Posted by Paige Buck | July 14, 2015
For several years now, we have planned a big, unwieldy Youth Hiring Fair for the San Francisco Office of the Mayor and United Way of the Bay Area. In its fourth year, 1 in 10 youth (ages 16-24) who attended were offered a summer job on the spot from employers Starbucks, Target, Specialty’s, and many others.
The first year we planned this, we had absolutely no idea what we were building, and we had to come up with a plan, a venue, get the word out to youth and their families, get the commitment of employers and their staff to show up, and wrangle the participation of numerous city departments and community organizations. It was a scary and exciting time.
Questions being bandied about by the mayor’s staff included:
- “what if there’s gang activity?”
- “what if employers commit but don’t show up with staff to hire youth?”
- “what if there are so many youth that we are completely overwhelmed?”
- “what if the mayor is ready to give his rally speech, and no youth are in attendance?”
Thankfully, with the help of MANY community partners and some whip-smart contingency planning, none of those fears proved valid.
One trick we used to keep the ship sailing in the right direction, toward the home port, and with all its crew intact was to emblazon these words everywhere:
FIVE DAYS OUT: ALL IDEAS NEED TO BE SET; NEW IDEAS WILL BE KILLED.
We added this to meeting agendas and our event timeline, we said them like a mantra on daily check-in calls, and we had the courage to say them to influential people at City Hall and in the nonprofit community.
This helped us manage everyone’s expectations that they needed to get all their brilliant ideas on the table up front, and provide the resources to execute those ideas before we were inside a certain time window. In an ideal event planning cycle (3 weeks is beyond crazy), this lockdown period would come a lot sooner. By stating our constraints over and over again, we were able to put the kibosh on components that could have derailed the whole event.
And once we were within that five day window, it was smooth sailing. We had the pressure off to make the last-minute plans — like hiring security guards, getting personal notes out from the mayor’s office, and getting radio and print ads in Spanish, Tagalog, Mandarin, and Cantonese -language press to solve for all those “what ifs”.