“Here are the options: good, fast and cheap. You can only have two,” my former boss used to say. He was describing a printing vendor at the time. You could get your printing done fast and on the cheap, but the results wouldn’t usually be very good. You could get good, cheap printing, but they wouldn’t be the quickest printer in town. Or, you could get good quality and quick turnaround, but it’d be expensive.
I’m not sure who originally coined that thought, but my former boss used to say it all the time. I came to realize that it describes a whole lot more than printing.
We work in an industry that wants it all, and usually gets it. We’ve trained ourselves not only to expect it, but to deliver it as well.
If you’re a supplier reading this, I know that most of us as planners are chasing unicorns when we come to you with our crazy requests. This might be a good time to pull out my old boss’s line. We planners don’t usually like to hear the word ‘no,’ so take heed. If you use the phrase, please educate us about why we can’t realistically expect all three, and then ask us to prioritize what’s really important to us. If we have a decent relationship with you, we won’t walk away. Do we really need it tomorrow? If so, it’s going to cost us in order for you to call in the troops to put forth quality work for us. If we can give you more time, you can do quality work and come in on budget. The problem is that, over the past five years, you have delivered miracles to us - the result of desperate times. Everyone was afraid of losing business, so you did the undoable. We planned the un-plannable. Together, we executed the un-executable. Suppliers, my friends, you enabled us. As a result, we’ve come to expect miracles as commonplace as Tuesday afternoon.
Guess who we as planners enabled? Our bosses, clients and stakeholders. Now they expect miracles and magic every time we touch an event.
If you’re a planner reading this, you might want to dust off the old boss’s phrase when your higher-ups come to you with unrealistic expectations. You can’t possibly continue to deliver good, fast and cheap indefinitely (if you’re that good and that fast, you shouldn’t be that cheap anymore, anyway!).
Gone are the days when we can - or should - work ourselves to death in the name of elusive perfection. Of course, we all want to put on flawless meetings and events - I’m not saying don’t try for that. What I’m saying is: How long can you keep up this crazy pace? The economy’s back on track, and hopefully your job is secure enough that you have the confidence to set more realistic expectations without being shown to the door. If your client/boss/stakeholders don’t get it, maybe it’s time for a heart-to-heart. Unless they want you to be unhappy, unhealthy, less productive and reading the job boards, they need to adjust their expectations (and maybe you need to go easier on yourself as well).
It’s time to bring realistic expectations back to our industry. How long have you been jumping through hoops now, without a break? I mean a real one, an actual v-a-c-a-t-i-o-n, not just a KIND® Bar break over by the water cooler. We can’t keep this up over the long term - something’s got to give. Those of us who survived the economic downturn with jobs intact have been on a five-year roller-coaster ride without relief, and we consider ourselves the lucky ones.
We also can’t keep setting unrealistic deadlines and expectations for our supplier partners, either. Everybody’s backs are breaking under the stress, and there seems to be no end in sight. God help us if this is the New Normal. Our jobs are plenty stressful enough, without the constant pressure of perfection - not only self-imposed, but boss-imposed as well. We pass along those same expectations to our suppliers, piling on the stress for them, too. Do you really need that elephant painted fuchsia and delivered tomorrow at noon, or can you relax on one or more of those elements just a little? I know deadlines are deadlines, but some of them are completely arbitrary.
The past five years have been absolutely insane - the pace, the stress, the fear of job loss, the reality of under- or un-employment. The good news is that we’re back. The industry’s back in great form, hotel occupancies are way up, meetings are coming back. We no longer have to work in nightmare jobs, nor do we have to be nightmare clients to our suppliers.
The next time you receive a ridiculous task, or pass one along to a supplier, ask yourself if you can simply stop the insanity. In the meantime, why not schedule that vacation you’ve been putting off for the past five years? It’s time to breathe again.