Imagine that your organization is hosting a conference of more than 700 people. Your team has planned the event over the course of a year, including the venue, hotel blocks, and caterers. You’ve given thought to which rooms should be used for each breakout session and how much time you should provide to move between them. You’ve printed schedules and posters with location information. You’re finally checking off the last of your to-dos and packing for the trip.
Then, with less than a week before the event, employees at the venue go on strike. Your organization’s values strongly support their cause, but the timing couldn’t be worse for your event. You’re faced with a stark choice: cross the picket line in violation of what you stand for, or move the conference to a new location—which could require re-doing a year’s worth of work in just a few days.
What would you choose?
This isn’t a hypothetical scenario. It was exactly what happened at this year’s Communications Network Conference in San Francisco, CA. During recent months, the Marriott, Hyatt, and Hilton hotel chains have been negotiating with hospitality employees who are members of the labor union Unite Here. After negotiations fell through, union members went on strike. The cities impacted are Boston, Detroit, Maui, Oahu, Oakland, San Diego, San Jose, and our conference host city, San Francisco. Employees are asking for a living wage so that they don’t need second jobs just to get by.
With mere days until the start of the conference, the Communications Network sent a series of emails to attendees with updates about the strike. In those emails, the organization’s values were made clear: “One important factor in our planning of conferences is choosing hotels that have union employees. . . We will not cross a picket line. Nor will we ask our colleagues or presenters to do so.”
The Network moved quickly to enact a Plan B. Keynote addresses were moved to a historic theatre just a short walking distance from the original hotel, and all of the breakout sessions were moved to another hotel a mere two blocks from the theatre. This was possible because of the density of San Francisco’s Union Square neighborhood, and allowed the conference organizers to keep the original schedule’s timing intact.
As I walked between venues to breakout sessions, I read signs declaring, “One job should be enough.” Even though I didn’t have a role in deciding to change venues to support this value, I felt more invested in the union’s cause because I was part of the network of people who did make that choice. I felt proud. Others at the conference did, too. I didn’t hear anyone gripe about inconvenience or uncertainty or inboxes overflowing with updates. Instead, we were in awe of how smoothly things went despite the small window of time to make decisions.
When an organization operates in accordance with its values—even if it means more work and even if it inconveniences clients, partners, and supporters—the outcome will be one that strengthens commitment to those values and sets an example of unwavering integrity.
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