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Exit Interview by Ryan Costello – Newsletter #48

By: Patrick Donegan

For some time, I’ve been looking for one “source” that curates modern takes on HR Tech, perspectives from the people who build it, and its impact on enterprise — something that’s tailor-made by professionals for decision-makers.

I never found it — so I decided to build it.

Every week, I’ll be sharing fresh insights on tech platforms, design, data, and the future of work — straight to your inbox.

This week, we have our very first guest contributorRyan Costello, Chief Strategy Officer of MemberSuite and Co-Founder of Event Farm. We’ve been friends and close colleagues since our time at Georgetown. I hope you enjoy his insights on leadership and event engagement!

Ryan Costello, CSO of MemberSuite

My Thoughts

My name is Ryan Costello, and I’m thrilled to be the first guest author of Exit Interview.  🎉  I’m the Chief Strategy Officer MemberSuite and Co-Founder of Event Farm, 🚜 an event engagement company offering a full suite of software applications for events. We’ve worked with hundreds of the Fortune 1000 including Nike, Google, JP Morgan Chase, Facebook, and Verizon. Not surprisingly, we’ve also expanded our offerings to include dynamic and engaging virtual experiences.  🖥️

In my 20 years in this industry, I have never seen anything disrupt events as quickly and aggressively as the COVID-19 pandemic. Like most people, I fell for the early predictions that fear and shutdowns would be behind us in a matter of weeks. But when the two month mark hit and it was clear things were only going to get worse, we knew it was time to rethink our role in the industry. Not just for the sake of our jobs — but because we recognized our greater purpose of providing engaging social experiences across every platform. 

You’ll find that this edition of Exit Interview is centered around two primary topics: leadership and navigating the new, semi-virtual world. These two topics are heavily intertwined. From hybrid work to talent management to (surprise!) virtual events, how we as leaders and innovators adapt to the new workplace will be the make or break for our organizational success.

Market Moves

OfficeRnD, a hybrid workplace SaaS startup, has raised $10 million in its Series A funding round. The company is designing a program to building owners and companies manage the new challenges of hybrid teams like reserving meeting spaces. 📊 The new funds will reportedly be invested in the hybrid work management offering.

Mmhmm, the startup whose name is exactly what you say when you aren’t paying attention in a meeting, secured $1oo million in funding last month. Co-founder and CEO Phil Libin (the brain behind Evernote and All Turtles) is on a mission to bring video meeting features up to speed. The new program, which is compatible with Zoom and Microsoft Teams, allows users to be on screen with their content. Presenters can move or expand their virtual selves based on their presentation needs, creating a seamless experience without removing the human presence. Mmhmm also has in-app editing features that let you record long presentations in smaller, less stressful chunks. I’m already using Mmhmm, and I recommend it to everyone.

Tech Innovation at Work

LinkedIn has spent the past year sprinting to roll out new features for boosting engagement and encouraging original content. Now, TechCrunch has confirmed that the professional social networking site is testing a paid event service. 😮 “We continue to learn from member and customer feedback and test new ways to improve the experience,” says LinkedIn spokesperson Nicole Leverich. “As part of this, we are exploring options for payment in the Events product based on feedback from event organizers.” The latest feature includes a dashboard for tracking sales and running the event itself. 📊📈 There aren’t a lot of details, and no companies seem to be speaking about their experience using the new feature. However, this latest move signals a clear path for LinkedIn’s growth strategy. With over 740 million current members, the platform is primed for becoming the next space to host virtual conferences. 👩‍💻

Chevron has announced that its AI initiatives for recruiting and identifying candidates has been a “game-changer” amidst the national worker shortage. 🎉 The oil tycoon has been working in partnership with to build algorithms 🤖 that identify qualifications as well as transferable skills. In addition to identifying current capabilities, the company is also using AI to predict the likelihood that a candidate could learn new skills should they be lacking in certain areas for a role in which they are otherwise well-qualified. Being able to vet candidates so thoroughly before taking next steps has transformed Chevron’s hiring process. “We got to transform our traditional recruiters into career advisors because now you have the power of advanced artificial intelligence and you don’t need to spend as much time making sure the fit is there,” says Luis Niño, digital transformation manager of global learning and talent for Chevron.

Speaking of not paying attention in meetings, we may be approaching the end of idly listening to Zoom calls while scrolling socials, and folding laundry. Read is another virtual events startup looking to improve our virtual experiences. Using the latest in artificial intelligence, the platform is able to provide real-time engagement metrics based on minute behavioral cues, such as eye movement and facial expressions. Plainly spoken: it can tell if you’re boring people, providing metrics that allow them to “read the room,” even if team members are dispersed across the country. It may be somewhat unnerving to think that your boss may know if you’re rolling your eyes during his presentation, but Read CEO David Shim has consistently emphasized the role that privacy and transparency play in the software’s development. Almost all of the data gathered is reported in aggregate, providing insight on team sentiment, rather than individual behavior. “It’s not a policing tool,” Shim says. 

I think we are long overdue for this sort of digital engagement monitoring tool. If we want to continue adopting hybrid work models, we need ways to measure and improve the virtual experience so collaboration-based innovation can continue.


The Changing Workplace

The Great Resignation, the Worker Shortage, the Great Attrition. Whatever you call it, you’re well aware of it. In the last year, you’ve watched more workers walk out the door (literally or metaphorically) than you probably have in your entire career. 👋🚪 What gives? 

Global management consulting group McKinsey has done extensive research into why employees are jumping ship — especially in such an unpredictable time. In essence, people are quitting because the COVID-19 pandemic opened our eyes 👁️ to the fact that life is precious and our time and energy are valuable. It isn’t as simple as inadequate compensation or inflexible work structure; there has been a fundamental change in what employees expect from their workplaces. McKinsey’s survey revealed that the top three reasons employees were leaving or considering leaving their current jobs were that they 1.) didn’t feel valued by their organization, 2.) didn’t feel valued by their managers, or 3.) didn’t feel a sense of belonging at their workplace. For the HR sphere, these are scary sentiments, as they are indicative of poor culture and flawed leadership. 😰 Fortunately, McKinsey’s research also provides strategic questions to help organizations build out roadmaps for improvement and create better experiences for staff. 🙏 Check out the full study here.

Where does management stop and leadership start? 🤔 That’s one of my favorite questions — and it’s not usually one people (leaders included) have an answer for. It’s a difficult question, but an extremely important one — especially right now. If you’re struggling with your answer, let me give you a jumping off point. We’re seeing companies offer bonuses, vacation days, remote work policies, and just about anything else they can think of to retain staff. But data (like the data above) has shown us that’s not what employees want. In the big picture, an extra day off is minute — a trinket 🎁 within their experience at an organization. What employees want, now more than ever, is to feel valued and to have purpose in their work. That takes forward planning, problem solving, and inspiration. In other words, leadership. At face value, it seems simple, but the ability to recognize ineffective managerial strategies and swap them for leadership principles takes years of learning as well as doing. For anyone who wants to get started now, I recommend this great piece by Inc.

Lastly, I’d like to offer some parting words of advice to help you plan your next online event. No matter who or how big your audience is, engagement is the ultimate determinant of a successful virtual event. And in order to engage your people, you need to offer something they want. From my experience, there are three things people seek when they attend an event: presence, community, and autonomy. A person attending an event, virtual or IRL, wants to be an active participant in a social experience they feel personally connection with, and have the autonomy to decide what that experience will look and feel like. Think about the last webinar you attended. Did you feel like you were on the edge of your seat and ready to be engaged, or did you catch yourself scrolling on your phone? 🙄📱Were you mingling with colleagues, having meaningful conversations, and discovering new ideas or were you on mute the entire time? 😴 Was there an option to attend breakout groups, or was the event a pipeline of pre-selected presentations? 👩‍💼📊👩‍💼📊👨‍💼📊 You probably know from personal experience which of these scenarios are more engaging. The next time you plan a virtual event, use these three elements as your guiding light and you’ll put yourself in a much better position to achieve the business outcomes your event is seeking.

All About Data

Earlier this month, Reed Exhibitions released part 2 of its year-long research project, COVID-19 Customer Needs & Mindset Barometer. The research was based on more than 50,000 survey responses from their worldwide network of exhibitors and attendees across multiple industries. Their recent White Paper, “Covid-19 and How it’s Changing the Event Industry,” consolidates their findings related to in-person events, exhibitions, and shows and offers guidance that make people want to attend. The report is quite long. You can find it in full here, and you can also read my takeaways from it here:

  • People still crave in-person experiences. 75% of attendees surveyed say they miss face to face interaction, and 80% indicated they were comfortable or neutral with visiting a show or event once restrictions were lifted.
  • Certain industries may be pulling back prematurely. Organizations in IT and Telecomms sectors indicated that they were much more likely (54%) to reduce their spend for exhibitions and events than industries like fashion (28%). Maybe I’m biased, but I don’t think this is the time to reduce budgets for live experiences — especially considering the positive sentiment we see above. Companies who choose to attend less events may lose out on meeting large numbers of clients looking to do business face-to-face.
  • Consumers seem excited to have more options. Between June of 2020 and February of 2021, negative sentiments towards the idea of virtual trade shows made a small, but significant, jump from 28% to 36%. I attribute this to Zoom fatigue, rather than a permanent disdain. I also see this as an exciting challenge for virtual event creators. What can we be doing differently to delight virtual guest?

It’s likely that, once we do finally feel comfortable being in crowds again (maybe even maskless), there will be room for virtual experiences. They are inherently more inclusive, as they can help connect people from all over the world, keep us safe, and the event production cost savings can be significant. But being in the room where it happens — a real room — is where people feel most engaged with your organization and with others. We will have to learn to balance different types of experiences and, like everything in the world these past two years, we’ll just have to learn as we go.

Read more from Ryan.

Patrick Donegan Chief Strategy Officer

Patrick Donegan

Chief Strategy Officer

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