Guest opinion by Tim Fahndrich, president of Third River Marketing, a digital marketing agency based in Salem.

You may remember the scene in the movie “Pretty Woman” where Julia Roberts tells a snobby retail clerk, “Big Mistake. Big. Huge.” This was after the clerk had previously put her down and basically ignored her in the upscale lady’s clothing store, only to see Julia come back to the store and spend a small fortune after Richard Gere had fallen in love with her (and gave her his credit cards).

Marla McColly, director of events and programs with the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce, had a vision to do something different. In order to pull it off, a couple of “sacred cows” had to be killed. These sacred cows were events that kept the status quo as far as Chamber events were concerned. When news got out that Marla and the Chamber were doing something new, in the form of the LEAD Business Summit, there was immediately some push back. I mean after all, the Chamber has been doing events like SHOWBIZ for many years, why stop now?

Marla, the Chamber staff and board, took a huge risk. If it failed, the naysayers and doubters would be able to pounce and say, “See, big mistake, huge. We shouldn’t have shot the sacred cow. We should have kept the status quo.”

Instead, Marla and her team pulled off a massive win for the Chamber, and the Salem business community, by creating an amazing new event. The LEAD Business Summit set a new bar for business events in Salem. Outstanding speakers, relevant topics, and engaging conversations were the norm. The positive buzz among attendees during and after the event was abundantly evident, and Marla and the entire team were able to sigh a deep sigh of relief and quietly whisper among themselves “Huge win. Huge”.

Celeste Edman, CEO of Lunar Logic, kicked us off with a fantastic session on mentorship. Just about every business I talk to is having trouble finding, and keeping, a qualified and engaged workforce. Her mentorship model is exactly what we are setting out to do at our company, by connecting with students at the high school, community college, and university levels and “mentoring” them into a position with our company.

The afternoon breakout sessions were relevant, timely, and fun. Topics included leadership, communication, failure, marketing, and much more.

Seth Mattison, the evening keynote speaker, spoke about “The Shift: A force of change in the new world of work.” While many speakers talk about the gap between generational thought in the workforce, Mattison was able to visually represent the two primary work styles we see in the work place today, hierarchy and network, in a way that made me immediately snap to attention and whisper to my wife, “that makes so much sense.”

The hierarchy is characterized by an organizational chart; everything and everyone has a place. My generation and older think in terms of hierarchies. In contrast, millennials operate within a network view, illustrated by a web with infinite connections.

The very next day, this network model with its infinite connections played out before my eyes in a heartbeat. I was explaining something to our newest team member, and before I had finished my sentence, he had already looked it up online and was reading all about it. He had connected the dots in his “network” within seconds. My generation would take notes, schedule another meeting, and finally create a hierarchical team to look into it, or not.

Bringing together multiple generations with different work styles is the future of work. The key is to not embrace one style over another, but to work together to glean the best of both worlds with communication and understanding. Instead of saying “that is how it has always been done”, we need to look for new solutions that allow every employee to excel in the work place. Our future depends on it.

So, to Marla and the entire team who was brave enough to kill sacred cows and take the risk that you did, I put my hands together and say, “Huge Win. Massive.” Well done. I can’t wait until next year.

“If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary.” ~ Jim Rohn


This piece originally appeared in the June 2016 edition of the Salem Business Journal. Mark your calendar, for next year’s event, May 17, 2017.

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