff and the organisation needs to understand how manageable that dependency is. If the company is dependent on one client for over 50% of its turnover, then what happens if that client contract ceases? Perhaps the portfolio needs to be revisited and new projects sought to ensure that the pipeline of work keeps moving and dependency is reduced.

It may be that the company is dependent on one or two key members of staff for managing the organisation (and avoiding some of the financial or operational risks) as much as for producing the company output. It may be that the company is built on the skills, ability and personality of the chief executive or other key individual and so there is a risk that the company’s capacity is therefore limited by the individual, meaning that the
company simply cannot grow. Let alone what happens if that key person can’t work for some reason.

For founder managers, it can be particularly difficult to critique how the company works and to plan for their succession. As much as we are taught that business is business, I would argue that it isn’t. It’s personal, particularly for entrepreneurs and small businesses. So in considering these big challenges for an organisation, we must consider the people affected by and involved in them and how we respond to those challenges also influences how we are perceived internally and externally.

There are some brilliant things we can do to mitigate these strategic risks. We can insure our key people in case of injury or similar. We can create delegation structures that share workload, information and responsibility as well as develop skill and capacity across the organisation. We can talk to other people and get support and advice from sources you trust and respect. For me, I do this by having a non-executive Board including a freelance Finance Director, all people who know a lot more than I and who I trust to advise in the best interests of the company. My Board is invaluable in assessing and managing these strategic risks, keeping me on track and enabling me to take all of those mitigating actions, enabling all of us to work to our best and enabling the company to succeed.

 

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

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Work Experience Can Be Make or Break … We Speak From Experience!

Did everyone do the compulsory work experience in year 10/4th year? I did mine in a solicitors’ office in Bodmin and I entered timesheets data for a week. Dull dull dull. But not actually my worst ever….

We’ve all had challenging/ bad experiences at work and a bit of challenge should be expected as it can motivate us to overcome it and achieve the desired outcome. But if every day starts to become a bad experience, then we really need to evaluate what we are doing and what we are getting out of it. This applies to employment just as much as voluntary placements (or compulsory school work experience) but it is the latter that I shall describe now.

I was 21, just graduated from University with about a year’s worth of theatre, agency and dance work placements developed over the previous 7 years. I took an internship with a theatre company based in Brighton (the name shall remain anonymous to protect the guilty). I didn’t know anyone in Brighton; was living in digs (with a very odd cat called Wanda who used to sleep on my head); my family were all in Cornwall and boyfriend in London. I didn’t have a specific role but was a general admin assistant. None of which were in themselves a problem but all contributed to the experience I had.

I started work with this company in the September and over the course of a couple of weeks the hours became longer and longer. It got to a point where the only lunchbreak that I was allowed in my 12-14hr day was a quick nip out to the shop to by a roll and some cheese and to be honest, that was frowned upon.

The company had 5 staff but only two computers, one of which was an Amstrad green screen. In 1999 this was behind the times. I was a fresh faced graduate who knew how to use PCs and email and I am an intelligent person who can communicate reasonably well most of the time. I wasn’t allowed time on either computer but was expected to write up everything I did. In fact, the only PC was in another office which was used by one of the company directors and nobody else was allowed to use that one. So there are 4 of us trying to work using one Amstrad green screen.

Then the company prayer meetings started. Which we all had to attend and contribute to. Nothing against prayer, in fact I rather encourage it but it should never be a compulsory company activity (unless a genuine occupational requirement of course).  As a practising Christian, I found it uncomfortable and inappropriate. But it wasn’t this that made me walk out after 12 weeks.

No, it was the phone. Not the phone itself obviously but every time I made a call, everyone in the office would stop what they were doing and listen to my side of the call. When the call was finished, they would give me critical feedback on what they heard me saying telling me what I should have said instead. Now I am sure that I have made this into more than it really was but the principle doesn’t change.

I should say here that I absolutely believe in the value of feedback and that includes appreciating the context and environment in which it is given and received. This wasn’t constructive criticism, this was just criticism and over the 12 weeks it became a constant constraint on my work and progressively destroyed my confidence.

It took a stolen lunch with a freelance colleague to make me see that this wasn’t actually how the industry really works.  Even with all of the various projects and experiences that I had had previously, I was worn down so much that I was questioning my choice of career and my own ability to work in the industry.  By him reflecting the reality of the situation and with that wider knowledge of the sector reassuring me, I realised that enough was enough and I left.

It took me about 6 months to rebuild after this experience and I will always keep it in my mind when I am setting up and running work experience placements. It is part of the reason why supporting work experience is so important to me and to the company as a whole. After feeling so destroyed, I realised the incredible power that we hold as employers in creating an environment where all can thrive. This is particularly important for those who are just entering the business environment, just starting their careers. We should take particular care with hosting placements recognising that it can be a make or break experience.

I am delighted that we have over 50 work placements on offer this year, with more coming as projects are confirmed, and these are open now for applications. I’m looking forwards to creating some great learning experiences for our WEX (work experience) and enabling each one to explore their interest in events and creative project management.  If you know someone who might be interested, do suggest a placement with us – all the details are on the website!

 

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

No man is an island they say

group-01I think we can all agree that, in business, and specifically in events, people are our greatest asset.  This is true but only really so if we manage and develop that team and wider network to play to our collective and individual strengths.

What I mean is that, like any asset, if they are not used they can never be effective. You snooze, you lose! This gauntlet is laid down to all of us, irrespective of job title. Even if you are the office junior or an events assistant, you still have access to and use of this asset to gain support, to learn, to develop skills and to build your own network of useful people. And for anyone further up the chain of command, we have responsibility for this asset. We spend a lot of money on our people in terms of salary/fees, facilities, incentives, our time, knowledge and effort so we simply cannot afford not to manage our teams well.

In order to get the best value from our investment in our teams, we need to understand and appreciate them, their skills, approach, communication styles, needs, wants…and it can seem that all we do is service other people. In fact, that is exactly what we need to do to get the best from our teams. We need to design teams that have complementary strengths and skills to ensure that the client and wider stakeholder groups get the best possible experience.

At Mackerel Sky, we have a fantastic team of Associates with a vast range of experience and a great body of skill and ability that enables us to take on almost anything! Our business model enables us to draw together an appropriate team for each project that ensures that we will deliver to the highest possible standard within the brief and budget.

Internally, we all have individual growth plans that focus on developing the skills and experiences that each member of the team wants to and that are necessary to expand the reach of the company and individual project teams. Each person in the company is supported to undertake training and we plan our workload so that we have the right balance of confidence, skill and experience with learning and development opportunities.

But is takes time and effort and consideration. It also reflects on the value that I place on our team and on their commitment and involvement with the company. It is vital to take the time to notice each person’s work, to thank them, praise them and equally hold them accountable when stuff happens. Not shout and scream but recognise that it hasn’t gone well or that there were issues, and enable the individual or team concerned to learn from it and move on to the next project.

By investing in our teams and taking the time to be present in all of it, we are doing all we can to engage with the individual to gain collective benefit, to build the business and to deliver the event successfully.

 

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

So what’s in store for events in 2015 …?

As we’ve gone into a new year, there seems a renewed need to innovate and perhaps a renewed capacity for it too. As we make our New Year’s resolutions and vow to keep them until at least the end of the month, so turning our thoughts to what new challenges and opportunities might lie ahead for our organisations and projects. I know that this is true for me and there are a myriad of ideas, thoughts, plans and opportunities in my mind both personally and professionally. We are developing two brand new event projects this year but where have they come from? In this reflective phase of the year, I realised that they have both come about because of matching an apparent market response with opportunities to build on great existing work.

When we look for new ideas, they can come from a variety of sources. It might be the throwaway comment that someone made at a party; or a strategic analysis of the marketplace to identify potential gaps; an opportunity to collaborate that has arisen; solving a problem that hasn’t yet been sorted; a random idea that struck you whilst in the bath; or the development or evolution of an existing offering. There are many many writers on this topic and every new year there is a plethora of articles forecasting the future for our sector.

There are three trends that I have noticed and I believe will really impact in 2015:

1. Experiential – it is no longer enough to make the logistics work, we have to be creating experiences for our audiences and clients. It’s part of demonstrating our value as creative event managers to create content that engages; to show our understanding and appreciation of our audience by creating an experience that resonates with them. All of our senses come into play and we have high expectations of how those senses will be engaged.

2. Planning technology – there are hundreds of articles on using technology in events and I think that this will continue but what is becoming more prevalent is the use of cloud technology for planning events.  We use Podio (and there are various others available!) to project manage across our team and across distance enabling all of us to stay on track, to plan our time and to communicate effectively, all of which enables us to do our job.

3. Event strategies – no longer are events just a single occurrence. Events are increasingly being built into marketing strategies and programmes for a range of functions and some organisations have an event-specific strategy, particularly if they are focusing on public engagement. Event strategies are about drawing together the overarching aims of the programme of events and creating time and budget appropriate activity to achieve them over a set time frame. We are asked to develop these strategies more and more and it’s great to see them being implemented and achieving their outcomes.

I hope that 2015 is full of more innovations, ideas, challenges, learning, opportunity and success for all of us!

 

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

Who would be in your Top 5 of inspirational people?

As I write this, we are driving down the A30 heading home (I’m not driving!) and someone on the radio asked ‘how did you get here today?’. It made me think not just about the multifarious transportation options available to us in the UK but also about the journey I have been on to get here, to this moment in time. In the words of the immortal CJ ‘I wouldn’t have got to where I am today…’ without the inspiration and input of the following people:1. Sue Wyatt
Sue was Chief Executive of Rambert Dance Company when I was there and she taught me a huge amount about management, decision making and leadership. She is always calm under pressure; she is strategic in everything; and she invests in talent.  I didn’t always agree with her decisions but I truly respect her. She turned the company around from accumulated deficit into surplus and enabled Britain’s oldest dance company to continue and thrive.2. Clare Hearn
Clare and I started Event Cornwall (now Mackerel Sky) together in 2007 and we were friends before that. One of the many qualities that I respect about Clare is her ability to balance personal and professional. She has taught me the benefit of pausing, of creating space in which to think and she has the most extraordinary brain. I love her different perspective on a situation that means together we generate a much more effective solution.3. June Gamble
June is Executive Producer with Plymouth Dance as well as being a life coach. It was June who first enabled me to pick up the pieces after my life changed quite dramatically and she enabled me to craft a future that I have now made a reality. Time with June is incredibly useful and positive and yet she never says what I should do but facilitates my finding my own solution. She has been through all kinds of stuff but she has found a way to channel this into supporting other people and making life changing projects happen.4. Helena White
Helena is one of the best vets in the UK. She has studied hard, developed her surgical skills to be in the top 5% of UK vets and is now the only female Director of Rosemullion Vets. She is also my sister and is the only person in the world who can really tell me to get a grip! She has been and is going through some tough stuff personally and at the same time is figuring out her role as a leader and manager as well as being brilliant! Helena is strong, generous, intelligent, and a natural skipper. I respect her integrity and time spent with her is always a pleasure.5. Allyson Glover
Ally is utterly lovely. To everyone! She is genuinely interested in every business and every individual who she works with in her role as Director of Unlocking Potential.  She is one of my role models, particularly in terms of how she engages with people – clients, team, funders – and I am inspired by her direct impact on the business sector in the South West. She is another strategic leader who motivates and inspires everyone around her. Again, not someone who provides the solution for me but rather connects me with someone who can help. She also gives me honest feedback which I really appreciate.

You will note that this is an exclusively female list but this wasn’t deliberate! It may be that women are inspired by women. Or maybe I have just been incredibly fortunate to meet and work with some amazing people who happen to be women.

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

Is £60k a year really “living on the edge”?

Michael Eavis has been reported as taking only £60,000 in salary which is less than his top dairyman. He also said that he takes no funds forwards into the next year, preferring to ‘live on the edge’.

Whilst I don’t doubt that his top dairyman is worth than kind of money, it is not something to really be applauded as a comparator. For the majority of the population, a salary of £40,000 is a massive achievement so why are we celebrating Eavis as some kind of martyr for taking such a ‘low’ salary?  Don’t forget he has the farm income too….

Don’t get me wrong here, I am not saying he shouldn’t earn that kind of money or that he isn’t worth it because I firmly believe that he is but rather I am frustrated that the news has made it into a story.

Now the not carrying any funds forward concerns me more. It is simply an unsustainable model to always be working on a zero base budget and perhaps indicates a complacency within the senior leadership team that they will always sell out. I am sure that their Finance Director ensures that they have sufficient funds to meet the 150-strong payroll throughout the year so really they do carry forward.

Again, the majority of festival and event projects are only working on a zero base budget because, as growing projects, they have to. Most have to employ all kinds of strategies to make ends meet and certainly don’t pay their CEO £60k! It is brilliant that Glastonbury gives £2m per year to charity but remember that the charities also support them with volunteers and staffing.

So yes great that Glastonbury and Michael Eavis are doing good things and that they have the financial wear withal to do so but let’s not make it into something it isn’t. Their situation is not indicative of the industry and as market leaders they should be encouraging good practice, not profligacy.


Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky