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We need to address erosion of professional ethics in meetings

OPINION
By Kiprono Kittony | October 14th 2021
People sitting in a dark theater [Courtesy]

Conferences are an integral part of the modern work environment.

They provide a platform for participants to network, learn about relevant industry trends and identify new opportunities. They also represent a critical source of revenue for players in the travel and hospitality sector in view of the billions of shillings that public, private and non-profit organisations earmark for conferences each year.

Although restrictions on travel and in-person meetings in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic led to a sharp decline in physical conferences across many countries, virtual conferences have emerged as a timely and popular alternative. That said, there is no real replacement for face-to-face interactions. Physical events and meetings are beginning to make a strong comeback amid continued vaccination around the world.

I have personally attended no less than a dozen physical conferences within the country, across the region and internationally over the past few months and can attest to the resurging demand for physical conferences.

What has struck me is that while participants from other countries are eager to make the best of these conferences and seize new opportunities, an alarming number of Kenyan participants are doing the exact opposite. There is a worrying lack of seriousness among some Kenyan delegates who attend conferences. This not only leads to wastage of resources and time, but also presents serious reputational risks for the country.

Issues such as attending sessions late, inadequate preparations for presentations, questionable social etiquette and pre-occupation with gadgets have become common occurrences. Occasionally, important guests such as senior government officials and top company executives are selective about the sessions they attend, choosing the opening ceremony and carefully selected photo opportunities while missing out on the bulk of the deliberations over the course of the conference. These behaviours reflect poorly on Kenyans and could damage our reputation. They must be addressed sooner rather than later if we are to remain competitive as a country.

It is worth mentioning that we live in a highly collaborative and globalised economy. In this environment, one of the key competitive advantages a country can have is a disciplined and organised workforce whose reputation for working competently and diligently precedes it.

However, this is not the image we present when we attend conferences. It is not uncommon for delegates attending conferences in foreign capitals to devote more time and attention to sight-seeing, shopping and other distractions instead of the business at hand. The result is that we are often ill-prepared, and it reflects in the quality of our presentations and the effectiveness of our negotiations, including government-to-government negotiations where the future of our country is at stake.

We need to urgently rethink our approach to conferences and cultivate more responsible leadership in our organisations. The onus falls on leaders because delegates at conferences are typically drawn from the higher ranks of an organisation.

These are decision makers who set the tone at the top. If they lack seriousness, as has unfortunately been the case in many conferences I have attended, can their teams and the rest of the staff in the organisation be trusted to act responsibly? Would you want to partner with such an organisation? These are the kind of questions potential business partners, customers and other stakeholders ask when networking at a conference where some peers are not acting professionally or responsibly.

Devoted resources

As a country we have devoted tremendous time and resources towards building physical infrastructure and creating an enabling environment for economic development. The results speak for themselves. World Bank notes that Kenya’s electrification rate is the highest in East Africa, rising from 20 per cent in 2013 to more than 75 per cent today. The Standard Gauge Railway, improvements to the old rail network, expansion of ports and the labyrinth of new road networks in the city, including the Expressway, are all further examples of the progress we are making towards a prosperous and modern economy.

The country is geared for take-off, yet the plane could stall if we do not have good pilots. We therefore need to invest in our people and their values, particularly as it relates to values in the workplace. The decline of professional ethics in conferences is but a symptom of a greater problem: We have a well-trained and well-educated labour pool in Kenya but need more discipline and a stronger work ethic to make the best of it. In the quest for success, working hard and working well have no substitutes–a lesson we will bitterly learn if we do not change tune.

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